DJ Brown is a senior at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, where he is double majoring in Actuarial Science and Mathematics and minoring in Finance. DJ Is the president of the Otterbein Actuarial Club, and he has been interning at Grange Insurance for the past year. We spoke with DJ in September 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I’m quite the car fanatic.I grew up learning how to work on cars, but it wasn’t until high school that I really got hooked. I had the opportunity to build my first jeep from top to bottom. It was a great learning experience and is the reason I have a passion for the hobby.
I actually have the nickname on the Otterbein campus as the Otterbein Mechanic. I have people calling me all the time to come help them with car problems. I didn’t realize it’s not a skill that very many people are taught, but working on cars is something I really enjoy doing. It’s something you can do on your own, get your mind off things, and get away from everything.
I absolutely love it at Otterbein. The program has been a phenomenal experience. The classes are small, which is great because you get time with the professors, who all really care about you.
What has your experience at Otterbein University been like?
I’m from a very small town in Southern Ohio, with a small high school and a very close-knit community, so I was a bit nervous about going to college. But my experience so far at Otterbein has been absolutely amazing. The small campus has a bit of that small-town feel to it, where you pretty much know everybody on campus. Your class sizes are very small, which is just like my high school, so you still get that one-on-one time with professors. Overall, Otterbein has a very friendly environment. That was one of the main reasons I decided to come here.
Otterbein is also big on teaching you how to be open-minded. Again, this kind of ties in with being from a small community. I wasn’t really exposed to a lot of different ideas growing up, so it was a bit of a culture shock going to Otterbein. But it’s been a phenomenal experience and really eye-opening, learning how to think differently and analyze differently. I think that definitely ties into my professional career as well.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Otterbein?
The other school I looked at was Ohio State. I wanted to be far enough from home so my parents couldn’t bother me, but I still wanted to be within a few hours of my hometown. Otterbein and Ohio State were the two options that had actuarial science programs, which I was pretty set on doing. After visiting both schools, I really liked the environment at Otterbein, and I just felt at home.
The students at Otterbein seemed to be a lot more friendly when I was touring the campuses, so it was easier to see myself coming here. I also wanted to be able to have that one-on-one time with professors, and I was used to the small school atmosphere. The environment I thrive in is where I’m able to ask questions in class and not feel like I’m being ignored. I didn’t want to feel like I was just a number at a school.
What influenced you to pursue actuarial science?
Growing up, math was my go-to. It was always my favorite class, and it’s what I excelled in. I knew I wanted a career in which I could use math, stats, and finance. I actually had a family friend get me connected to an actuary. Being an actuary seemed like a very interesting career path, and it was something I’d never heard of. I started looking into it more, and it directly tied into my career goals.
When I was trying to pick a career, I wanted something very stable and low stress that would also give me a good financial background. My lifelong goal is to help low-income families and people that can’t afford financial advising and educate them on how they can prepare for retirement and their future goals. But I didn’t want to advise every day of my life, and I wanted it to be more of a hobby.
With actuarial science, I knew I could have a very stable job that would provide for my family and also give me the financial background I needed to be able to help others. It was something that would allow me to use my math and stats background, get into finance more, and not necessarily need to do financial advising every day.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
For students who are good at math and interested in the financial industry, actuarial science is a very good balance. You get the financial business aspect, but it is a bit more data and math-heavy. Being an actuary is also very stable, and the job outlook is amazing. It’s also one of the lowest-stress jobs in the country.
Through actuarial science, you get to learn how to manipulate data, which I think is already the next big movement for every job and every company. The next big thing is being able to analyze data, and actuarial science gives you knowledge and insight into that. Actuarial science is also very transferable to other positions if you decide that being an actuary is not exactly what you want to do. There are so many different career choices and options for someone with an actuarial science degree.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
I absolutely love it at Otterbein. The program has been a phenomenal experience. The classes are small, which is great because you get time with the professors, who all really care about you. They are not only teaching you the material, but they are also pushing you to succeed. Whether it’s cheering you on during the exam process or helping you with internships—anything you need, the faculty has been there for me, and that’s been great.
Otterbein is also kind of unique. I don’t know any other schools that do this, but not only do we have courses that cover the material for the exams, but we have classes dedicated to helping you prepare for the exams. You have a semester-long class that covers the material you need to know for an exam, and then the following semester you take what we call exam prep classes that are focused on working on exam problems and applying the knowledge you’ve learned.
That’s been super beneficial to me in passing the exams. It forces you to start studying, and you also have professors there to help you, instead of getting stuck and trying to learn stuff on your own. The exam prep classes really give you a kickstart in your studying process, and they also push you to get through as many exams as you can, which is really important for internships and jobs.
Otterbein also has the Otterbein Actuarial Club, which I’m actually the president of right now. In the fall, we have a lot going on because people are actively looking for internships. We have a number of companies come in and present about their internship opportunities. In the spring, we focus more on educating students on the career itself.
We bring in folks from different companies here in Columbus, and they give presentations on various industry topics. For example, they might present on predictive modeling and what the industry outlook is and how students and professors should prepare for the next big wave in insurance.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
My favorite class thus far has been Models for Financial Economics, which covers the material for Exam 3F and Exam IFM. I thoroughly enjoyed this class. Maybe this ties into why I want to be an actuary, but I am fascinated by the market. I trade often, so this class was very insightful, showing the math behind options and derivatives. The course bettered my investment knowledge, and while the class was very difficult, it’s something that I did not mind sitting down and studying for at hours at a time.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
I think it’s finding a balance. To be a top-level student, you’re expected to pass exams, get internship experience, do well in school at the same time, and then still finding time to be part of clubs, organizations, and extracurriculars. And you still want to be able to enjoy college and have a social life and make time for family and friends. That to me has been the most challenging part, is just finding a balance and time management.
That’s also the thing that I wish I would have known ahead of time. I didn’t realize the magnitude of importance of passing exams, and also how competitive some of the internships are that you really do need to pass exams as soon as you can. That was something I was kind of blind to when I came in. I never imagined I’d be in college studying as much as I do, not only for the classes that I’m in but also for the actuarial exams.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
I have been with a company here in Columbus. We’re a small-to-medium-size insurance company called Grange Insurance. I did a year-long rotation in personal lines pricing, and now I’m in commercial lines pricing, and it has been absolutely amazing. I thought coming in, there’s always that stigma about an intern. You’re getting coffee or filing papers. I was very surprised that that’s not at all what it’s like. Grange has made me feel like I am part of the team, and they consider me a team member, not really an intern, which has been very nice.
Having projects to work on and working on indications—where you’re getting your own indication and not working with somebody on one—has been great. They trust you enough to work on the project alone, and then we’ll sit down afterward and discuss how to improve the next time. That to me has been the most educational. Also, getting the opportunity to see two different sides of the P&C, the commercial lines and the personal lines, and getting a feel for what I like better has been beneficial.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
Within two years of graduating, I want to attain my ACAS, and then within five years, I would like to have my FCAS. As far as career plans, this is the part I’m not 100 percent sure on. I still want to do a little exploring. I’m very interested in the pricing aspect, but also the consulting. Hopefully, one day, I’ll end up in a senior leadership role, maybe even shoot for the stars and be the CFO of an insurance company.
I want to be able to have an impact on the business and also help push people to reach their goals. I think that would be very rewarding, being more in a manager/senior leadership role, where you actually have the resources and the opportunity to help people reach their goals. It would be great knowing you had an impact on making somebody’s career what they wanted and helping them to reach their maximum potential.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
Make sure you’re doing your due diligence and staying up on the trends and what’s happening, especially for students that are just coming into college. Over the next four years, a lot can change, so make sure you’re paying attention to what’s going on within the market. That way, you can better prepare yourself for after graduation.
For younger students, whenever you’re looking for internships or entry-level jobs, even if you can’t get an actuarial position, it’s just as beneficial to get a position in claims or underwriting or product. Learning the ins and outs of the insurance industry and a company and how that all flows together, it will help you with becoming an actuary and seeing where your pricing is heading.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
For students who are preparing for an actuarial position, I’d recommend Basic Ratemaking by Werner Modlin, which is available on the CAS website. It’s a fantastic read. It goes through the methodologies of doing an indication and pricing, and it really gives you insight on what actuaries do and how they do it. It’s very good information just to have background on. Obviously, it’s not all going to make sense, but it’s great to start out with.
As far as some websites go, CAS and SOA both have fantastic resources. I would also recommend MarketWatch. This is a site that I get on every day, just so I’m staying up to date with the market. With the insurance field transforming and changing, MarketWatch is a great resource to get a sense of what the market’s doing, and they also have some resources on there that are insurance-related.