Ask an Actuary
Ask an Actuary
Daniel E. Fernandez, FCAS, MAAA, is a business actuary at Navigators Re in Stamford, CT.
Q: When did you first decide to become an actuary?
I first learned about the actuarial profession when I was a senior in high school. I don't think there was a single point in time where I decided to become an actuary — it just happened over time. It was my initial plan going into college and it ended up never changing.
Q: Who or what influenced your decision?
Actuarial science seemed like a perfect intersection between mathematics/statistics and business for me. At the time, I wasn't really aware of other professions that had this characteristic. Other things that attracted me to the profession were: company support and rewards for exams/credentials, not needing a graduate degree, decent salary, good work/life balance, job security, etc.
Q: What is your educational background? Where did you attend college, and what was your major? Did you have any internships during college?
I attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and graduated with a B.S. in Economics with concentrations in Actuarial Science and Finance. I also minored in Mathematics. During the summers after my sophomore and junior year, I interned at Endurance Re in New York City.
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?
Since I was a business major, I took plenty of classes that helped me prepare for the career in an assortment of areas such as Finance, Probability, Statistics, Mathematics, Actuarial Science, Accounting, Management, Law, and Operations & Information Management. The most helpful class for me was "Applied Statistical Methods for Actuaries", which in addition to other items covered modifications in random variables due to deductibles, co-payments, policy limits, and elements of simulation. The most helpful non-quantitative class was "Introduction to the Computer as an Analysis Tool" where I learned to code using VBA in Microsoft Excel and SQL in Microsoft Access. I use principles I learned in these classes almost every day on the job.
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 in the profession was as an Actuarial Assistant at Berkley Re America (f/k/a Signet Star Re) working in reinsurance pricing. I was referred to Berkley Re America by an actuary at Endurance Re for an entry-level role and it ended up materializing into my first full-time actuarial position. The department was relatively small and flat, so I guess you could say I was in an informal training program. I started off making sure pricing inputs were correctly entered into the models, enhancing models using VBA to make them more efficient, data mining, etc. As time progressed, I started pricing my own accounts independently and doing research to improve pricing tools & methodologies and industry benchmarks.
Q: Was the job like you expected? Did you have any second thoughts?
Since I had a stint in a reinsurance pricing department as an intern, I had an idea of what to expect. The job was generally as expected, and I did not have any second thoughts.
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 and passed my first actuarial exam in the fall of 2007 while I was in college. I ended up taking a hiatus until after I graduated and passed the rest of my exams between 2010 and 2015 when I became a Fellow of the CAS. At the beginning of my career, work was helpful with the exams. However, as I got deeper in the exam process (especially throughout my Fellowship exams) the exams were very helpful for work. On several projects, I was able to take concepts that I had learned throughout the exam process and apply them on the job.
Q: What was your career path from your first job to your current position?
I started off working in reinsurance pricing for about 4 years, leaving Berkley Re America as a Senior Actuarial Analyst. I then switched companies and took a role in the Corporate Actuarial department at Navigators Insurance Group. I was responsible for rate monitoring and reserving related work for about 1.5 years as an Associate Actuary. When a reinsurance role opened up internally with Navigators Re, I decided to take a position as a Business Actuary. I have been in my current role for about 6 months and I love it so far.
Q: What type of work do you do on a day-to-day basis in your current position?
I currently provide actuarial support for several divisions of Navigators Re. Most of my time is spent completing pricing analyses for treaty reinsurance programs. This involves estimating the losses that will be subject to a reinsurance program in the upcoming period, along with the potential variability of those losses. I would then model the resulting loss distribution in conjunction with the premium charged and any adjustable contract features to evaluate the profitability of the program. Typical analyses will involve using any combination of historical loss and exposure data from the cedant, industry/market data, competitor data, and any other relevant data sources that will help to analyze a given risk. Input from the Underwriting and Claims departments can also be very useful.
Q: How long have you been in the profession?
I have been in the profession for 6 years.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
I may be using similar actuarial methodologies in pricing each account, but every account that I work on is different in its own way. Everything from line of business, coverage triggers, contract terms, data quality/credibility, ancillary coverages, data behavior, and more, can differ from deal to deal. In my current role, many of the treaties I get to work on are covering cedants that are located all over the world, which is also very interesting.
Q: What advice would you give to students who are interested in becoming an actuary?
- Get a well-rounded college education (business, humanities, computer science, statistics/mathematics), and make sure to take classes that satisfy VEE requirements.
- Pass 2-3 exams in college — it would help if you were able to take courses that covered the material instead of studying extra material on the side on top of other classes.
- Get experience via internships — get as much insight as you can about working in the field so you can make an informed decision on whether you still want to pursue an actuarial career. Internships also may materialize into full-time offers when you are ready to graduate.
- Seek out leadership roles and public speaking opportunities.
- Maintain a social life — make time for family, friends, and things you love to do. The exam process is long enough — don't make it feel like an eternity by eliminating any fun until you're a Fellow.