From Johannesburg to Munich: International Trainee at Munich Re

We had the oppportunity to talk with Odette Grotepass, who is currently an International Trainee at Munich Re, about her work at Munich Re's subsidiary in Johannesburg and her training in Munich. 

Would you please introduce yourself?

Munich Re's International Trainee Programme
Odette Grotepass, International Trainee at Munich Re

My name is Odette Grotepass. I completed a Bachelor of Business Science degree with distinction, specialising in Actuarial Science (including Honours) at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. After my graduation, I started working as an Actuarial Analyst at Munich Reinsurance Company of Africa Limited in Johannesburg in 2013.

Why did you apply for the trainee programme?

I applied for the trainee programme in September 2013 because the opportunity to interact with trainees from across the globe as well as specialists within specific reinsurance fields was very appealing. One obtains essential exposure to different cultures, as well as insight into the unconventional risks tackled by Munich Re. The opportunity to travel is also exciting.

What are your tasks as a trainee?

I am employed at Munich Re’s subsidiary in Johannesburg and work in the Actuarial and Enterprise Risk Management business unit. My main role is to assist in ensuring that Munich Reinsurance Company of Africa has sufficient capital for solvency purposes. I also complete a number of ad hoc actuarial tasks for the local life and non-life actuarial teams, as well as for contacts in Munich.

Together with other international trainees, I obtain training via the Graduate Reinsurance International Development (GRID) Modules. These include three modules of two weeks, training in Munich and in Princeton. I will also be participating in a three-month international assignment, to which I look forward with great anticipation.

Your first weeks as a Munich Re Trainee – what were they like? What surprised you?

I was surprised by the large number of roles in which one can potentially work for a reinsurer, including underwriting, actuarial and accounting roles. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to work with and learn from specialists in a number of fields who are always willing to address questions. I found it exciting to participate in conference calls with colleagues from all over the world, including Sydney, Singapore, London and Toronto. I was further surprised by how regularly one interacts with people from Munich Re’s different branches and subsidiaries across the globe.

At your first GRID module in Munich, you met all the other international trainees. What did you experience during the two weeks?

The two week programme in Munich started with an intercultural training. We were sixteen trainees from different offices around the world, including Princeton, Sydney, Milan and Johannesburg. The trainer highlighted the importance of understanding different cultures in order to have a successful career at a large, diverse organization such as Munich Re.

During the further training we obtained an overview of Munich Re’s non-life, life and health business. This included an introduction to Munich Re’s business units and different lines of business, as well as real-life examples such as the Costa Concordia.

What was the atmosphere like?

We worked in groups in order to complete a number of exercises and had active discussions which provided opportunities to learn from the other trainees. I enjoyed listening to the different accents. All the trainees have different backgrounds and studied different degrees at university, ranging from actuarial science to law. I quickly learned that American reinsurance terminology differs from its European counterpart.

An afternoon lecture included a tour of Munich and a visit to the Nymphenburg Palace and Park. We enjoyed seeing Munich Re’s Walking Man and main buildings. The trainees from the Munich office went out of their way to make us feel welcome. Social activities after the training days and over weekends included walks through Munich’s English Garden to see the surfing spot and a barbecue next to the Isar River.

Every day, one trainee was selected to present a ‘quote of the day’. The quote of the final day was: ‘Arrive as strangers, leave as friends’. We were privileged not only to learn a great deal and to interact with Munich Re experts, but also to befriend the other trainees.

Are there any unique or specific features concerning the working atmosphere or your job in Johannesburg?

Since the Johannesburg office is relatively small, I have the opportunity to interact with several other business units, such as Reinsurance Accounting and Integrated Risk Management. Often I obtain an overall view of a project and have the opportunity to tackle its different aspects. In my role, I get insight into life and non-life business. This is unique, because one often specialises solely in either life or non-life.

South Africa is aptly called the ‘rainbow nation’. I enjoy the work milieu with its diverse range of cultures, including Afrikaans, German, Mauritian, Zulu and Indian.

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