Ask an Actuary
Ask an Actuary
Yan Ren, FCAS, MAAA, is a manager at EY in New York.
Q: When did you first decide to become an actuary?
I decided to become an actuary during my second year of university. In my school (University of Waterloo), that was when we needed to select our major. Several information sessions were offered by the school to fully inform students of various major options available within the mathematics program, what they entail, associated mandatory courses, future job prospects, etc. Out of the six options offered, actuarial science seemed to be a good, non-academia option that had the most promising job prospects after graduation.
Q: Who or what influenced your decision?
I would say my parents and my circle of friends at the time. My dad is in mechanical engineering and my mum has a PhD in material science. So they both came from a strong math and science education background. They influenced my decision to enroll in a math program in college. Once I got into college, most of the friends that I made were in the math program, a lot of them either chose actuarial science or statistics as their major, so my decision to select actuarial science as my major was influenced by them.
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 bachelor in mathematics from University of Waterloo. I majored in actuarial science and minored in statistics. I had six internships during college, four were in P&C insurance companies in Canada. University of Waterloo offers a co-op program, where starting in second year of college, students begin to alternate between one regular study term and one internship term all the way to final year. Each term is about four months, and there are three terms in a year. Co-op programs takes five years to graduate. By the time of graduation, a student would typically have five to six internships done.
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 was lucky in the sense that my school has a specific program for actuarial science. Classes such as "introduction to life contingency models" and "introduction to property and casualty insurance" were very helpful in getting acquainted with life and health and property and casualty insurance concepts, and getting to know the differences in these two tracks.
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?
Working in Ernst & Young as a staff analyst was my first full time job out of college. I got this job through campus recruiting during my final year of college. I never interned at Ernst & Young before, although I know the firm has been recruiting for interns from my school for a while. I was hired as a full time employee. Some of the main tasks I was involved in as a staff analyst include performing reserving analysis for national and international P&C companies for their commercial and/or personal lines, providing actuarial reserving support to the audit team for self-insured workers compensation and general liability risk exposures, and preparing actuarial opinions to support insurance company's statutory financial reporting process.
Q: Was the job like you expected? Did you have any second thoughts?
I did not have any expectation going into the job. All my previous internships were in Canada's insurance industry. My first job was in actuarial consulting in the U.S. So it was a brand new experience for me. But I did not have any second thoughts. I remember most of the time I was just too busy absorbing new things around me in a fast paced environment, but I enjoyed it very much.
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 preliminary exam during my 3rd year of college. I completed my last one during 3rd year of working full time. So total of six years to complete all the exams.
Yes, it was helpful for my work. I mostly work in reserving, so the upper exams for basic and advanced reserving, and regulation were particularly helpful. The other exams are good too. It gave me fundamental knowledge in other areas of actuarial science like pricing, capital modeling, asset allocation, etc.
Q: What was your career path from your first job to your current position?
After working at E&Y for a couple years, I went into P&C industry, worked in personal pricing and commercial reserving for two years, then came back to E&Y.
Q: What type of work do you do on a day-to-day basis in your current position?
Now my job is more managerial in nature. I coordinate resources, plan hours, and set timelines for actuarial projects, review actuarial analysis done by analysts, report actuarial results both to internal management and to the clients.
Q: How long have you been in the profession?
I've been in this profession for six years.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
I like the variety that my consulting job brings. You get a bird's eye view of how everyone is performing in the industry, how a common event such as hurricane HIM is impacting everyone in varying degrees, how do different companies' risk management strategies differ, what are companies' views of new market interrupters such as driver-less car etc.
Q: What advice would you give to students who are interested in becoming an actuary?
I would suggest students talk to as many actuaries as possible, find out as much as they can about this profession such as exam structure, how L&H differ from P&C, how industry differ from consulting, how would this profession look like in 10 years etc. Get a couple of actuarial internship experiences if possible. Then compare all the information and experience you've gathered to your own skillset, priorities, and life plans to decide whether actuarial science would be a good career path for you.
Q: What do you do for fun?
I like to travel, experience different culture and see different ways of living. Turkey and Thailand are places I've been recently. Egypt, Japan and India are on my list for next year. When I'm not planning out my travel itineraries or dreaming about my next adventure, I like to sketch and paint in my spare time. It has a relaxing and calming effect on me. I'm actually thinking about taking couple art classes in the coming summer.