Some of us take a direct path into actuarial work, and some take the path so eloquently penned by Robert Frost: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
My actuarial career has, without a doubt, been a product of an indirect route—or as Frost said, the road less traveled. Rather than starting down a path in college and then taking a detour to land in the actuarial field, my path was more akin to the directions you receive from Google Maps that make you question whether or not your GPS really knows where you are going.
I have always enjoyed math and puzzles, but I also enjoy research and writing. When I attended high school (longer ago than I care to admit), this was not a typical combination. I was also a product of the big push to get more women working in science fields since I always scored high in that academic area (despite not particularly enjoying it). I was among many who initially went into engineering and discovered it was not the path for me.
Back to the Drawing Board
After leaving engineering, I returned home to do some soul searching. Since I wasn’t sure what I could do with math other than teach, I decided to pursue a career that focused more on research and writing. One of my professors noticed that I had a propensity for analysis, writing and research, and she suggested I look at paralegal studies. So, in a quest to find my true passion, I returned to college for paralegal and legal studies.
Fast-forward: I was an insurance paralegal for several years. At first, I found the work to be quite interesting. I was able to use my math skills to analyze claims and estimate ranges for litigation settlement and jury outcomes. I also had the good fortune of putting my writing skills to the test by developing motions and scripting court arguments. Research was also ever-present within the legal field. However, after several years, I realized there was no upward mobility, and I didn’t see how I could grow in my role without going to law school.
Returning to College (Again)
Once again, I filled my backpack and returned to college with the idea that I would obtain a degree and then pursue law school. Instead, I found I loved my finance and accounting classes. Alas, my career plans changed yet again. Rather than obtaining a degree for the sole purpose of a law school application, I earned a double degree in accounting and business. I thoroughly enjoyed renewing my love of math in my accounting curriculum, and I thought the audit perspective would allow me to leverage my legal knowledge and love of research.
Upon graduation, I landed a job in internal auditing and worked to learn as much as possible. After a year, I was presented with the opportunity to become an actuarial analyst for a health insurance company. Actuarial work sounded intriguing, and my prior leaps of faith for my career had gotten me this far—so, I figured, why not give this actuarial job a try?
I spent the next 10 years with that same company in a wide variety of roles, including in-force management, valuation, forecasting, modeling, actuarial system implementation, administrative system implementation, due diligence, risk management and other special projects where I could work closely with the chief executive officer, chief financial officer, chief risk officer, chief accounting officer, chief actuary, appointed actuary and almost every department within the company. I couldn’t fathom growing bored with work in the actuarial space, as it was a constantly evolving role where I repeatedly gained new insights and perspectives.
Every Experience Matters
When I took my first actuarial role, I wasn’t sure that my legal and accounting background would be more than a short stint in my life before finding the career I was meant to do. Much to my surprise, that background has allowed me to excel in this career. My experiences as a paralegal and as an internal auditor have greatly benefitted me in my actuarial career—they allow me to look at actuarial problems with added perspective and knowledge.
When I transitioned to consulting, my additional skills and perspectives helped me distinguish myself among my highly talented peers. My legal background allowed me to interpret regulations and conduct research with ease. It also helped me on several projects with contract language full of legal jargon. My accounting background enabled me to work easily with my accounting counterparts when I worked in valuation and forecasting, and it has allowed me to understand both the accounting and actuarial components in a world of accounting change regulations.
My journey as a career changer has taught me that sometimes you will have some diversions in life on the way to your happy place. It has also taught me that regardless of the opportunities you are presented with and how disconnected they may seem, there is always the chance to learn and take those lessons with you to be the best version of yourself in your ultimate career choice. I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference!
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.
Copyright © 2021 by the Society of Actuaries, Schaumburg, Illinois.