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Ask an Actuary

Ramona Lee

Ask an Actuary

Ramona Lee, ACAS, MAAA is an actuarial administrator at the Iowa Insurance Division in Des Moines, IA.

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

About halfway through my college mathematics studies I realized this would be an interesting career choice.

Q: Who or what influenced your decision?

My father first explained to me what an actuary was and suggested I look into it as a career option. Until then, I had never even heard of the term. I liked the idea that he helped me choose a career that was based on my love of mathematics and I quickly found out that it was indeed a good choice for me.

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

I have a BS in Mathematics from the University of Illinois at Chicago. I began my studies at Northern Illinois University and soon found full time employment as an actuarial assistant at a small personal lines insurance company. I then took night classes to work towards completing my degree, and I took a year to study International Business at Konan University in Japan. I returned home and finished my BS in Mathematics at U of I, Chicago. Because I found full time employment during college, I did not participate in any internship programs.

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?

Mathematics, Economics, and Business classes provided a solid working-knowledge base for my career as an actuary. General education classes like Communication, English, and Political Science were helpful since they gave me the tools I needed to communicate effectively with business associates, clients, lawyers, and legislators. There was no single particular class that was most helpful.

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 a full-time position as an actuarial assistant, determining rates for private passenger automobile insurance, studying the impact of the rate changes (profitability studies), and submitting data to organizations which collect data from insurance companies. I found this job in the Help-Wanted ads. This was not an internship. I was new to the business and the only actuarial assistant at the company. My boss took me under his wing and was very much the mentor to me, sharing his knowledge and business experience. Much of what I learned at that job has benefitted the work I do today.

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

I did not have any expectations, probably because I didn't know much about the profession. I was eager to make a living using my math skills and discovered I enjoyed the work. 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?

One of the first companies I worked for had an excellent exam study program and employees were encouraged to attend exam seminars and continue working towards passing subsequent exams. I passed my first exam after six months of dedicated study. I have continued to study for and pass exams every few years, as time has allowed.

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

I worked for a large and a small insurance company, a pension and a property and casualty consulting firm, and a reinsurer. My work involved numerous types of insurance, from Auto and Homeowners business to Workers Compensation and Medical Malpractice. My work involved pricing, reserving, profitability analyses, and determining self-insurance funding requirements.

About 25 years ago I was hired as a regulatory actuary working for the State of Pennsylvania. I really enjoyed that work and now work for the State of Iowa as a regulator.

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

My responsibilities are quite varied, covering all property and casualty lines of insurance. One month I will be determining security requirements for companies self-insured for Workers' Compensation insurance. Another time I will be responding to questions from consumers or legislators, agents or insurance company staff members. I might be asked to give my opinion regarding a current industry issue, or I might be asked to make a presentation to a company about some type of insurance or regulatory requirements.

Q: How long have you been in the profession?

Since 1978.

Q: What do you like best about your job?

I love problem-solving of all sorts, from determining what a reasonable reserve might be to figuring out how a piece of legislation might impact various parties, from finding out why various methods have different answers, to researching and implementing new methods.

I also get satisfaction helping companies and consumers understand the business of insurance, like helping someone understand how their policy is priced, or ensuring a product that could have an adverse impact on a group of policyholders does not show up in the marketplace.

And I thrive on the variety of new and challenging projects that come through my office every year!

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

There is such a variety of actuarial jobs and types of work: insurance company work, at large or small companies, with many or few actuaries; work with types of businesses that have stable and predictable losses or those that have tremendously volatile losses; consulting including travel and talking with clients to in-house actuarial work. If you enjoy mathematics, becoming an actuary can be rewarding.

Communication skills are critical to be sure that clients and colleagues hear and understand what you have to say. Listening skills are key.

Mathematical and Statistical methods and models are the foundation of much of our work. Study them well and understand the assumptions underlying each.