MEMBER SPOTLIGHT

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

RHONDA AHRENS

Specialty: Life and Health

WHY DID YOU BECOME AN ACTUARY?

After I transferred from a state college to a university, the way my credits transferred made it clear to me that I should shift my focus to pure mathematics. I had no idea what to do with such a degree, but because I was attending university in Omaha, Neb., my connections were littered with insurance influence, and I stumbled into an actuarial internship. Soon after, I took my first actuarial exam (while pregnant with my first child)—and I never looked back.

DESCRIBE A CHALLENGE YOU HAVE OVERCOME.

I remember a time when I “muscled” (or maybe begged) my way into a meeting with the CEO of my company when I was probably too green to be allowed in the room. My boss let me tag along; he believed in me—I guess I did do a lot of the work to prepare our team’s report to be presented, so he thought I deserved the exposure. We were asked tough questions, and I just told it how it was. Maybe a lot of people would be timid or back down, but I didn’t know the difference. My boss was surprised that I had the guts to look our senior management in the eyes and just be blunt. I think that’s sometimes what you need to do to earn respect—to show people that you aren’t going to let them fail by holding back valuable information from them. Your colleagues will appreciate that you aren’t sugar-coating things in the end.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY THE MOST ABOUT BEING AN ACTUARY?

In 25 years, I can honestly say my job has never been boring. It has been complicated, intimidating, even frustrating, but I continue to learn and to find satisfaction in the topics that I continue to learn about. I started as a life actuary focused on annuities, learned about other life and health products along the way, found a place in the long-term care industry, and now as a chief actuary I also have exposure to property/casualty topics. I even enjoy that I still feel intimidated by some of my work—it keeps the job interesting—and that I work with other actuaries who have different experience than me. It keeps me on my toes and shows just how much more I can learn in the next 25 years of my career.

SHARE SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF.

Most people would say that I run a lot, but I actually take pretty long breaks from serious running. I’ll use this activity, though, since my actuary friends are used to me “forcing” them to run at national meetings where we find ourselves together. I have completed eight full marathons and I have talked a lot of other people into becoming runners over time. One of my actuarial colleagues once asked me—during an 18-mile marathon training run in the Las Vegas heat—how many people I’ve convinced to become runners. We spent a few miles considering this and decided it must be over 100. I can’t prove it for sure, but I think that number may have some truth to it. My best friend is an actuary who told me about 23 years ago that she would never be a runner—and she is now forcing me to train for my ninth marathon. I guess that means I’m a runner. Other hobbies that people bring up sometimes when they tell stories about me include multiple crafts my mom taught me when I was a kid, raising chickens, and gardening.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU SHARE WITH YOUNG ACTUARIES?

I started this career with my first child in tow and had all three of my children with me in Dallas when I was handed my FSA certificate nine years later. You can do this—and it’s worth it. Find ways to get yourself invited to meetings you feel you may belong in, and don’t be afraid to do extra research so you can ask questions that nobody else is thinking of. Don’t let it be about the exams (even though you need to pass those)—make it be about embracing the work and building a passion for it.

SEE MORE

Meet: Matthew Smith

"If you’re introverted, like me, push outside your comfort zone and work on your networking skills. It’s worth it!"

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