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Ask an Actuary

Barry McKeown

Ask an Actuary

Barry McKeown, ASA, is a retired actuary having worked as an Actuary at Willis Towers Watson (formally Towers Watson) for over 32 years.

Q: When did you first decide to become an actuary?

I started college as an engineering major and switched to math, midway through. I decided on becoming an actuary as I began my job search in my senior year in the 1970's.

Q: Who or what influenced your decision?

It started by process of elimination. When I learned about the actuarial profession, I was hooked. A friend of my brother was an actuary and I learned more about the profession.

Q: What is your educational background? Where did you attend college, and what was your major? Did you have any internships during college?

I graduated from Temple University as a math major. I did not have any internships.

Q: What classes did you take in college that helped prepare you for the career? What class was most helpful? What non-quantitative classes were helpful?

My math classes and an introductory actuarial class in my last semester were the most helpful. I did not take full advantage of my non-quantitative classes, but as a hiring manager for many years, this is something I looked very carefully at when considering applicants.

Q: What was your first job in the profession? How did you get the job? Did you start as an intern or in an actuarial training program? What type of work did you perform in you first actuarial job?

My first job was an entry level actuarial analyst with Towers, Perrin, Forster & Crosby — now Willis Towers Watson. The responsibilities with this job were performing valuations of pension plans. The training was on-the-job training.

Q: Was the job like you expected? Did you have any second thoughts?

I don't think I had specific expectations, but it was great. I did not have second thoughts and remained with this employer throughout my career.

Q: When did you take your first exam? How long did it take for you to get through the exam process? Did you find studying for exams to be very helpful for your work?

I took my first exam in my second month on the job. I took exams for 7-8 years. In general the exams were helpful for my work. While not everything I learned could be directly applied to the work I was doing, the exam material was a very important part of building my actuarial foundation.

Q: What was your career path from your first job to your current position?

I started as an actuarial trainee, learning the pension business. After a few years, I became an associate consultant and supported consultants working on client assignments. I later had my own client base and also worked with other consultants for some of the very large clients. In the latter part of my career, I managed an actuarial unit.

Q: What type of work do you do on a day-to-day basis in your current position?

I am currently retired.

Q: How long have you been in the profession?

My career lasted 33 years, and I continued to do some work in retirement.

Q: What do you like best about your job?

What I liked best about my job is that the learning process was continuous. The nature of pension plans changed dramatically over the years and actuaries needed to adapt to the changing needs of their clients.

Q: What advice would you give to students who are interested in becoming an actuary?

a. Start early — try to pass some exams in college and have an internship(s).
b. Look for opportunities to work in teams, write reports and present the reports. This experience can be valuable in any actuarial position.
c. Look for opportunities to get to know other actuaries (from early in their career to very experienced) and what their experiences were.