Ask an Actuary
Ask an Actuary
Bradford Lee, ACAS is Pricing Actuary at Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty in Portland, OR
Q: When did you first decide to become an actuary?
I decided to become an actuary when I was working in my first job after college as a Surety Underwriter, which I enjoyed. However, I wanted to transition towards a more analytical role and liked working in insurance, so becoming an actuary made sense.
Q: Who or what influenced your decision?
Industry publications such as CAS newsletters, coworkers, and family helped me make my decision.
Q: What is your educational background? Where did you attend college, and what was your major? Did you have any internships during college?
I double majored in Math and Economics from the University of San Francisco, which is of course very applicable for an actuary. I did not have an actuarial internship during college because I entered the actuarial profession as my second job after college.
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?
For quantitative classes, all statistics classes were of course helpful. Non-statistics math classes were also helpful but more indirectly. Non-quantitative (or at least less quantitative) classes in economics helped me develop my overall business acumen. Having a strong understanding of the economic environment and context of my work helps me provide effective strategies to my business partners.
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 in property ratemaking in an actuarial training program at Liberty Mutual. I was already working at Liberty Mutual as an underwriter, which likely helped in getting a job as an actuary. I'm glad I started in a large company with a formalized actuarial training program, as I think it helped me build a strong foundation.
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 started in 2010 and am still taking FCAS exams. Generally speaking I find the exam material helpful and related to my work. Some exam topics come up in my work on a daily basis. Conversely some material only comes up in work once in a while, but on the rare occasions the topic comes up, it is nice to have at least seen the subject before.
Q: What was your career path from your first job to your current position?
I started out working as a surety bond underwriter but wanted to transition to a more analytical role and switched to being an actuary within the same company. Since I've been an actuary, I've worked in various roles in pricing and catastrophe modeling. Now I work at Allianz and handle the pricing of our general liability book of business. For the start of my career at Liberty Mutual I was in a rotational program where I switched roles roughly every 18 months. There were a lot of advantages to being in a rotation program. Your breath of experience grows quickly, and being in a formalized programs means that managers will likely be experienced in effectively training junior actuaries.
Q: What type of work do you do on a day-to-day basis in your current position?
My job includes an array of responsibilities. I estimate prices necessary to cover all costs of doing business for various business segments, work with Product Management to develop portfolio steering strategies, work with state regulators to get our products approved, find profitable segments for growth opportunities, and find unprofitable segments to repair.
Q: How long have you been in the profession?
Q: What do you like best about your job?
For me being an actuary is an ideal blend of math and business. I love math, but I don't want to be in front of spreadsheets all day. Much of my day is spent building mathematical models, but another large portion of my day is spent formulating business strategy and tactics. I also get to touch a wide range of business functions making my job challenging and interesting.
Q: What advice would you give to students who are interested in becoming an actuary?
I imagine common advice is to get math and business experience, which is great advice. In addition, I recommend getting some light programming experience in a language such as SAS, VBA, R, Python, or SQL. Focusing on one or two is probably sufficient because once you get a good foundation with one language, much of those skills will transfer over to other languages. The world in general has more data available, and the insurance industry will constantly be figuring out how to utilize this data. Being able to use a range of tools for statistics and handling large datasets will make you more marketable and ready for the future.