Member Spotlight

Our Member Spotlight highlights our members and their achievements! Each month, we will highlight a member online and in our weekly e-bulletin. Nominate yourself for a monthly spotlight and share your story to help us strengthen the community of the CAS and inspire future actuaries. You can also nominate another member for one of our monthly spotlights.

June 2022 Member Spotlight – Gary Hoo

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Gary Hoo

Where do you work and what is your position?

I have just taken on the role as Chief Executive Officer of AIA General Berhad, the general insurance company of AIA Malaysia. The other two licensed insurers under AIA Malaysia are the much larger AIA Bhd (life insurance) and AIA PUBLIC Takaful Bhd (Islamic insurance). I assumed the role only recently in December 2021; prior to this I carried other roles for a couple of years that provided me wide exposure in non-actuarial areas such as Operations and Distribution. And prior to that, I was the company’s Appointed Actuary for about 3 years.

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Why did you decide to become an actuary?

Honestly I had never heard of the term “actuary” until I was deciding which university degree to pursue some 25 years ago. Throughout my younger years, I thought I was either going to be a doctor or an engineer. But over time, I realised I did not enjoy dealing with illness (either myself or others getting sick, so I was not going to be a doctor) and a short stint as an intern with a civil engineering firm killed any illusion I had that I was going to enjoy engineering. So I put in my university applications to study either accounting or actuarial science, knowing that I enjoyed numbers and everyone saying those fields made good money! I was offered a place in the National University of Malaysia to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Actuarial Science in 1997, and the rest as they say is history…

What aspects of the field do you love?

I was fortunate to graduate at a time when the actuarial profession of the general (non-life) insurance industry was just starting out in Malaysia and developed exponentially over the next decade. This allowed our generation of general insurance actuaries to learn so much in such a short period of time. We progressed from doing just basic chain ladder reserving in the early 2000’s to now being on par with global advancements and developments in all areas of actuarial practice. I enjoyed my time first gaining a strong foundation in reserving, which helped in moving into other areas eventually such as pricing and capital management. I don’t think I have a field that I love more than the other, however, I appreciated how overall it helped me gain a very deep understanding of the insurance business, and provided me tools to be able to influence and improve results.

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

My first job out of university was actually as an actuarial officer in life insurance. It was a good experience although I felt at times I wanted something different. Every now and then, there would be people talking about the lack of actuaries in general insurance (in Malaysia) and the demand for talent was beginning to be noticeable and can only go up over time. I had an opportunity to speak to some very experienced life actuaries and I remember one of them (who is an FSA) telling me that I should seriously consider switching to general insurance if I had so much interest. There was nothing to lose as I was still young then (in my mid-20’s) and there was already some indication that our local regulatory body will require actuaries in general insurance sooner than later. I took that advice and went on a relentless job search! Looking back, I have never had any regrets switching from life to general insurance and think that was probably the best career advice I ever received and followed.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?

It may not be easy for those starting out to immediately land an actuarial position, but my advice is to get one foot in the door first e.g. taking on a relevant non-actuarial role in an insurance company if your desire is to become the company’s actuary someday. It may not be an actuarial role, but underwriting (for example) will provide you technical fundamentals and help you understand how operations works. Bring your best to work everyday and show how ambitious you are. Remember to network and make solid, genuine connections across various functions. Someone will surely take notice of you and if that actuarial vacancy comes up sometime in the future, they will remember you – or if not, put your hand up then!

What is your favorite CAS memory?

My all-time favourite CAS memory would be attending the Professionalism Course in Tampa, Florida – I think that was in 2003 or 2004. I look back and am amazed at how little planning I made for a trip across the globe – the joys of being a carefree young adult! I arrived jetlagged and absolutely unprepared for that, but still managed to go through the Course comfortably enough. I don’t remember much of it anymore but I will always remember visiting Disneyland for the first time ever in my life in the following days!

Another good CAS memory was how few people actually took CAS exams in Malaysia and so I looked for a study group on the internet. A few of us from across the globe connected and actually went through the study journey together, going through chapters, posting questions to test each other’s understanding of the course material, encouraging one another to continue slogging and giving it our best – all this via email only. We never saw each other let alone meet, but we had a mutual respect for one another, kept to the schedule strictly and really wanted for every one of us to succeed. We never kept in touch after that, but I hope those of you in that group are still rocking it in the actuarial world!

What is a fun fact about yourself that many people don’t know about?

I lead the worship/music team in my church and play the piano/keyboard once every 2 weeks. We have heavy influence from contemporary Western music, so we play the likes of Bethel, Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, Elevation… but I can play a decent Adele or Ed Sheeran - and sing it too if you like!

How does being a part of the CAS global community enhance your actuarial practice?

Malaysia as a whole has benefitted tremendously from the CAS global outreach in the past decade. The Actuarial Society of Malaysia together with the CAS have co-hosted several successful seminars over the years, where several distinguished speakers were brought in by CAS from around the world. Being part of the CAS global community also provides Malaysian actuaries incredible mobility opportunities as the CAS credentials are globally recognised. In fact, there is a saying that Malaysia is one of the best exporters of actuarial talent in the world!

What do you think is unique about working as an actuary in Malaysia?

I’m only in my mid-40’s but I’m already considered one of the “oldest” general insurance actuaries in Malaysia! Many will be surprised to realise how young our profession is on this side of the actuarial field, where the average age of the general insurance Chief/Appointed Actuary is only around mid- or late-30’s. It is a steep learning curve in terms of communication and influencing, as these actuaries will have to work alongside more experienced senior management peers usually in their 40’s and 50’s.

Past Member Spotlights

May 2022 Member Spotlight – Bob Downer
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Bob Downer

Where do you work and what is your position?

I’m happily retired and living in central Florida. I’m an active volunteer at the CAS now as Chair – Investment Council and CAS Assistant Treasurer.

Why did you decide to become an actuary?

In the 1970’s, I managed to get a degree in Mathematics and never hear the word ‘Actuary’ [AMAZING and so different in recent years]. After teaching for 5 years and deciding that this was not my calling, I spent time in the library (do you remember pre-internet?) looking at a variety of potential careers by reviewing government books on jobs and articles in various publications. The breakthrough came in the May 1977 Money magazine which included an article - ‘The best ten careers for the long run’. Third on the list was this career ‘actuary’. So I went back to the government books to find out what an actuary is? My reaction was, “How could I not know about this?” I had found my new career!

What aspects of the field do you love?

First is the chance to work on genuine business challenges, often at the leading edge in terms of the workable solutions,

Second is the chance to work with the most interesting, talented and intelligent individuals – business executives and professional actuaries alike. I’ve been retired for 20+ years now, and my work as a volunteer at the CAS allows continued opportunity to be with very talented people – actuaries & CAS staff.

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

“Become a P&C Actuary … Try, it you’ll like it!” How true it is. What a wonderful career.

On the job – 1) Listen to the views of others working the issue/problem – optimizes solutions and allows discussion of alternatives and downsides, 2) Rely on your team, don’t take it all on yourself.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?

Don’t focus only on the exams. Learn from your peers and superiors.

Seek a variety of assignments – offering multiple perspectives, a chance to find your niche(s), and an array of learning. Knowing your preferences and skill sets will pay dividends for years to come.

What is your favorite CAS memory?

My favorite CAS moments have come in my retirement years. With more time and greater flexibility, volunteer leadership roles can provide wonderful opportunities to make value-added contributions. It also keeps one active in the industry and provides the chance to connect with next generation actuaries … a mutual learning experience. One memory in particular – the chance to talk with three legendary actuaries leading to the Centennial meeting – Ruth Salzman, Charlie Hewett, and Bill Wieder – the three most senior Fellows at the time. What a privilege and learning experience.

What is a fun fact about yourself that many people don’t know about?

I’m a lifetime baseball fan. We’ve moved several times – so my local favorite team has shifted from St. Louis Cardinals to Boston Red Sox to Los Angeles Dodgers to Tampa Bay Rays. Baseball in person is the best – I’ve seen 1,000+ major league games (largest number in Dodger Stadium). My very favorite baseball memory is going to the Little League World Series in Williamsport PA – baseball and the love of sport at its purest.

April 2022 Member Spotlight – Melissa Huenefeldt
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Melissa Huenefeldt

Where do you work and what is your position?

I’m a Consulting Actuary at Milliman

Why did you decide to become an actuary?

When I was in high school, my Probabilities & Statistics teacher told me I should become an actuary. I thought insurance sounded boring, so I decided to pursue another math-related career: math education. However, after I did an observation in a high school classroom, I decided that teaching wasn’t for me. I then changed my major from math education to math and decided to add psychology as a second major.

After I graduated from college, I realized that a B.S. in Math (or Psychology), on its own, wasn’t extremely marketable, so I returned to school to work on my Master’s in Applied Mathematics. About a year into the program, someone shared a job posting with me for an Actuarial Specialist role at Missouri Farm Bureau. I applied and got the job, even without any exams. Once I started taking exams, I realized that it was more than just insurance. I finished my Master’s, and in fact, I defended my thesis the same day I took Exam FM.

I was 26 when I took my first exam, so I was a bit non-traditional, and in hindsight, I wish I would have studied Actuarial Science (my college had that as an option for a major) since I was lacking the financial component of the program. But I’ve been in the field for almost 16 years, and I love the experiences I have had and the people I have met.

What aspects of the field do you love?

I have two answers to this. First, I love the balance of art and science. People joke about putting 2 actuaries in the room and getting 3 different answers, but I appreciate that. This will sound nerdy of me, but I enjoy diving into the diagnostics to determine whether a client has an acceleration or deceleration of claim payments or a strengthening or deterioration of case reserves. It allows me to flex my critical thinking skills.

The second thing I love most about being a casualty actuary is volunteering for the CAS. I have been a part of the Professionalism Education Working Group since I became an ACAS, and I have served in a leadership role in the working group for the past two years. It allows me to help candidates reach the next stage of their career by attending the Course on Professionalism. Plus, I have met so many people, current and future actuaries, whom I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

Respond, don’t react. Previously, when I would receive feedback, either about my performance or my work product, my first instinct was to get defensive. At that point, I was closing myself off to opportunities because I was viewed as unreceptive. I had a boss tell me about five years ago to be more responsive and less reactive. When I gave myself time to simmer and to think about things from other people’s perspectives, I found that I was a lot less upset and that my response was a lot more thoughtful than if I reacted in the heat of the moment.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?

Focus on your communication skills. As things get more automated, our roles will shift to be less technical and more consultative. It’s good to practice explaining complicated concepts to non-technical audiences. When you are preparing to give a presentation, ask a non-actuary in your life if you can practice in front of them. They can point out where you might need to “dumb it down” to be more approachable for your audience.

What is your favorite CAS memory?

I received my ACAS at the Centennial Meeting in New York. Obviously, receiving my ACAS would have been a favorite memory anyway; however, it was even more special to celebrate the CAS’ 100th anniversary. I enjoyed hearing about the history of our society and how much it has evolved since 1914.

One of my favorite memories from that meeting was the Gala Dinner. They had an orchestra and band, consisting of CAS members, and after dinner, there was a dance floor. I remember dancing among some “CAS celebrities” (former Presidents and exam paper authors); it was such a fun way to network!

What is a fun fact about yourself that many people don’t know about?

I’m a fitness fanatic! I ran my 16th full marathon in March and am currently training for my 17th, with two more marathons later this year. I am a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT 200), and I teach Hot Yoga twice a week. In 2018, I completed a Century bike ride (100 miles) around Lake Tahoe. Staying active helps me to decompress, plus the discipline and mental fortitude needed to complete these fitness feats overlap with what is needed to be an actuary.

March 2022 Member Spotlight – Tetteh Otuteye
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Tetteh Otuteye

Where do you work and what is your position?

GM-Cruise - I am the VP of Risk Management

Why did you decide to become an actuary?

I have always enjoyed challenges associated with bringing clarity and making sense out of ambiguity, bringing order from chaos, and understanding related tradeoffs. I loved my college optimization math classes, I enjoyed finance and the study of economic decision making in uncertainty, and the behavioral economic, philosophical and moral dilemmas involved. As such, I gravitated quite naturally to the study of risk and the actuarial methods we use to aid in decision making across future time horizons involving inherent uncertainty. 

What aspects of the field do you love?

Helping leaders make informed risk-based decisions.  We all constantly navigate risk. Whether we're trying to decide whether to wear a mask, get a booster shot, travel to countries with different laws or choose our numbers for the Powerball, we are all constantly navigating and negotiating risk and uncertainty, individually and collectively, with counterparts with varying appetites for risk. In insurance, we apply actuarial science to aid in complex decisions across long time horizons.  Our methods thus lend themselves to an array of complex decisions involving optimizing for tradeoffs between current and future dollars, and other exchanges and tradeoffs between current uncertainty and future risks.  Developing a price for a risk is just one example of the application. Whether negotiating the terms of a reinsurance agreement, a loss portfolio transfer, the parameters of a Catastrophe bond or parametrizing a capital model to evaluate the probability of ruin for a company with limited funds and a changing risk profile - the techniques involved all lend themselves to many other applications involving risk, and can be used to enable more reliable decision-making when faced with significant uncertainty. 

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

"Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good" and "never forget that every model is wrong". 

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?

Be hungry, curious and never stop learning. But more than that, know yourself.  Know what you love, know what you're good at, know what you're uniquely passionate about, and play to your strengths. 

What is your favorite CAS memory?

Meeting a number of actuaries from all walks of life and from across the globe tackling a wide range of problems and comparing notes at meetings and over happy hours. 

What is a fun fact about yourself that many people don’t know about?

I love sailing! 

February 2022 Member Spotlight – Wenyi Zhang
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Wenyi Zhang

Why did you decide to become an actuary?

I first learned about the actuarial profession while working part time as an office assistant for an Insurance Agency. I helped potential customers quote their home and auto insurance. While doing that, I became really curious about the algorithm behind the quoting tool. Later I learned that Actuaries are the ones that helped set these prices. My curiosity led me to exploring statistics courses in college. And that is how my journey to become an actuary embarked.

What aspects of the field do you love?

Risk is everywhere, so insurance can be everywhere! Certainty is one of human essential needs. The need to feel safe, protected and have predictability of our lives. Insurance provides just that, the promise of certainty. As a pricing actuary, we put a price tag on that promise. That is a very cool and meaningful thing to do!

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

“You are in charge of your own career!” Go after what you are interested, find what motivates you, and be curious.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?

A good actuary solves real world problems by applying actuarial techniques. I’d say building solid actuarial knowledge is fundamental. Rotate to different areas earlier on in the career to find out what you like or dislike. Network, make friends with other actuaries, professionally and personally. It will make work more fun!

What is your favorite CAS memory?

My favorite CAS memory is 2016 CAS Annual Meeting in Orlando, FL. I received my FCAS recognition while having my daughter in my belly.

What is a fun fact about yourself that many people don’t know about?

I’m living with another FCAS under the same roof, my husband.

January 2022 Member Spotlight – Mark Maenche
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Mark Maenche

Where do you work and what is your position?

I work at Risk International Actuarial Consulting based in Charleston, SC.  My position is Consulting Actuary.

Why did you decide to become an actuary?

After college I worked as an insurance agent for 15+ years but I didn’t see a lot of opportunity for advancement in areas where I was passionate.  I was looking for a way to take more control over my own career advancement and wanted to find a better way to provide for my family.

What aspects of the field do you love?

I love working with the data and getting to drive efficiency using technology.  One of the unique aspects of my role at a small company is getting to lead the implementation of various technologies that help us produce work products more efficiently. I also enjoy the continual learning that takes places as I have recently transitioned from an analyst to credentialed actuary.

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

Discover what you are passionate about and then don’t be afraid to take a risk to pursue those things.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?

Pass the exams as early in your career as possible.  Don’t wait – it only gets harder as the years go by and life fills up with other responsibilities.

What is your favorite CAS memory?

My favorite CAS memories revolve around my participation on the Candidate Advocate Working Group (formerly known as the Candidate Liaison Committee).  Before I joined I really had no idea about how the CAS functioned.  It was a real eye opener and the people I have connected with along the way have been great.

What is a fun fact about yourself that many people don’t know about?

My wife and I have seven children – never a dull moment around our house

December 2021 Member Spotlight - Chelsea Adler
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Chelsea Adler

Where do you work and what is your position?

I am currently a Senior Pricing Manager and Actuary at Root Inc., an InsurTech start-up based in Columbus, OH. 

Why did you decide to become an actuary?

I was initially drawn to the actuarial profession because I love math and statistics. I wanted to use these skills to solve real world problems and help people. What really sold me on the profession is the collaboration and variety of work. No day is the same and I love getting to partner with people across an organization to accomplish shared goals. 

What aspects of the field do you love?

The actuarial profession is so dynamic and exciting! There are constantly new problems to solve. I love that I am always learning and being challenged to develop creative solutions. 

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

From a young age, my father instilled in me the importance of 360 degree leadership. To me, this means: 1) setting an example for others in the way that I work 2) boldly standing up for what I believe in and 3) confidently asking for what I want. I truly believe a career is what you make it. You can’t always control what happens to you. However, you can control your perspective and what you do next. 

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?

Get exposure to as much as possible early on! It’s hard to know what you like to work on until you try a bunch of different things. It’s a balance, but I would recommend saying “yes” to as many opportunities as you can, while also prioritizing exam studies.

What is your favorite CAS memory?

When I earned my Fellowship, I got to travel to Honolulu, HI to celebrate and be recognized. This was a really special trip, but since then, I’ve launched a blog to inspire future actuaries. I’m constantly building new favorite memories through connecting with and getting to know incredible actuaries from across the world. 

What is a fun fact about yourself that many people don’t know about?

If you’ve read my blog, then you may know that I was a synchronized swimmer for 15 years. What you may not know is that I was accepted to attend Stanford University, but ended up declining the opportunity. I wanted a school with an actuarial science program and at the time, they didn’t have that specific focus available. 

November 2021 Member Spotlight - Rafael Costa
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Rafael Costa

Where do you work and what is your position?

I work at Cruise as an Actuary Partner.

Why did you decide to become an actuary?

I have always enjoyed math, and wanted to apply my skills to real-world problems involving other disciplines as well. When I read about the Actuarial Science major in a career guide during high school, I thought that was the perfect fit.

What aspects of the field do you love?

This is a field that enables professionals to explore both depth and breadth. We can choose to specialize in cutting-edge research in more established sub-fields (e.g. Reserving) or be pioneers in industries that are just starting to realize the benefit of the actuarial skillset, such as Tech or Banking.

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

Develop a career plan, set ambitious goals for yourself, write them down, discuss with a mentor, and have fun putting it into practice!

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?

Take advantage of job rotation programs if you can. Getting exposure to different aspects of actuarial work early on will help you build your network and find your true passion.

What is your favorite CAS memory?

Walking up the stage to get my FCAS diploma, with a strong sense of relief for not having tripped on the steps.

What is a fun fact about yourself that many people don’t know about?

Growing up, I wanted to be a bus driver. Becoming an Actuary got in the way, but there's still time to make that happen!

October 2021 Member Spotlight - Emma Casehart

 

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Emma Casehart

Where do you work and what is your position?

I work at Allstate as an Assistant Actuary where I supervise a team of two focused on ratemaking for northeast states. Over my three-year career, I've worked on multiple products including property, auto, and specialty lines.

Why did you decide to become an actuary?

I decided to become an actuary because of my high school economics teacher! We were discussing how governments decide to add safety measures to intersections. One of the methods discussed was comparing the statistical value of a human life to the cost of installing the safety measure. I asked my teacher and the class "How do they determine the dollar value of a human life?" and he quipped back that I should be an actuary with that thought process. When I got home, I looked up the profession and I realized it would be a great fit for my interest in math and communication! I was drawn to property and casualty ratemaking because of how dynamic and fast-moving the field is.

What aspects of the field do you love?

I love that my work responds to the concerns of real people. Outside of the industry, it can feel like insurance is not exciting, or not relevant to someone's life. I like knowing that the work I do ensures affordable and equitable access to protection people need. I also enjoy collaborating with the different areas inside my company like contract, legal, and claims. Getting the chance to learn from other professionals about how my work touches their day-to-day job has been rewarding. Without their input and insight, my job would be significantly more difficult!

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

The best advice I've ever received is to know your personal brand. Whether you are aware of it or not, your colleagues have preconceptions about you that affect your relationships with them. Once you know those perceptions, you can develop a plan to highlight your strengths and position yourself to pick up projects that fit your skillset. With knowledge of your personal brand, you can better highlight your strengths to your managers and coworkers.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?

Don't be afraid to ask questions. The best actuaries I know approach every problem with a beginner's mindset and question the fundamental assumptions underlying a methodology. For a long time, I held back my questions because I feared being seen as inexperienced. I grew more confident when I saw some of the most experienced actuaries in the meeting asking similar questions to what I was too scared to ask. The adage you may have heard in school is true: if you have the question, someone else probably does too.

What is your favorite CAS memory?

My favorite CAS memory is the committee dinner after the first meeting of the Candidate Liaison Committee. I flew into D.C. in the morning from Chicago and had a return flight in the evening. After a full-day meeting with a packed agenda, the committee volunteers and staff went out to eat. It was great to take a break and get to know the other actuaries and people who make our Society possible. I'm looking forward to getting back together with my fellow committee members soon!

What is a fun fact about yourself that many people don’t know about?

I have recently become a birdwatcher! I already enjoyed long walks and watching birds has been a fun addition to my hikes. Appreciating the nature all around me, even in the heart of Washington, D.C., has provided moments of calm in my day.

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