Photos: Joel Maisonet
How has COVID-19 impacted how you work?
While the pandemic certainly has affected how and where I work, it hasn’t had a huge impact on what I’m working on. A large part of my job focuses on bringing together technology, actuarial and finance stakeholders to solve complex problems, and that has continued full force in 2020 and 2021.
The day-to-day of this work has changed somewhat during the COVID-19 pandemic, as we’ve had to transition common tasks like business requirements gathering, design ideation and actuarial model testing to be completely virtual. Enabling collaboration, providing structure and giving folks time away from Zoom have all become essential to making sure work stays on track.
That being said, working completely remotely for the past 15 months has caused me to fall into some of the common traps you hear about. It’s easy to be “always on” when you’re never more than 10 feet from your laptop. It’s also easier to have meetings creep up in the day (I’ve had more 7 a.m. calls than I’d prefer).
So, as things start to open back up in Chicago, I’m trying to take advantage of the activities I couldn’t do in the past while traveling Monday through Thursday. I’ve joined an indoor shuffleboard league. I’m trying to go to more local restaurants during the workweek. I bought a Traeger smoker and am slowly expanding my cooking repertoire. It can be tough to find the right balance (especially during our audit busy season), but it’s important to try.
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What are the most interesting aspects of your job?
One of the most consistently interesting aspects of my almost eight years at Deloitte is that I’m usually doing consulting work for businesses on the cutting edge. From helping insurance companies develop and build robotic and cognitive technologies, to leading implementations related to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) long-duration targeted improvements (LDTI), there aren’t hundreds or thousands of experts on those subjects in the insurance field. I’ve had to quickly become an industry expert on the topic, so my team and I can best help our clients. It also means I get to solve a lot of problems collaboratively with my clients by focusing on asking the right questions instead of always coming prepared with all the right answers.
Unlike at some firms, I get the chance to do both audit and consulting work, which adds even more variety to my job. I think my audit work makes me a better consultant, and my consulting work makes me a better auditor. To be successful at both, you need strong technical skills, problem-solving skills and the ability to be laser-focused on identifying, understanding and mitigating risk. Being able to hone these skills in multiple ways is one of the best parts of my job.
Do leadership and collaboration play a vital role in the workplace?
Yes—one of the hardest lessons for me to learn when I joined Deloitte was that when a client hires a company like Deloitte, they’re not hiring the expertise of just you, the individual. They’re hiring the power of the firm, and they expect the best answers the firm has to give—whether they come from me, my team, other actuaries or other parts of the firm. To be successful, I must lead my team in a way that gives everyone the freedom to express ideas and drive success as we collaborate with both the client and other parts of our firm. That’s not a natural skill set for everyone in the actuarial profession, and it’s something I try continuously to get better at.
It also helps to be honest about your weaknesses. I’ve found that throughout my career, in getting feedback from people I manage and with whom I work, I’m a much better leader than I am a teacher. They are two very different skill sets, and knowing that helps me structure roles and teams to be successful.
How do you define success?
On a personal level, I have a fairly traditional definition of success: I want to be financially secure and continue to move into roles with increasing complexity and responsibility. I knew I wanted to be an actuary when I was a junior in high school—I felt the work would always be interesting and I could be good at it, and I liked the pay and the potential career trajectories. Today, more than a decade removed from college, being an actuary has continuously met my expectations, which is rare these days for a career.
On a broader level, I want my clients to be as successful as possible with their work. But more important, I want them to be excited by their work. Ninety percent of my job focuses on helping actuaries and other finance professionals transform the way they work, and that should be exciting for both me and my clients! This is a fun profession that is going through a ton of technological and regulatory change, and it’s important that we embrace and enjoy that change, and don’t get overwhelmed by it.
Does your actuarial background continue to help you move forward in your career?
Absolutely—it’s at the core of what I do. Being an actuarial consultant and auditor demands a strong technical actuarial background, and I must continue to learn new actuarial concepts to stay ahead of all of the changes going on in our field. My FSA credential carries an immense amount of importance with audit and consulting clients.
But maybe even more important, my actuarial background taught me how to think. It taught me how to problem-solve. I can’t prove that something is a martingale or integrate by parts these days, but I’m confident my actuarial background positions me to solve problems in any industry, from insurance to consumer goods to oil and gas and beyond. We often hear about how actuaries are getting hired in data science roles in nontraditional industries, but I think we’ll also see more actuaries get hired into more traditional strategy roles in nontraditional industries to help companies think outside of the box.
What three things do aspiring actuaries need to know?
First, it is easy to tell good effort from bad effort. From my experience, success early in your career will be determined not by how good of an actuary you are, but by how good of a professional you are. When we hire a new class of analysts, they all have some actuarial education but limited actuarial experience. It’s shockingly easy to tell within the first month which new hires have strong attention to detail, are invested in doing their work as well as they can with the knowledge they have, and treat their careers with importance.
Second, don’t be afraid to network with leaders at your company early and often. No matter where you work, everyone is likely working hard, dealing with the mental and emotional toll of the pandemic and feeling some form of Zoom fatigue. One of the best mental breaks from this is just to talk. Having one-on-one informal conversations is one of my favorite ways to break up the workday, and most leaders are willing if not eager to have an excuse to chat.
Finally, aspiring actuaries should be flexible. This is a bit of a truism at this point, but the actuarial career is going to change a lot over the next two, five and even 10 years. As you take on new work in your company, particularly if you think it’s not the ideal role for you, focus on learning as many new skills as possible. It is tough to predict what specific actuarial work you’ll enjoy and ultimately settle into, so be open to any opportunity and learn as much as you can.
What are your hobbies or pastimes?
Pre-COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of my disposable income went toward going to concerts—I had purchased tickets in 2020 for Rage Against the Machine, Run The Jewels, The Decemberists and a number of other shows that all got canceled—so I’ve had to adjust my hobbies over the past 15 months. Like some of my fellow millennials who watched The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, my wife and I have played a lot of chess recently, and we already played a lot of board games. We also moved at the start of the pandemic, and there are a bunch of breweries and restaurants around us. So, as weather permits (or even when it doesn’t), we’ve done a lot of patio dining.
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.