Meet A CAS Staff Actuary: Mallika Bender, FCAS
This is the first article in an occasional series profiling either a credentialed actuary or a CAS staff member. Our inaugural article does both as I interviewed Mallika Bender, FCAS and CAS Staff Actuary for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Laura Hemmer: Hi, Mallika, and thanks for joining me. First things first: How did you first become interested in being an actuary?
Mallika Bender: Happy to be here! I had actually never heard of an actuary, even in college at American University, until my senior year. I was a statistics major and had originally intended to go into stats research, but after an internship I figured out it wasn’t for me. I bought a book called Careers for Math Majors, which was alphabetical. I knew I didn’t want to be an accountant, but “actuary” sounded interesting. I particularly liked the idea of taking exams while working instead of going to grad school. I passed Exam P, applied and got a job, and that was it.
LH: How was the exam journey for you?
MB: My total travel time was about 4.5 years. I was lucky to have passed all of my exams on the first try, which I know is not usual. I’ve always been good at taking tests, and I knew what worked for me when it came to studying. I always made overly detailed study plans with a list of step-by-step tasks. That said, I also had really bad back pain around the time of exams, which I now realize was due to exam stress! I remember I received my FCAS at a CAS meeting in Washington, D.C., which was a little bit disappointing because that’s where I was living at the time. However, my sister was pregnant and close to her due date, so in the end I didn’t mind being local as my nephew was born during the conference!
LH: Do you have a best or worst exam moment?
MB: Exam 3F was my worst moment. I remember thinking that there were so many questions that I had no recollection even learning about. Many seemed to feel the same after the exam, as everyone was pretty downtrodden and there were lots of expletives said in the room.
LH: What has your career path been like?
MB: I spent five years at GEICO, working two years each in pricing and reserving, and finally a few months in underwriting models. After I received my FCAS, I wanted to live abroad before having kids, and luckily both my husband and I received job offers in Sydney, Australia. I spent three years at Suncorp in Sydney, in a mixed pricing/reserving role for commercial, corporate and specialty lines, including marine and professional liability. After we decided to return to the United States, I joined QBE North America in Philly pricing for their farmowners line of business. One cool project I did during that time was to help figure out a new coverage for drones being used in the business of farming. I was also the actuary responsible for their business planning process.
After that I became a consultant at Willis Towers Watson (WTW), mainly working on reinsurance reserving for some captives and excess lines, although I also did a little pricing and predictive modeling as well. I then had a baby and took some time off. When my son was almost one year old, I decided to pursue my passion for diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) and began working with the CAS as a staff actuary in 2021.
LH: Tell me a little bit more about how you got involved with the CAS.
MB: I joined the CAS Diversity Committee in 2015 during my time at QBE and continued on while I was at WTW. I realized that there was so much DE&I work to do, and I felt very passionate about it. I got more involved in committees at work — I just wanted to keep learning more and more. This eventually led me to talk to the CAS about a role here. Coincidentally, many years before when I was working at GEICO, I helped facilitate employee diversity training sessions — something that I never thought would translate into a career down the road, but here we are!
Being an actuary has been helpful when looking at DE&I. I’ve been involved in company hiring in the past, and I know the process to become an actuary. I can explain the barriers to entry when talking to aspiring actuaries or hiring employers. Understanding actuarial practice also helps me manage the CAS Race and Insurance Pricing initiative, which focuses on how systemic racism can intersect with insurance practices and how actuarial expertise can help the industry identify and solve potential problems. I enjoy that this work integrates two different aspects of my experience.
LH: What do you like most about working at the CAS?
MB: Everyone in CAS staff and leadership is supportive and excited about our DE&I work, which has been really rewarding. People really want to have an impact.
LH: What is the main goal of your current position?
MB: In my current role at the CAS, my goal is to move the needle on diversity within the actuarial profession. There are several groups that have long been underrepresented in our profession, and we’re working on building awareness of the career and ensuring that resources are available to support people from those backgrounds through the career path. That work is not just focused on the entry level, but all the way up to leadership levels, where underrepresentation is often even more pronounced. We’re also working on educating current actuaries (especially those who are responsible for hiring and promoting other actuaries) on how to reduce bias and create more inclusive workplaces.
LH: What has been your proudest career moment?
MB: At QBE I developed a new business planning process. This was an enormous process that crossed four to five business departments, combining huge spreadsheets into new software. It was the most work I’ve ever done, with long nights and challenging conversations, but I was proud of learning a whole new programming language and building the new tool from scratch. I was nominated for a Top 10 Employee award for that project.
LH: Who has influenced you most in your career?
MB: My first boss, Carolyn Morris at GEICO. She helped me build my actuarial judgment, but she also taught me to be confident, particularly when presenting in front of others. She was a great coach — she let me work independently and, when I would make a mistake, she would show me how to correct it by phrasing it as “something to work on for next time.” She really focused on growth and created a comfortable environment. She also taught me that it was ok to protect my work/life balance.
LH: Do you have any advice for current actuarial candidates?
MB: Never be afraid to ask questions and admit you don’t know something. Take the opportunities to learn something new when given to you. Those skills will pay off at your next position down the line. I used to be afraid to ask questions, but asking made me realize that most people don’t know or are afraid to ask. Asking changes the culture and makes it ok for everyone to question, so we can all learn together. It also helps others who learn by teaching to you. Really, everyone benefits.
Becoming an actuary has also let me achieve other nonactuarial goals in my life. Getting my Fellowship opened doors to working abroad. Being able to move into my current role was due to the experiences and network I built while volunteering with the CAS. I’m really thankful to have had so many great opportunities as an actuary!
LH: Thanks for speaking with me, Mallika!
If you have a suggestion for someone we should profile, please email CAWG@casact.org.