Member Spotlight

Each month, the Academy will introduce you to a new actuary who shares a glimpse about their professional and personal lives.

Susan Pantely

Specialty: Health

 

 

WHY DID YOU BECOME AN ACTUARY?

I graduated college with a mathematics degree without a clear plan. Searching for a career, I saw an advertisement in the local paper for an actuarial analyst (listed under math or I may have never seen it!). I answered it and was offered the job. I accepted the offer and after a few weeks realized that the combination of business and mathematics was not only challenging but fulfilling.

DESCRIBE A CHALLENGE YOU HAVE OVERCOME.

At a board meeting for my largest client, the board asked the director to leave the room and called me in. The director hired me and was my primary point of contact. I knew she had told the board her recommendation, which did not agree with mine. The board questioned me on my analysis and what I would recommend. It was difficult to be placed between the board and the director. However, I explained objectively the analysis I had performed that led to my recommendations. The board ultimately followed my recommendation. It did put tension in the relationship with my client; however, the director left several months after and I still have the client 20+ years later.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY THE MOST ABOUT BEING AN ACTUARY?

I like solving problems that will help my clients and hopefully contribute to making health care more affordable in the future.

SHARE SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF.

I love to travel—I’ve been to all 50 states and 68 countries. I’m also a diehard Pittsburgh Steelers fan. I also enjoy wine-tasting and golf.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU SHARE WITH YOUNG ACTUARIES?

Be curious and ask questions. Learn to understand the analysis and interpret the results, rather than focusing only on formulas and coding.

Susan Pantely

"Be curious and ask questions. Learn to understand the analysis and interpret the results, rather than focusing only on formulas and coding."  

- Susan Pantely

Rade Musulin

Specialty: Casualty

 

 

WHY DID YOU BECOME AN ACTUARY?

I became an actuary by accident. I had planned to attend law school or graduate school in international relations but due to financial considerations I decided to stop attending school after graduating from university. As I had taken many math classes I completed an applied mathematics degree my senior year. I applied for a job after graduation— "mathematicians wanted"—and it turned out to be for an actuarial student position, which I jokingly referred to as a track for a "poor man’s PhD" because exams were inexpensive and employers paid you to study. Despite having no plan to become an actuary, I am very happy I did so, as it has opened up many interesting career opportunities for me and has let me work in many countries.

DESCRIBE A CHALLENGE YOU HAVE OVERCOME.

I became a political lobbyist after working on many public policy issues following Hurricane Andrew in 1992. In that role I had to learn to distinguish between "correct" answers and "right" ones, plus provide actuarially sound input even if it did not fit a political position. Being a member of the Academy sometimes limited my ability to create facts as some of my political colleagues could, but in the long run the credibility of having professional standards I followed opened many doors. I wrote a Contingencies article on this titled "Sound Bites and Fuzzy Math" in November/December 2001. 

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY THE MOST ABOUT BEING AN ACTUARY?

Having a foundation in mathematics, risk, and sound reasoning allows you to understand so many other disciplines. I have been able to use those skills in many different settings during various phases of my career. I have spent most of my time doing "nontraditional" work, which has been very rewarding and interesting. I currently lead a climate risk practice, which is something I would never have thought of when I left university in 1979.

SHARE SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF.

I live in Australia and enjoy outdoor activities like hiking.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU SHARE WITH YOUNG ACTUARIES?

Get prepared for a lifetime of learning and keep updating your skills. The needs of society are evolving at a rapid pace and continuing education is a key to having a successful career.

Rade Musulin

"Having a foundation in mathematics, risk, and sound reasoning allows you to understand so many other disciplines."  

- Rade Musulin

Tricia Matson

Specialty: Life 

 

 

WHY DID YOU BECOME AN ACTUARY?

I decided to become an actuary late in college, based on my interest in math. It seemed like an interesting, challenging career choice; I’m so glad I made that decision.

DESCRIBE A CHALLENGE YOU HAVE OVERCOME.

Early in my career, I faced a particularly thorny professionalism challenge. I felt that someone I worked with—someone who was a supervisor—was acting unethically. I first spoke with the supervisor and when that did not go well, I reached out to both an internal ethics group as well as the Actuarial Board for Counseling and Discipline (ABCD) for advice. It’s a good reminder—the ABCD is there to help. 

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY THE MOST ABOUT BEING AN ACTUARY?

I enjoy many aspects of actuarial work, but one I particularly love is helping others solve complex problems in a quantitative way. There’s just something about unpacking convoluted questions as a group—I find it immensely satisfying.

SHARE SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF.

I don’t spend all of my time in the office, of course. I spend a lot of time with my family; I also enjoy CrossFit and running.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU SHARE WITH YOUNG ACTUARIES?

When younger actuaries ask me for advice, I always tell them the same thing: Study hard early and get those exams out of the way. They open a lot of doors!

Tricia Matson

"When younger actuaries ask me for advice, I always tell them the same thing: Study hard early and get those exams out of the way. They open a lot of doors!"  

- Tricia Matson

Audrey Halvorson

Specialty: Health 

 

 

WHY DID YOU BECOME AN ACTUARY?

People sometimes ask why I became an actuary. I have a funny story about that. In grade school, I asked my dad, also an actuary (William Halvorson) if he made $50,000 a year. This was in the 1970s. He laughed and said, “Yes, dear.” Since I was good at math—and because $50,000 a year seemed like all the money in the world—I stuck with that plan.

DESCRIBE A CHALLENGE YOU HAVE OVERCOME.

In the middle of my career, I was chief actuary at a health plan. We did regular financial projections to estimate what might happen with our financials by the end of the year. We knew from the beginning that the budget was very aggressive, and we might have difficulty meeting budget. And every quarter we were short. At the end of the third quarter, we did another projection, and my boss (the CFO) wanted a higher profit number. I argued with him, begging him to give me one more morning to convince him to go with our value, and he said OK … at first. But in the morning, before work, he had left me a voicemail saying we were not changing the profit number. I replied that he would have to let me tell him, “I told you so.” 


A month later, when the results were projected to be right where my team said they were going to be—short of estimates—the CEO said in a big meeting, “Audrey, what’s wrong with your numbers?” And the CFO said … nothing. I realized then the value of good documentation. I had all of our estimates documented, along with the changes the CFO had made. The values he changed were the projected administrative expenses, so those were not “actuarial” in nature, but I felt the pressure many actuaries feel. It was extremely uncomfortable. We never changed the claims projections under pressure, but I don’t think the CEO ever learned that the CFO and the chief actuary disagreed. I made a pact with the CFO that if we ever disagreed in the future, we would discuss it together with the CEO.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY THE MOST ABOUT BEING AN ACTUARY?

Part of the job that I love the most is the challenge of finding a solution to a financial/actuarial/business/mathematical problem. Even now, coming up with “what makes sense”—or more appropriately, “what is not unreasonable”—is fun. And discussing it with other actuaries also makes it fun, because you continue to learn with every challenge provided.

SHARE SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF.

When I’m not busy in the office, I downhill ski, read, play piano, garden, raise bees, make cheese, can preserves, and drive my tractor!

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU SHARE WITH YOUNG ACTUARIES?

To new actuaries: Ask questions every chance you get. Don’t “assume.” Find out why your boss thinks an answer is right or wrong. Learn the basic underpinnings of solutions. Discuss with your partners/workmates. Laugh every chance you get. And remember that it’s easier to find a new job than a new profession. Be aware of your responsibilities as an actuary to the public, to your company, to yourself. And read the Code of Professional Conduct.

Audrey Halvorson

"Be aware of your responsibilities as an actuary to the public, to your company, to yourself."  

- Audrey Halvorson

Gareth Kennedy

Specialty: Property & Casualty

 

 

WHY DID YOU BECOME AN ACTUARY?

I decided to become an actuary during my last year of university. I was a theoretical physics major and was looking for a way to apply my math skills in the business world when I came across a career pamphlet at my university in the UK. The mix of practicality and theory appealed to me a great deal.

DESCRIBE A CHALLENGE YOU HAVE OVERCOME.

I’ve always worked at a Big Four accounting firm, and it was drilled into me early on the importance of technical checks of our work. I used to have reams of paper to check and different types of check marks with a key so someone could follow how I checked a piece of work. It fostered in me an understanding of the various P&C methods through formulaic checks as well as just reconciling inputs and outputs.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY THE MOST ABOUT BEING AN ACTUARY?

I really enjoy the problem-solving aspects of this job. Starting with a business question and piles of data, then developing a model, refining and tweaking and soliciting the feedback of others, and finally arriving at the solution—that’s immensely satisfying.

SHARE SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF.

Of course, I’m not always in the office. With three young children, a lot of my spare time is spent with them. Swimming, camping, bike-riding, board games, video games, museum outings, and trips to the zoo. Family time is a good balance for the rigors of the workplace.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU SHARE WITH YOUNG ACTUARIES?

To anyone just starting out, I strongly suggest you pass your exams and then give back to the profession. The Academy provides you with great volunteer opportunities and chances to get to know folks beyond your employer. I’ve found that I get as much out of volunteering as I hope the various committees I’ve worked on have received from me.

Gareth Kennedy

"To anyone just starting out, I strongly suggest you pass your exams and then give back to the profession."  

- Gareth Kennedy

Tom Campbell

Specialty: Life

 

 

WHY DID YOU BECOME AN ACTUARY?

I decided to become an actuary during my junior year in college, when an alumna I knew came back to the school to discuss her experience as an actuarial student. The rigors of studying for exams intrigued me, so I decided to give it a shot.

DESCRIBE A CHALLENGE YOU HAVE OVERCOME.

Early in my career I always had a hard time delegating. I always thought that delegating would be seen as a sign that I couldn’t do the work myself. The truth is, it’s just the opposite: Delegating is a powerful skill that shows you can prioritize work effectively. I finally broke my habit when I realized I had too much work to do and I had to get others involved.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY THE MOST ABOUT BEING AN ACTUARY?

While I enjoy many aspects of my job, what I enjoy most is the interaction with other actuaries—discussing issues, hearing different sides of an issue, and debating solutions. Working with other actuaries is a joy; I often hear perspectives that help me well beyond the task at hand.

SHARE SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF.

I believe it’s important to stay active, so when I’m not in the office, I like to go on bike rides. I have a road bike and when the weather isn’t too bad—I live in the Northeast—I’ll go out on the bike paths near my house. I also like to travel to other areas and explore bike routes.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU SHARE WITH YOUNG ACTUARIES?

To any actuaries just starting out in their careers, I suggest you sit down with more-senior actuaries and talk to them. Find out how they approached things like their careers, exams, and family/work balance. It’s a great way to get to know other actuaries, and you may come up with different ways to address your challenges.

Tom Campbell

"Delegating is a powerful skill that shows you can prioritize work effectively."  

- Tom Campbell

 

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