Matt McMaster is a senior at the Milwaukee School of Engineering in Wisconsin. He is an Actuarial Science major and plans to graduate in November 2019. This summer, Matt will be interning at Allstate Corporation in their Home and Auto Pricing Department. We spoke with Matt in April 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I’m really into backpacking, hiking, and the outdoors in general. I’ve twice climbed Mount Whitney, which is the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. I also worked at a backpacking camp in the Rocky Mountains in New Mexico for a summer. I thought those were both really cool experiences.
What has your experience at the Milwaukee School of Engineering been like?
Coming from San Diego, Milwaukee was definitely a big move from home for me, but it’s a really nice city to live in. The campus is right downtown, so there’s tons of stuff to do, and everything I need is within walking distance. Winter is a little bit hard for me because I had lived in California my whole life until moving out here, but it takes some adjusting.
I think this school is really what I needed. It’s a small school and the program has a tight-knit community, so it’s been really good for me.
I think actuarial science is a really good way to use your technical and business skills to make a meaningful impact for a company and in lots of people’s lives.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose MSOE?
I’m actually a transfer student, and I originally went to the University of California, Davis for a year, majoring in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. After a year of that, I went home to a community college in San Diego for two years to figure out what I really wanted to do, before coming to MSOE.
When I was looking at schools, I was looking for general math or applied math programs at all the Southern California schools. For actuarial science-specific programs, I was looking at UC Santa Barbara and Drake University, other than Milwaukee. I decided to choose MSOE because I thought it would be the best overall for me because of the small class sizes and actuarial program.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
I initially went into engineering because I liked math in high school, and I figured engineering was the natural progression for someone who liked math. But when I was at UC Davis, I decided I definitely didn’t want to do engineering for the rest of my career.
So I came home, and I was pursuing a math major for a little bit, and then I decided to take a couple of accounting and finance classes because I have a lot of accountants in my family. I had a really great accounting professor, and she really inspired me to look into that field. I thought I wanted to do accounting for a little bit, and then when I found out there was something that takes math and finance principles and puts them together in actuarial science, I knew that was for sure what I wanted to do.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
I think actuarial science is a really good way to use your technical and business skills to make a meaningful impact for a company and in lots of people’s lives. I know that sometimes insurance can have negative stigma, but in actuarial work, you’re actually able to ensure that the company can pay out policyholders in the event of an accident, without unnecessarily overcharging them.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
The program at MSOE is relatively new. Dr. Yvonne Yaz, the program director of our actuarial science program, built the program from the ground up. She’s just one of the many faculty here that are really passionate about helping students succeed.
It’s a small program, so all the classes here are taught by the professors. They’re all here to teach and focus on students. The program offers a lot of math and business classes, which I think is very unique, because students learn the technical skills that they need, but they learn business and professional skills as well.
There are also a lot of resources and activities outside of class. I’ve participated in an international equity research competition for the school, where we were given a company, and we were told to do a research project on whether or not we should buy, sell, or hold the stock. So we read through all of their financials, ran a bunch of models on their stock, looked at their company strategies to decide whether it was a good investment or not.
A few weeks ago, I had the chance to present a research project I did on the connections between gambling and finance, along with a prediction model that I built for the NCAA March Madness tournament . I had the opportunity to present my findings to actuaries from a few actuarial consulting firms and insurance companies, and that was all because of the connection that my school has to professionals in the industry.
We also have a club on campus called the Math and Actuarial Science Club. We have frequent meetings where people come in from different companies or the industry, like the CAS or SOA, to speak to our students on our campus. We also hold weekly study sessions for the preliminary actuarial exams.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
One of my favorite classes was a data analytics course I took through the business school. It taught us how to use R. Later on in the quarter, once we were familiar with that, we were given hypothetical business situations. We were told to do all the things that we learned in that class to make decisions for the company, which I thought was really fun and applicable to actuarial work.
Another one of my favorite classes is one I’m in right now, Investment and Portfolio Analysis, which goes along with preparing for Exam IFM. The class uses a bunch of different methods to analyze stocks, mutual funds, and other assets.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
I think time management is the most challenging thing because it’s hard balancing school, actuarial exams, work, and trying to have a social life all at the same time. Coming into the program, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I don’t think I knew just how much of a time commitment it would be.
Also, the actuarial exams themselves are no joke. I am still taking preliminary exams, and they are like no other tests I have taken before. The amount and depth of the material requires a lot of study time.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
I have an internship coming up this summer at the Allstate home office in Northbrook, Illinois, and I’ll be in the Home and Auto Pricing Department there.
After graduation, my goal is to try to get a job in the field. Longer-term, my goal is to get my FSA or FCAS, depending on where I end up, and then to see where that takes me from there. If it keeps me in the actuarial profession, that’s good, but I know that it can also take me outside of it. I just have to see where it goes.
I think I’m probably going to head to the property and casualty side. That industry is changing so much, and there are so many different things you can do in that industry. There are a lot of interesting things happening in the P&C industry right now, and it seems like a good time to get into it.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
I’ve heard a lot about machine learning and AI as the next big thing for actuaries, but there are also developments like self-driving cars, with Tesla and other companies, and the issue of how companies are going to insure that. Accidents are probably going to be less frequent, but the severity of the accidents could be much bigger.
Another development in auto insurance is telematics, like Allstate’s Drivewise program. With telematics, you can have a device in your car that tracks your driving tendencies and prices your insurance based on how safe or unsafe of a driver you are.
A few weeks ago, I heard about something called on-demand insurance. On-demand insurance allows the user to choose when they want their insurance to be active. For example, if you do not drive frequently, regular insurance can be expensive. For the few times you do drive, you can activate your insurance, and then you can deactivate it when not needed. It’s literally an on-and-off switch for insurance for things that you own, which I thought was pretty interesting.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
I’ll start with a couple exam resources that I use. I use Coaching Actuaries, the website, for all my exam prep so far. They’re very thorough, and they have really good practice test software. I also used a YouTube channel for Exams P and FM. It’s called Mancinelli’s Math Lab. It’s completely free. The guy is super entertaining, and he explains concepts really well.
A book that I read for fun, which is a little bit less related to actuarial science, is Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski. It explains soccer topics through the eyes of economics and data, which, as a huge soccer fan, I really enjoyed.
Another book I liked is The Magic of Math by Arthur Benjamin. He’s one of my favorite mathematicians and he has a bunch of really great TED Talks. In this book, he goes through topics that you learn in high school and early college and shows a little bit of a different perspective on how they work, as well as showing you some cool tricks you can use to help improve your math every day.