Effecting Change in the Actuarial Profession and Beyond

Q&A with Anthony Weatherspoon, ASA, MAAA, health actuary at PwC

Anthony Weatherspoon

Photo: Stefan Radtke, taken at Avant Gallery in Hudson Yards

What led you to an actuarial career?

I stumbled into actuarial science as most actuaries do—by not wanting to be in liberal arts or engineering. We have to be better about branding and marketing the profession, as I heard about it from the dean of the business school, who told me: “I see you tested well on your SATs in math. Perhaps you’d be interested in this little major no one has ever heard of.” I did an interview with the head of the insurance department and the lead professor for actuarial science, and the rest was history.

That seems by accident when I tell it, but I guarantee that most actuaries are that way—particularly young African Americans. That’s a reason why I’m involved in supporting diversity initiatives in the actuarial field as much as I am—because I could’ve easily missed out on what a great career this is. 

What do you like most about the work you do?

That’s an interesting question. If you had asked me earlier in my career, I’d probably say that it was getting paid to do math. But the more I do the work and see how the profession and practice align with my purpose to effect change, the best part of being an actuary is how it’s intrinsically tied to knowing the past to make educated forecasts of the future. It’s a testament to our field that throughout centuries we’ve consistently looked forward, from both a profession and practice perspective. And armed with that viewpoint, actuaries are vital to any tangible impact on mitigating future risk and driving change in financial systems, policy and society.

Video Exclusive: Anthony Discusses Storytelling, Data Visualization and Diversity in the Profession

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

The same things that I enjoy about the work I do I find the most challenging. I suppose that says a lot about me? Helping organizations make strategic decisions based on actuarial analysis is the culmination of our rigorous training and education. The challenge comes with incorporating new ways of thinking along with business acumen, storytelling and visualization tools to model and strategize for future change. I’ve been fortunate to be able to leverage these human-centric skills in my work often, but true mastery takes time.

How do you incorporate innovation in your work?

Keeping a lens toward the future, it’s imperative that actuaries are aware of trends in their respective industries. While we may avoid adopting all the newest ideas—as being risk-averse can be part of our nature—staying abreast of technologies, regulatory and policy environments and the ways of working are part of the diligence of the profession.

Specific to my work, I’ve discussed with health insurance carriers the benefits of modernizing their actuarial pricing and reserving functions to leverage cloud-based modeling, as well as guided provider-led accountable care organizations (ACOs) toward performance improvement by utilizing new data platforms geared to assist in value-based care. There is no lack of innovation in health care, from data and technology to strategy and actuarial practice. I try to capitalize on it when it is appropriate to do so.

How has mentorship impacted your career journey?

I’ve been fortunate to be blessed with a variety of formal and informal mentors throughout my career. All of them have assisted me in meaningful ways. They have been a guidepost for direction and purpose; they have provided knowledge not often found in books, a better understanding of organizational and business strategy; and lastly, they have allowed me to understand that “paying it forward” matters. Giving a bit of the time to the future of the profession is the currency with which we do that.

How are you helping the next generation of actuaries? Please tell us about your volunteer efforts.

My volunteer efforts with actuarial organizations largely have been with the Society of Actuaries (SOA) and the International Association of Black Actuaries (IABA). With IABA, my work has been primarily around assisting where I can. In my early years, I organized and moderated actuarial debates for the IABA Annual Meeting. With the success of that initiative, I transitioned to coordinating all professionalism sessions for the Annual Meeting. Eventually, I assisted with broader initiatives around marketing, diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), coaching and pledge creation. That work ultimately led me to the SOA Young Professional Advisory Council (YPAC), where I am contributing to help continue the important work of developing new actuaries into leaders.

What is YPAC?

YPAC is a committee of the SOA that provides feedback and input on SOA programs or services that would be of interest to SOA young professional actuaries. We define a young professional as any new actuary within 10 years of their associateship. The council has been working diligently to accomplish those goals and become a voice for a new generation of actuaries seeking to be heard and interact with the profession. YPAC has focused on expanding engagement and accessibility for SOA young professionals through our initiatives such as the SOA HUB app, Emerging Leaders Summit contest and other events.

How can others who are interested get involved in YPAC?

I think it starts with getting involved with volunteering within the actuarial profession and the SOA in general to find out if volunteering is right for you. YPAC is looking for passionate leaders who want to be a part of the growth and development of our new actuaries. There will be a volunteer opportunity posted in the Volunteer Opportunity Database in August, and you can apply there. You can also reach out to YPAC directly at YPAC@soa.org.

Why do you think it is important to make the actuarial profession more diverse?

Diversity has become less of a “nice-to-have”—now it’s truly an imperative. From an internal perspective, any profession, industry or product that wants to provide long-term value will have to avoid diligently and proactively “survival by sameness.” While routine and similarity provide familiarity and ease, they often have trouble breeding creativity, ideation and diversity of thought. It also loses appeal as qualified, diverse talent will begin to think, “That profession does not value me.”

Externally, our stakeholders expect diversity in their actuarial partners and new ways of thinking. As we expand into new areas of practice and types of work, actuaries will have to understand the role diversity plays in environmental, social and governance (ESG) work; foreign and domestic markets; and the emphasis on socioeconomic issues in health, finance and mortality. Having a profession where attraction, retention and development of that diverse and varied talent is a priority, along with an emphasis on issues related to diverse populations, will be key for sustainable expansion and progress within our profession. 

How do you think actuarial organizations, employers and recruiters can help in this effort?

Those are the three pillars of the profession. True formative change only will come with engaged efforts within all three pillars and a coordinated response across all pillars. That effort can be summarized by instituting what I like to call the “Four Es Framework of Diversity and Inclusion”—Educate, Examine, Enact, Evaluate. Each pillar will have to educate itself to gain a thorough understanding of the profession’s recruitment pipeline and talent development issues. The pillars will need to examine their roles in those issues, individually and collectively, and the pillars’ current initiatives around diversity and inclusion, if any. Once they decide that change is needed, they will have to collaborate to enact change across the profession, holding each area accountable for its respective actions. And lastly—as actuaries are apt to do—they should monitor and evaluate their initiatives and adjust as needed.

Do you have any advice for actuaries who are active on social media? Give us a few tips for networking, privacy and remaining professional online.

Networking is a talent where I think acting professional can be simple, as humans are adept at wearing different hats at separate times and have examples of what “professional” is in our day-to-day lives. The tricky thing is avoiding “impostor syndrome”—being something you’re not—as that can often backfire. The skill, which takes patience, is honing your authentic professional such that you avoid impostor syndrome and instead allow room to be your authentic self, carrying yourself in a manner becoming of the actuarial profession.

Privacy is a right, and how much of yourself you wish to share with the world is up to you. Use the privacy functions on your social media, enforce boundaries (in work and life), and be clear about what you say and who your audience is—these are all good things to keep in mind with social media.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned during your career so far?

The future of the profession relies just as much on technical prowess and advanced data as it does on strategic and creative thinking. Actuaries who choose to be knowledgeable and experts in one of those areas versus the other will find their place in this profession, but success will come to those who can master both. The lesson is still the same—whichever route is chosen, always be able to adapt to innovation, trends and new ways of thinking.

How has COVID-19 affected your work as an actuary?

The pandemic, in my opinion, was illuminating. It offered us as a world an opportunity to really stop, rest and review our societies and direction. That review uncovered some important characteristics of the way we work and disparities in this country. We reshuffled and reset, and our eyes are open.

Employees believe that work from home and hybrid work should have a greater foothold in work of the future. Health care stakeholders have asked for actuarial perspectives on ESG, economic disparities and social determinants of health. I’ve worked with these individuals and the pillars of the actuarial profession on ways to attract and retain diverse talent. And I believe that there will be a space for this work and way of working going forward.

What do you like to do in your free time?

These days I’ve been resuming travel a bit and spending time with family. I still find time to engage in my leisure activities—workouts at my local gym, film, television and podcasts, as well as gaming and puzzles.

Anthony Weatherspoon, ASA, MAAA, is a health actuary at PwC.

Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries or the respective authors’ employers.

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