Each month, we will feature a member of the Academy and share a glimpse into their professional and personal lives.
MATTHEW M. SMITH
WHY DID YOU BECOME AN ACTUARY?
During college, I visited my former high school math teacher. He asked me, “What are you going to do with your math degree?” Honestly, I had no clue at that point. I had an interest in teaching but was concerned with the low wages of the profession. He asked, “Have you thought about becoming an actuary?” I had never heard of the profession prior to this conversation. He connected me with a consulting actuary who was a former colleague of his. After that connection and a little research, I started my journey and began taking actuarial exams. The power of networking!
DESCRIBE A CHALLENGE YOU HAVE OVERCOME.
Very early in my tenure as the new state actuary for Washington state, I was asked to determine an increase in contribution rates for a recently enacted piece of legislation that changed the benefit provisions of one of our state pension plans. The determination would lead to a near-term and temporary increase in member and employer contribution rates. One component of this legislation involved a controversial provision that was poorly defined and, based on how you interpreted that component, the impact on the contributions—that were substantial—could vary several-fold. I sought independent and outside advice to confirm the range of potential interpretations. Although some disagreed, I did not believe it was my responsibility as the plan’s actuary to serve as the “final arbiter” in this situation and initiate an increase in contribution rates with so much uncertainty on the interpretation of the underlying plan provision.
I was also mindful of the impacts on members’ take-home pay and employer budgets. However, I felt it was my responsibility to inform the Legislature of this uncertainty and the potential implications so it had the opportunity to clarify the provision before any contribution rate increase was charged. In the end, the Legislature repealed the provision in question. Looking back, I was grateful for this challenge early in my new role and it helped set the tone for our office moving forward.
WHAT ASPECT OF BEING AN ACTUARY DO YOU ENJOY THE MOST?
Helping others and making actuarial analysis accessible to non-actuaries. Our office tagline reads “supporting financial security for generations.” I am honored to have the opportunity, alongside my colleagues at the office, to support the financial security of Washingtonians today for generations to come.
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF. WHAT DO YOU DO FOR FUN?
I enjoy spending time with family and friends, reading, and playing golf. I love watching movies, especially science-fiction movies. I’m a big Seattle Seahawks fan—go Hawks! I also enjoy traveling with my wife and look forward to traveling again soon.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU SHARE WITH YOUNG ACTUARIES?
Develop a broad set of skills. In addition to strong math and analytical skills, strong communications skills are a must. If our work is not accessible, I would argue it’s of little value. If you’re introverted, like me, push outside your comfort zone and work on your networking skills. It’s worth it!