MEMBER SPOTLIGHT

Each month, we will feature a member of the Academy and share a glimpse into their professional and personal lives.

ZERONG YU
Specialty: Health

WHAT LED YOU TO BECOME AN ACTUARY? AND WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE PROFESSION?

I took a nontraditional path to the actuarial field. I went to a graduate program in hospitality management, but I had a solid mathematic foundation from my undergraduate study. After a few years in a hotel management job, I realized that I did not want to be in that profession for the long term. Also, I didn’t want to go back to school. I’ve always liked math and its real-world applications. After a friend suggested actuarial work, I did quite a bit of research and decided it fits my personality and strengths.

I started to study on my own while working as a hotel manager. After passing two exams on my first try, I applied for a few insurance companies. The health track was attractive to me because I felt health care was a very dynamic area and the potential of making a positive impact in health care resonated with me. The chief actuary of the health insurance company who hired me said that my hospitality management background actually made me a stronger candidate because she needed someone who was not only a number-cruncher but also good with people. Being someone who can relate well to people turns out to be great for my career.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU WISH YOU WERE GIVEN WHEN YOU WERE AT THE BEGINNING OF YOUR CAREER? 

I was lucky to start my first actuarial job in a small department where I needed to handle different aspects of the actuarial practice over a few short years—pricing, reserves, forecasting, Medicare bid, provider contracting support, medical program evaluation, etc. Although stressful at times (considering I was also trying to pass exams as fast as I could), the exposure to various areas gave me the opportunity to connect the dots on how business was run and understand the implication of business decisions on various parts of the health plan operation. Some actuarial students want to stay comfortably at one position while taking challenging exams, but that approach can really limit the breadth of their actuarial experience in their early career. Once actuaries get credentialed, it is much harder to rotate to a new area and learn from scratch while potentially leading junior staff. I’ve always encouraged actuarial students to get as much exposure as possible as early as possible when they are taking exams so they are well rounded by the time they are credentialed. Exposure to more areas tends to help actuaries figure out which area(s) they enjoy the most.

TELL US ABOUT A TIME WHERE YOUR ACTUARIAL EXPERTISE INFLUENCED AN IMPORTANT DECISION IN YOUR WORKPLACE.

For the health care industry, market conditions and health care needs change constantly. Effort doesn’t always result in an impact of a similar magnitude. Quite a few times, my team’s analytical results and financial projection steered business resources to the areas that resulted in the most significant impact. In the data-rich but insight-poor environment many companies are in, an analytical approach coupled with deep understanding of actuarial principles brings rigor and discipline to business decision-making.

WHAT IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST LESSONS YOU’VE LEARNED IN YOUR CAREER?

When it comes to career moves, I learned that the safe option in the short term isn’t always the safe option for the long term. Not taking a risk could be the biggest risk of all. The riskiest move I took in my career is changing from a health plan to a hospital system. I moved from Humana, where I was one of hundreds of actuaries in the company, to a hospital system where I was the only in-house actuary for the company. On top of being in a completely new business environment, I also needed to define my own role because the senior leaders had never worked with an actuary before. Looking back, it was probably the best decision I made in my whole career. That experience taught me how to influence business decisions through my audience’s perspective. It also helped me understand the business model on the provider side. It was scary when I made the decision because it was way off the beaten path for a typical health actuary. However, it turned out that experience made me an attractive candidate for a senior position on the health plan side later on.

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WHAT DO YOU VALUE MOST ABOUT YOUR ACADEMY MEMBERSHIP?

 

We all know the actuarial profession is a small one, which makes it very important to have a unified voice to advocate for the profession. The public policy field is abundant with the influence of special interests, but it’s there that I believe the Academy represents the voice of reason. We strive to represent an unbiased and nonpartisan view that the public can rely on. The Academy is the institution that aggregates individual efforts to advance the profession and represent the public.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO SHARE ANYTHING ELSE WITH ASPIRING OR NEW ACTUARIES, OR THOSE INTERESTED IN VOLUNTEERING FOR THE ACADEMY?

I always try to take a long-term perspective at my job. There is a famous Chinese parable with various names for the same story. One of the titles is: “Good or bad, hard to say.” The wisdom of the story is that there is always a silver lining in a bad situation and vice versa. Career ups and downs are inevitable. Taking the long view is likely to make some short-term challenges less stressful—and it can also enable us to judge the situation with a clear mind. As a first-generation immigrant, coming here with almost no friends and family more that 20 years ago, I feel my efforts have been greatly rewarded by the actuarial profession. Numerous times I’ve been on the receiving end of generosity from people who took a leap of faith in me and gave me an opportunity. To me, volunteering isn’t only to pay back to the community, but in and of itself volunteering is also a great learning experience through interaction with fellow actuaries from other backgrounds. Mentoring the next generation of actuaries is especially rewarding when I can pass on the lessons I learned throughout my career and help young actuaries with their own career path.


SHARE A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF. WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR HOBBIES OR OTHER PERSONAL INTERESTS? 

I enjoy a variety of outdoor sports. I took up skiing a few years ago and it’s been a family tradition every winter since. The adrenaline rush when facing a challenging slope, the exhilaration of a crisp, clear winter day, the view of the majestic mountains, and the joy of conquering my own fear are what keep me coming back to the mountains.

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