Jack Richards is a senior at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where he is majoring in Actuarial Science and Finance with a minor in Economics. Jack serves as a student representative on the board of trustees of Gamma Iota Sigma, and he is also currently interning at Sammons Financial Group. We spoke with Jack in January 2020.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
Every year, Drake has one of the biggest collegiate track meets in the country, and with that, they hold a half-marathon for the community. Last spring, I ran that half-marathon—it was the first half-marathon that I’ve run.
What has your experience at Drake University been like?
At Drake, there’s a saying that everyone’s “Drake busy.” What that means is everyone, on top of school and classes, is involved in a lot of different things, whether that’s clubs, organizations, jobs, internships, and so on. Something that I’ve really enjoyed about Drake is having a community of students that is as involved and as passionate about what they’re doing as I am. Surrounding myself with people like that is something that has really helped me throughout my time here at Drake.
What was really attractive about being an actuary was being able to be that trusted business advisor and to be able to tell a story around data.
Drake is a smaller school, with about 3,500 undergraduate students, and I really like the smaller class sizes and the ability to form relationships with professors and other students in class. Outside of classes and school, I’m fortunate to be involved in a few different clubs here at Drake. I was co-president of Gamma Iota Sigma, which is a business fraternity focused on actuarial science and insurance, and I’m also involved in club tennis and club golf. That takes up a decent chunk of my time here at Drake. It’s almost wrapped up, but so far I’ve really been thrilled with my experience here.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Drake?
I knew I wanted to be an actuary going into college, so I looked at all of the CAE (Society of Actuaries Center of Excellence) schools. I knew I wanted to go somewhere in the Midwest, and I wanted a school that was a little smaller with a good actuarial program, and Drake really checked off those boxes. I visited a couple of schools throughout the Midwest, and when I visited Drake, I really thought that it kind of felt like home, and I just fit in here, and the people that I met and the professors that I interacted with during that visit really made me feel welcome. That’s definitely one of the biggest factors that went into me eventually picking Drake as a place to go to school.
What influenced you to pursue actuarial science?
Back in high school, I’d always been decent at math, and I was a couple of grades ahead. One of my neighbors is an actuary back in Chicago, and he recommended the profession to me. Being an actuary is this really interesting mix of math and business that I hadn’t seen before. Because I was always good at math throughout high school, to be able to do math within a business setting kind of grabbed my attention. Then as I looked further into being an actuary, what was really attractive about it was being able to be that trusted business advisor and to be able to tell a story around data. That’s something that I really enjoy doing, and I’m really glad that I chose to pursue the actuarial profession.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
One of the biggest plusses for the profession is the insurance industry is really a growing industry. There are new, different coverages being offered all the time, and actuaries are at the forefront of that. I think it’s a really good profession to get into, especially as so much regulatory turbulence is occurring. There’s a lot of opportunities for actuaries to play the lead role here and really lead the way on these issues.
Additionally, the actuarial field has stimulating work. It’s really interesting, mathematical, data-driven work. But you also get to tell that story when you’re sharing results. That’s something that I really enjoy doing, and I think students interested in analytics or math really have an opportunity to do so in the profession.
And then lastly, I would say financial security is a big part of the appeal of the actuarial profession. I think if you look at the unemployment of actuaries and their salaries, it’s pretty good, and it’s a really financially secure industry and profession to go into.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
There’s a couple of things that I think stand out about Drake’s program. On campus, there’s probably about 3,500 undergraduate students and about 260 actuarial students in Drake’s actuarial program. Something that’s really interesting is you do have that smaller school, but you also have a really rigorous program, and there’s a lot of people that are with you in the program, too.
A few things that I really like about the program—first, is the location. Des Moines is known as one of the insurance capitals of the country. With that, you have so many different companies headquartered here in Des Moines, and you have so many different opportunities. For example, I have interned throughout the school year in each of my sophomore, junior, and senior years. I think that’s an experience that you wouldn’t get at a university that’s not centered in an insurance-heavy town.
Additionally, there are classes throughout the program that prepare you for a multitude of exams. I believe we have the first five or six exams by the SOA and the first four or five for the CAS that are taught here at Drake. The program sets you up really well for success, in terms of pairing up exams with coursework and being able to take a course, study for a month, and then pass the exam. I think that’s something that really stands out about Drake. It’s so focused on passing exams and getting real-world experience, and I think other schools might not have the opportunity, due to location or the number of students in the program, to do it as rigorously.
There are also two actuarial organizations on campus. One of them is Gamma Iota Sigma, and the other is the Drake Actuarial Student Society. I was the co-president of GIS during my junior year, and now I’m actually one of the two students on the board of trustees at a national level. Gamma Iota Sigma is a collegiate professional business fraternity that’s at almost 90 different universities in the United States. What they offer is really unparalleled access to the industry. You’re surrounding yourself with students that are interested in the actuarial profession, risk management, or the insurance industry. It’s a really great opportunity for you to go out and meet students from other schools and industry representatives from different companies, and really create that network.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
The most challenging aspect about studying or becoming an actuary really is being able to balance exams, schoolwork, and extracurricular activities. To become an actuary, you need to pass a series of professional exams that aren’t exactly easy, and to be able to balance this while you’re in school or working is definitely a challenge. At Drake, they provide you with a robust support system, and they offer those classes that help prepare you for the exams.
Throughout high school, I didn’t have to study too much, and it was pretty easy for me to get good grades. But taking that first actuarial exam—it’s a whole other level, and that’s definitely been the most challenging part. Luckily, I’ve passed three exams so far, and I’m taking my fourth in the spring. It’s definitely something you can overcome, but more work than you would think goes into it. That would also be what I wish I would have known ahead of time, sitting down to take that first exam, just to know how rigorous it is and how much I need to study for it going into it.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
I’ve interned at four different companies, all actuarial positions. My first internship was in the summer after my freshman year at Travelers Insurance in St. Paul, Minnesota. Something really unique about that was to be able to have an internship after freshman year. I think I was one of two freshmen out of the entire intern program that was able to get that. With that experience, I really learned a lot about the technical skills that you need to become an actuary, using computer programs like Excel, R, and SAS, and combining those with being able to ask the right questions, and learning more about the industry.
During my sophomore year, I interned at Farm Bureau Financial, which is a life insurance company in West Des Moines. I won’t go into as much detail there, but essentially, after that internship, the summer after my sophomore year, I went back to Travelers Insurance in St. Paul, and I really enjoyed it there.
After that, I also interned at Travelers throughout the school year of my junior year. Something unique about that is that I worked from home. Not many interns get to do that, but my team was in St. Paul, and I just worked from my apartment throughout that whole year. That was a really cool experience to learn how to do that because it’s different than being in the office and being next to your manager every day.
This past summer, I interned at Deloitte Consulting in Chicago. The internship wasn’t exactly insurance-focused, but it was in their actuarial practice. I had a client, a pharmaceutical company, and we evaluated how they were going to release a new drug, how they should plan to release it, how much they should charge, what populations they should target, and so on. It was definitely an interesting way to apply my actuarial skill set to another industry.
Right now, I’m interning at Sammons Financial Group, a life insurance company in West Des Moines, on their enterprise risk management team. Essentially, they look at a company in whole and look at what the big risks are that the company faces and how we can mitigate those.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
After graduation, I’ll be joining full-time at Deloitte Consulting in their actuarial services. Essentially that’s similar to what I did this summer, really going from client to client and providing actuarial services along with consulting services, and taking my skills as an actuary and applying those to business problems.
Something I’ve really enjoyed is to be able to take the actuarial skills of data analysis and really being the expert in the room and to be able to tell a story with that data. So in five to ten years, hopefully, I’ll be doing something similar to that. I don’t know where I’ll be, but as long as I’m being viewed as that key trusted advisor in the room, I’ll be happy with wherever I am.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
Don’t get discouraged if you hear it’s boring, because that’s not true. A lot of people think working in the insurance industry is automatically boring. But I would argue the exact opposite. At Travelers, for example, I worked with their cyber insurance, looking at what happens when a company is hacked or when their systems are breached, and then how they respond to that, and how much money that could cost potentially. So it’s really interesting stuff in certain areas of the industry, and I’d really encourage them to continue looking and consider a path in the field.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
For somebody interested in the actuarial field, there are two Drake alumni who wrote a book about the actuarial exams. Roy Ju graduated a few years ago, and he was the youngest person ever to get his FSA. He partnered with another Drake alum, and they wrote a book called Actuarial Exam Tactics: Learn More, Study Less. Essentially, it talks about the best techniques you can use to study, how to plan your study schedules, and some tips and tricks from the youngest actuary ever. I definitely recommend looking into that book. It’s a really good read, and it’s really applicable as you’re taking those actuarial exams.
» If you liked Jack’s interview, check out our other actuarial science student interviews.