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Ask an Actuary

Kay Rahardjo

Ask an Actuary

Kay Rahardjo, FCAS, MAAA, is the SVP & chief operational risk officer at Hartford Financial Services Group in Hartford, CT.

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

I first learned of the profession when I was in graduate school. I was born and raised in Louisiana and at that time there were very few actuaries in Louisiana, so it was not an option as I considered my career choices.

Q: Who or what influenced your decision?

Math was always my favorite subject but I thought the only career option with a math degree was to be a math teacher and that was not something I was interested in doing. So I majored in engineering and after working as an engineer for one year, I realized that engineering was not the career for me. I went back to school to study math and it worked out pretty well! It's funny for me to tell you that I am now a teacher! It's fabulous being a teacher and it goes to show you that flexibility is an important skill when considering your career options.

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

I was the first person in my family to attend college and I chose to study petroleum engineering at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. After working in Indonesia for one year, I came back to the US and I pursued and attained a masters degree in mathematics from the University of Houston. I did not have any internships as these were not in vogue in the late 1980s when I was in college. When I graduated from college, I had passed two actuarial exams and (at that time), it pretty much assured you of getting a good job.

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 greatest preparation for my career was the time I spent in consulting. I took the reverse traditional path in that I worked in consulting while I passed exams. Once I became an FCAS, I accepted a job with an insurance company. Consulting is such a rich experience because you never know what types of assignments you will receive. You also spend little time in meetings (unlike at insurance companies!!) because you want to bill most of your work time to a client who is paying for your expertise and your skills. You have to hone your message when you meet with clients to solicit work and/or to explain your outcomes and recommendations. Communication and presentation are vital for success in consulting and I brought this experience with me to my insurance roles.

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?

As I mentioned above, I had passed two exams upon graduation and this gave me multiple offers. I chose a consulting role and the company asked me if I wanted to pursue life exams or P&C exams. I had no idea! Since the need was greatest on the P&C side, they placed me there. I learned to program in APL and I worked on medical malpractice reserving for self-insured groups as well as reserving studies for medium-sized insurance companies.

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

I really did not know what to expect! I always loved the actuarial work and I made some lifelong friends along the way. I never had second thoughts about being an actuary. I have to admit that there were some days where I did not like my job but it was not due to the actuarial aspects. Sometimes you find yourself working for someone whom you do not respect and the best thing to do is to get out of there as fast as you can without burning bridges.

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 1986 and I completed them in fall, 1991. I had delivered my second child a few days before the last exam and I felt so unprepared, but somehow I passed. I found that some of the exam topics were helpful, e.g., accounting, reserving, and professionalism. I still remember an actuary whom I admire telling us that if lawyers had focused more of that profession's efforts on professionalism, then perhaps the legal profession would not be so derided. That made a lot of sense to me then and it still does now.

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

I started in consulting and moved to work for a company once I had my FCAS. Along the way, I also held some non-actuarial roles, e.g., I managed the 300+ premium/loss auditors for my company, which was a fabulous, rounding type of experience. I also spent some time in the claim department, which I believe is the best training ground for all insurance professionals, whether actuaries or not. For the last five years, I was fortunate to be tapped for the new Enterprise Risk Management department at my company. This was the best learning experience of my career because I learned about life insurance products, the asset side of the balance sheet, as well as technology, internal audit, etc.

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

I retired nearly two years ago and I was fortunate to know the director of Columbia University's new graduate level program in Enterprise Risk Management. He asked me to teach the operational risk course and the program commenced last fall (fall, 2015). I look forward to continuing to teach this and perhaps more of the ERM courses as the program continues to expand.

Q: How long have you been in the profession?

I started my first job in 1987.

Q: What do you like best about your job?

I can't believe how much I love teaching. I had some talented students in my fall class and I still keep up with three of them regularly. But do not mistake how much work teaching is! For anyone reading this who has children, you always knew that when you had the baby, you'd be very busy. But you had no idea how very busy you would be. Teaching the first course is kind of like that!

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

Don't despair over your major. If you're not in an actuarial sciences program, just make sure that you take exams while you're still in school AND make sure to get an internship if you possibly can. I've known talented actuaries who had majored in the classics or in music. Having an actuarial sciences degree is (in my opinion) not necessary. Also, for anyone who considers making a career change, the best advice I can give is to TAKE—and pass—EXAMS. Pursuing an actuarial sciences degree in addition to whatever other degree you already have will not take you as far as simply passing exams. You must prove that you can pass exams to get a company to hire you.