Lydia Gallo is a senior at Georgia State University in Atlanta, where she is majoring in Actuarial Science. Lydia is secretary for the GSU Zeta chapter of Gamma Iota Sigma, and she is currently interning at AssuranceAmerica as a product analyst trainee. We spoke with Lydia in September 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I’m a big plant mom. I think at my peak I had 80 plants. Some were babies that I was raising, and then others were just full-grown houseplants. I really like to garden, get into nature, and balance out the analytical office life that comes with being an actuary.
What has your experience at Georgia State University been like?
I’ve been here a year now since I moved from Indiana. It’s about a nine-hour drive between me and my family. That was a really big adjustment, especially at the beginning.
By getting a specific actuarial science degree and by completing your certification, you’re trained intensively in a very specific area of statistical analysis and modeling, which is really appealing to a variety of companies.
I’ve always been really independent, and I think Atlanta is a really great place to learn in. Our campus is in the heart of downtown, and we don’t have a traditional campus. We’re among city buildings, so you’re really thrown into the real world.
I think it’s a great learning opportunity, and I do enjoy having this time in my life to live downtown and to have that city experience. I, along with most of the population, will probably end up living in the suburbs. So it’s really great to have that youthful energy around in the city. And then there’s also Atlanta as a location. The insurance industry is really bustling and booming around here, but not only that; there’s so much entertainment, and the food is amazing.
Georgia State as a university offers a lot for students, too. I was overwhelmed during the first month or two, because there were so many clubs and events going on all the time. I’m part of the Honors College, so there are also specific events for that, and being in the business school means there’s always something going on as well.
I’m part of Gamma Iota Sigma, and we’re also doing events for that every week right now. Georgia State has so many resources. They really take advantage of being in the heart of Atlanta, right alongside all of the businesses. We have great networking opportunities, and I think that’s what I’m most thankful for—all of the opportunities we have to connect with business professionals and learn from them.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Georgia State?
So this is shocking to a lot of people, but I applied to 28 schools. I basically applied anywhere that offered an actuarial science program and a free application. Georgia State’s application was not free, but I found out about them late in the game.
I ended up hearing about Georgia State from a friend. He told me his brother goes there, so I looked it up, and I saw that it’s one of the SOA Centers of Actuarial Excellence. I went ahead and applied that night, and then I applied for the Presidential Scholarship, which was a competition for a full-ride scholarship. I went down to Georgia State and competed, and I really enjoyed the campus and the people I met there. I didn’t end up getting the full ride, but I still got really good scholarships.
At that time, I was deciding between Purdue and Georgia State. Purdue was 45 minutes from my house, but it was not that much cheaper than it was to go out of state, 9 hours away, out of my comfort zone to Georgia State. The big deciding factor between Purdue and Georgia State was that Purdue’s actuarial science program is in its math department, and I wanted to be somewhere where it was in the business school. At Georgia State, we have a specific Risk Management and Insurance department. That was big for me because I wanted that strong business perspective.
What influenced you to pursue actuarial science?
When I was a sophomore in high school, on the first day of class in AP Statistics, we were given an assignment to write a paper on what an actuary is. So I went home that night, and I went to Google and just typed in, “What is an actuary?” I went on the SOA website, and as I was perusing, I thought, “Hey, this sounds like me,” because I was always mathematically driven. And I also always envisioned myself in a business career and a business environment.
I had previously wanted to be a geneticist, a job that does have some sort of statistics bent to it, but I didn’t want to work in a lab. So I discovered actuarial science through my teacher. I took the rest of my statistics course and absolutely loved it. Plus, my teacher was very encouraging of my choice to pursue this field.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
I think there’s a reason that being an actuary is always one of the top-rated jobs. There seems to be a lot of flexibility in the career, and that’s increasingly important with the younger generation coming up. For example, a lot of employers offer study time for exams once you’re there. That helps balance the stresses of getting certified with growing your professional career.
I’ve also seen that work/life balance is really important among our generation. A lot of companies are realizing that and offering a virtual office combined with a physical office. So some days you may be able to work from home; some days you can go into the office. This can allow you to have that flexibility in your schedule, which is really appealing to me and where I see my life going.
Also, by going through all of the courses and getting a specific actuarial science degree and by completing your certification, you’re trained intensively in a very specific area of statistical analysis and modeling, which is really appealing to a variety of companies. A lot of businesses nowadays, no matter the field, want people who have been specifically and thoroughly prepared to take on other broader roles of risk management and modeling in their companies. So if you have an interest in another area, you can get an actuarial science degree and work for that company. It doesn’t have to be just insurance, which I think a lot of people do not realize.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
Georgia State is one of the Centers of Actuarial Excellence, and you can definitely see why. Our faculty are super committed and involved with their students, and they really try to support them. We have open-door policies in our department, and professors offer a variety of office hours if you ever need to just chat, get advice, or get help on schoolwork. For exams, we get reimbursed if we pass them. The department offers study sessions and study materials and, as a whole, is extremely supportive.
Our classes are very thorough and holistic. We’re preparing for all of the major preliminary exams. When you’re in class, you can see how passionate, qualified, well-rounded, and knowledgeable your professors are. They’re able to show you how what you’re learning in class is going to impact the rest of your career.
We have a chapter of Gamma Iota Sigma, which is an international risk management fraternity. We hold numerous speaker events and networking events. Our big event is The Riskies, which is an awards night where we invite risk and insurance professionals from all around Atlanta to come, and we recognize them as great examples in the industry. And then we get to network with them, and that’s actually how I got my internship and current job this summer.
GIS is always working alongside students and bringing people in. There are so many alumni from Georgia State who want to come and give back. I think that’s a really big indicator of the quality of the program. I’m actually secretary of our chapter, and it’s been so amazing being able to connect with everyone.
We also have the Actuarial Student Association (ASA), which helps actuarial science students develop their soft skills, build resumes, and get in touch with professionals. We’re working on kind of joining the two groups more—GIS and ASA—making them more functional together so that there’s more harmony between what they’re doing.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
My favorite class so far is Probability and Statistics. Our professor is also the course coordinator, so he keeps the class really interesting, and he provides us with good study materials and tips. You can tell he’s super passionate about the material and being the best instructor he can be for us.
In terms of the course material, I find the blend of calculus and statistics really interesting and challenging. When they’re blended together with the type of modeling, distributions, and everything that we are calculating for our careers, that’s when the challenge comes, and that’s where I’ve found I’ve grown as a student and as a person. It honestly has made me more excited about the route that I have chosen to follow.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
I think the most challenging thing about studying actuarial science is just the speed of it, because the goal of our program is to prepare you for the most exams possible, so you’re taking a lot of courses. You’re taking one, two, three courses to prepare you for each exam, and that’s a lot to fit into four years. Especially in my case, where I came in with so many credits, I’m doing the whole program in five semesters. So honestly the speed of it is the biggest challenge for me.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
I’m currently working as a product analyst trainee at AssuranceAmerica, which is a non-standard car insurance company. I’ve been there since April, and I was able to work full time throughout the summer, which was a great experience and really exposed me to what office life is like.
The experience has been wonderful so far. Our company has around 200 employees, so it’s pretty small, but it really feels like a family, and I’ve met great people and made great friends.
The other benefit of working for such a small company is that I get to work on projects that I would not even get my hands on in larger companies. I’m working alongside our pricing manager, doing loss triangles, working on reserving projects, and much more. I even get to do work on the business analyst side, where I’m doing market segment analyses. There’s just a huge variety that I’ve been able to see.
A lot of the actuarial science material in the classroom is very math-based, technical, and analytical. But through this internship, I’ve been able to go out in the field, and I get to see broader insurance terms in action—more of what you would be doing in RMI. It’s been a great combination, where they’re trying to include my actuarial skills with the pricing and reserving side, but I also get to see the general analytical insurance side.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
I’m trying to nail down an actuarial-specific internship for next summer, and then one more semester after that, I’ll graduate. I think I want to work in life insurance. Even before I decided to go to Georgia State, I was able to sit in on a professor’s Q&A session for a life contingencies course, and that really attracted me to the mathematics and the course material behind that. Life insurance has been on the forefront of my mind, and I think that’s where I would like to be.
I’m really hoping to be able to explore more next summer before I make that final call. I definitely want to gain experience in a traditional insurance company for a few years after college and hopefully work my way into consulting, so I have more flexibility. Being able to have more time to balance other interests in my life with my career is the end goal.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
As someone who works in car insurance right now, self-driving cars are going to be really interesting over the next two to ten years. Self-driving cars are probably going to make everything even more multilayered, especially in terms of liability.
If there’s an accident, you’ve got to ask who’s at fault. Is it the passenger that’s sitting there? Were they paying attention? Is the company running the navigation program liable? Is it the company who made the car and the mechanism to be self-automated? And then how do we prove that? Are we going to install cameras in the cars to make sure that the passenger was paying attention? Are we going to put trackers in the car to know where they’re going if the navigation system failed? And then we have to ask how that’s going to affect privacy rights, because we have to think in terms of the rights of our clients too.
Self-driving cars are definitely going to cause that shakeup in the auto industry in terms of how we reserve for those cases then. Maybe accident numbers will go down if they’re going to be safer cars, like they hope, and maybe losses will greatly decrease. But that’s still pretty unexplored at the moment. Self-driving cars are also going to be a cultural change, too, which will be really interesting to see its impacts on many areas.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
Get out and talk about it. The field is growing at such a high rate, you’ll most likely know someone that’ll have a friend, or a friend of a friend, with whom you can discuss career paths and what’s happening in the industry. There are so many different roles you can take in insurance as a whole. It doesn’t have to be actuarial science. You can do brokerage, underwriting, claims, or customer service. There are so many different ways you can get involved and find a career path that’s right for you.
Reach out to faculty at colleges. You don’t have to be in college yet to email a professor and ask if you can meet them for 15 minutes to talk about what their program is all about. You can reach out to alumni from your school. You can look up people. There’s a way to search on LinkedIn where you can filter by people in specific roles at specific companies. So I’d say just reach out to people. Learn what the field is about, and learn what attracts people to their position in the industry, because that’s really what was most helpful to me when I was figuring it out.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
If someone is just getting interested, I recommend going through the Society of Actuaries website. I may be biased because that’s where I got my start, but they give an insightful overview about what the career is about, and down the road, you’ll also want to be familiar with that website, because that’s where you may be scheduling exams and applying for your VEE credits.
I also think getting a subscription to Business Insurance magazine is important because they cover a wide variety of topics, not just insurance.They have different themes for everyone, and they talk about how those topics tie into the industry. Like I said, I really like nature and getting out and involved with plants and the environment. The magazine recently did an article on the California wildfires and how that related to how we model catastrophes and how it impacted the industry as a whole. So I think Business Insurance is really useful for people who want to know more about insurance and how other fields can impact our industry.