A few common replies that I get when I tell people I am studying Actuarial Science:
- Just a general look of confusion.
- “Oh, that’s like an accountant right?”
- “Oh cool, what do you plan on doing with a science degree?”
- “So you must be like…really smart then!”
But who can blame them! The only representation I had of an actuary prior to settling at the University of Waterloo was an image of Ben Stiller from Along Came Polly, and as much as I would love to have a computer that tells me what to charge for insurance policies, you can’t quite make a degree out of pressing the “Enter” button so here we are…
(Before you ask, here is the definition: What is an Actuary?)
I can’t say that calculating mortality expectations was ever my “calling”, but I like to believe that the industry is set up to help people better prepare for unexpected risks, and who doesn’t like feeling like they are making a difference in the world??
I knew from the beginning that I did not fit the profile of an actuary well…
The two main (and maybe obvious, if you knew me) reasons being:
- I love talking to people, and more importantly
- I enjoy life a little too much at times.
At this point you might be wondering how will I ever survive in this field (don’t worry I ask myself that at least once a day). I believe in miracles, and the fact that anything is possible when you put your mind to it, but that’s enough clichés in one post.
Contrary to popular belief, it is essential that actuaries have excellent communication skills. During my very first co-op I learnt just how treasured these skills are in the insurance industry. I was applauded for my ability to communicate actuarial ideas to an audience of non-specialists. I found this particularly humorous as I genuinely thought that being able to explain your work to others not familiar with the subject was a given, no matter the industry of your choice.
That was my “AHA!” moment.
Shortly after I had a plan of action: to use what made me different to my advantage. Combining my undying love for numbers (cringe) with my communication skills and starting out as an actuarial consultant. I have given consulting preference (at least for the early stages of my actuarial career) as it will allow me to learn industry standard techniques and understanding from a bird’s eye view. Also, in consulting I wouldn’t have to focus on one specific company or project at a time (a huge plus given my tendency to get bored easily).
I recognize that the actual relationship building (i.e. the more Hollywoodized portion of this profession, where a prospective client and I discuss how to hedge longevity risk over a Michelin star meal) won’t come until after I have put in a significant amount of overtime hours and modernized gazillion Excel spreadsheets. However, the thought that I will one day have the chance to build my own network of clients and share with them the mystery of actuarial work dominates over these negatives.
Now back to my mortality tables.