Bao Ho is a senior at California State University Fullerton, where he is majoring in Mathematics with a concentration in Actuarial Science. Bao is the president of CSU Fullerton’s chapter of Gamma Iota Sigma, and he currently works part-time at State Farm. We spoke with Bao in July 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
Something that’s not on my resume is that I am a sneakerhead. I love sneakers. And I actually picked that as motivation for me to go to school and get a good job because then I’ll be able to purchase whatever shoes I want, however expensive they are. My favorite sneakers at the moment are the latest collaboration between Jordan 1 and Travis Scott.
I think this profession is at the heart of a constantly growing insurance industry. If you don’t want your daily work to be the same every day, then actuarial science is definitely the major for you.
For the last two years, since I’ve been at at Cal State Fullerton, for every actuary exam, I actually set a goal for myself. I said, “If I pass the exam, I’m going to buy these shoes for myself.” It’s been motivation for myself to study, and I passed two exams, first try.
What has your experience at Cal State Fullerton been like?
It’s been great. I’ve really enjoyed the past three semesters that I’ve been at Cal State Fullerton. I spent my first two years of college at a community college, Orange Coast College. I really felt isolated and alone in community college because it was difficult to make friends. Even if I made friends, I likely wouldn’t be able to see them the next semester because they might be in a different major from me.
When I transferred to Cal State Fullerton, though, the school really emphasized networking. Every department has organizations and clubs that help students with their academics, as well as looking for internships and jobs.
Because of that, I discovered that I wanted to pursue actuarial science as a career. I’ve made friends with many students who have the same academic path as I do. In addition, with the diversity of the students here at Cal State Fullerton, I think I’m really fortunate to have friends who’ve come here from all different countries and to be able to learn about different cultures without having to travel the world.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
When I was in high school, I knew that I liked math and wanted to pursue a career in mathematics later in life, but I didn’t know exactly what to do. So, I started college at community college, and I got my Associate Degree in Mathematics, and then I transferred to Cal State Fullerton.
I saw a flyer about actuarial science, and I talked to the math department chair about it, and I got referred to Professor Jeffery Jolley. He was the professor in finance who was in charge of the actuarial science program, and he talked to me about the major. He had been an actuary for about 30 years, so he had a lot of insight into the field.
He explained to me the basics of the major and how I could use math in my daily work as an actuary. That really interested me, and that’s how I came to know actuarial science.
After I took some actuarial classes, I knew that I really liked the major, because actuarial science isn’t just pure math. I prefer applied math over theoretical math because I feel like when I study, I need examples in order to understand a concept. And with actuarial science, I get to use real numbers and real-world examples.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
I think this profession is at the heart of a constantly growing insurance industry. If you don’t want your daily work to be the same every day, then actuarial science is definitely the major for you. For insurance and risk, there are no two identical risks, and you have to think of solutions for a new risk every time you see a new risk.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
I really like the program so far. CSU Fullerton has courses that do a great job of preparing students for SOA exams. In addition, Professor Dwight Wynne from the math department and Professor Jolley from the finance department offer free Exam P and Exam FM workshops in the summer. Each workshop is 10 weeks long and 3 hours a week, so a total of 30 hours of workshop. And I think as a result, we usually have 50 percent of students pass the exam at the end of every summer.
Our actuarial program is still young. We just started it around three years ago, but with all the hard work that all of the professors, faculty, and staff are putting in, I believe it will definitely grow fast.
In addition to that, we have a chapter of Gamma Iota Sigma. Next semester, I’m going to be the president of our chapter. The club is not just about actuarial science, but it’s also about insurance in general, risk management, claims, and everything related to insurance. We invite keynote speakers in every week to talk about their jobs, how they found out about insurance, and why they chose insurance as a profession.
Also, every year we have Insurance Day, which attracts around 35 insurance companies. These companies come to our school to talk about their company, hire students for internships, and offer full-time jobs to students.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
My favorite class so far has been Finance 415 – Quantitative Theory of Interest. I approached actuarial science from the math side, so everything had been sort of dry, with no real-world examples, until that class. The class was taught by Professor Jolley, and I realized how deeply mathematics can be applied to other subjects like finance.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
The most challenging part about actuarial science is time management, because you have to study for SOA exams while focusing on your classes in order to maintain a good GPA.
The exams are really challenging, and in order to pass, students need to deeply understand the concepts, as well as know how to apply them to exam problems. Whenever I study for exams and do practice problems, I tend to spend a lot of time, and as a result, sometimes I don’t have enough time to study for classes in school. I wish I had known how much time studying would take.
I also wish I had known the importance of technical skills like Excel and programming, so I could have taken courses ahead of time to develop those skills.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
I’m currently working part time at a State Farm agent office. The job isn’t actuarial science-related, but I have learned a lot from it and have been able to learn the business side of insurance. I’ve also learned how every profession in insurance works together as a machine, and I know I can’t be successful as an actuary student if I don’t know how other departments work.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
A few months ago, I attended the Drake Symposium on Insurance in Des Moines, Iowa. It was hosted by Drake University, and there was a presentation about home insurance that really caught my attention. With all the recent advancements in technology, a lot of houses are now equipped with smart devices like smart doorbells, smoke and water sensors, and smart thermostats. Many insurance companies are doing research on how to insure these kinds of smart houses, because in the near future, most houses will be equipped with these smart devices, and that will change premiums and insurance costs.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
The insurance field is huge. It’s great if you already know what profession you want to go into, but if not, you should do some research and talk to other people to see what fits you the best. My advice is, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” because there are a lot of professionals who were in your position at some point, and they are more than happy to give you advice about what to look for and what to expect.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
I am currently a student member of the Casualty Actuarial Society, and I visit their website once a week to read news to update myself about all the new trends in the insurance industry. Occasionally, they will have some educational workshops, which are available for student members as well. I attended one of their webinar workshops, where I got to talk with insurance professionals around the country.