Ask an Actuary
Ask an Actuary
Pete Rossi, FSA, CERA, FCA, MAAA, is an Actuary at the Defense Human Resources Activity (DHRA) Office of the Actuary (OACT) in Alexandria, VA.
Q: When did you first decide to become an actuary?
Late junior year of high school.
Q: Who or what influenced your decision?
My Trigonometry teacher had taken actuarial exams earlier in her career and I knew that's what I wanted to do after learning more about it. Other than my Trigonometry teacher, my immediate family definitely had the largest influence. They were incredibly supportive of my dreams and aspirations to pursue a career as an actuary from such an early age.
Q: What is your educational background? Where did you attend college, and what was your major? Did you have any internships during college?
I went to Penn State University (1999 - 2003), majoring in Actuarial Science and minoring in Insurance. I worked as an actuarial intern with a large insurance company the summer prior to my senior year of 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?
I took classes tailored to pass actuarial exams, like calculus, probability, statistics, Interest Theory, and Life Contingencies. Penn State had a fairly robust actuarial program at that time. The most helpful class was Interest Theory, more so for establishing a strong foundation of basic financial products, including: annuities, mortgages, banking functions, etc. So even if I hadn't followed through becoming an actuary this knowledge base served well in my life, particularly when evaluating household finance decisions. I also took the typical suite of General Education classes; however, the most helpful were classes that relied heavily on group projects — teamwork makes the dream work.
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?
Well, I'm still technically in my first job in the profession, now nearly 12+ years later. The job was advertised by the President of the local Penn State Actuarial Club. I started fall 2003 as an actuary working with the Department of Defense — Office of the Actuary, where I primarily support the Chief Actuary in evaluating military compensation programs (e.g., retirement, health care, and education). Being a small staff, approximately 10 people, there wasn't a formal actuarial training program so much of the preparation was self-guided.
Q: Was the job like you expected? Did you have any second thoughts?
Initially, the job was overwhelming, yet VERY rewarding. I was fortunate to be given a lot of responsibility early on at work, while juggling actuarial exams and living in a new area. I had expected to be working on complex math problems all day, and that's not the case. Instead, I found myself working with business problems requiring intermediate math skills, but with strong communication skills to be able to explain technical results in a non-technical manner.
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?
Let me start by saying that I'm probably one of the more unlikely of all Actuaries. I started sitting for exams in college. Taking a page from Vincent LaGuardia Gambini ('My Cousin Vinny'), it took me 6 attempts to finally pass the first actuarial exam. Once I knew HOW to study for these exams I passed the remaining 7 exams in about 5 years. It's actually not as daunting as it sounds. In context, I studied about 2,600 hours over the course of 7 years, or about 1 hour each day! I found that I missed the exams once they were over.
Q: What was your career path from your first job to your current position?
I'm still technically in my first job / position; though, much has changed as I've grown as a person and Actuary. I've continued to collect skills to add to the actuarial toolkit and trained to hone existing skills. I've been very fortunate to have strong employer support to successfully venture into non-traditional actuarial areas of practice and even into non-actuarial roles. The most rewarding aspect of traveling this career path has been volunteering time to afford the next generation of actuaries expanded professional opportunities.
Q: What type of work do you do on a day-to-day basis in your current position?
Every day is different, as cliché as that is to say. I spend time discussing projects with my colleagues, working independently on particular aspects of projects, and communicating with various internal and external customers. And that's a major perk of the actuarial profession — it is what the person makes of it. For example, if you really wanted to work the highly technical side of car insurance pricing, you could. Conversely, if you wanted to be a consultant working on the front lines and interacting with clients each day, you could do that as well.
Q: How long have you been in the profession?
About 12 years.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
I genuinely appreciate the challenging work and my colleagues who make the time enjoyable. I also like consulting with the non-quantitative folks in other offices as a means of fostering a more collaborative environment.
Q: What advice would you give to students who are interested in becoming an actuary?
The primary driver for students seriously considering actuarial science would be to choose a Center of Actuarial Excellence (CAE) Program. These schools prepare students for a career in actuarial science, particularly with a laser-like focus on actuarial exams.
Though it seems otherwise, it's important for a prospective actuary to be as well as rounded a student as possible. Today's actuarial problems require much more than highly technical math skills; they require creative solutions and teamwork. Actuarial Science is built on a strong foundation of math and statistics. However, the remainder of the structure is built with economics, finance, computer science, general business knowledge, communication, psychology, demographics, and whatever the actuary chooses to add to their toolkit.