UP’s Department of Actuarial Science celebrates R1.5m partnership with FirstRand Bank

Posted on December 11, 2023

A mutually beneficial agreement was recently celebrated between the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Department of Actuarial Science and FirstRand Bank (FRB) to the value of R1.5 million over three years.

In his welcoming address, Professor Barend Erasmus, Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (NAS), shed light on the three overarching goals of the agreement. “Firstly, we want to promote the delivery of high-quality postgraduate students addressing the Bank’s critical skill shortages, especially in quantitative risk management, statistics and data science, advanced analytics and statistical modelling, operations research, and mathematical/computational finance. The resulting research outputs should be published in accredited scientific journals and applications within FirstRand.”

“Furthermore, we envisage cultivating broad, ongoing, multi- and interdisciplinary research and teaching collaboration between FRB and UP in jointly solving complex problems and creating shared value for both parties. This could be achieved by articulating industry-relevant research topics for postgraduate students, conducting ad hoc research projects with senior academics towards publication in accredited scientific journals, and developing, where possible, new degree programmes and short courses in meeting the skill requirements of FRB and the wider banking industry,” Prof Erasmus added.

“Last but not least, this agreement would also aim to promote and foster thought leadership, training and networking in the field between academia and industry by organising and hosting educational events, including workshops, masterclasses, seminars and conferences,” Prof Erasmus concluded.

Professor Conrad Beyers, Head of the Department of Actuarial Science, who was instrumental in securing this substantial funding, emphasised the significance of such partnerships with industry. “We want to start something unique and address relevant questions. We want to leverage our expertise to solve complex problems – the future requires more interdisciplinary research collaboration – quoting Yogi Berra, ‘…The future ain't what it used to be.’”

Dr Arno Botha, Head of Credit Risk Modelling and Research at FirstRand Bank, emphasised that “UP is an important innovation partner for FRB who has an immense wealth of data to be interpreted, but we do not have enough capacity. This partnership will also allow FRB to promote the growth of high-quality staff on a postgraduate level in a range of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary fields.”

Dr Christoph Nieuwoudt, Group Chief Data and Analytics Officer, FirstRand Bank, shed some light on how artificial intelligence (AI) and specifically how generative AI (GAI) is revolutionising the world by the second. “As a knowledge worker, you must use GAI to compete in this ever-changing world. GAI can increase productivity and automation potential and does so even more for higher levels of education.”

Prof Erasmus concluded the event, emphasising the importance of ensuring that UP delivers quality students who can think outside the box and adapt to an ever-changing world. “This partnership between UP and FRB is a perfect example of how industry and academia take hands to meet the demands of the unknown future.”

- Author Martie Meyer

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