Emily Barchey is a senior at Robert Morris University in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, where she is majoring in Actuarial Science and minoring in Business and Finance. Emily is president of the Actuarial Science Club and is interning this summer at Liberty Mutual. We spoke with Emily in May 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I am a 4th degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. I’ve been practicing since first grade. Throughout college, I still found time to practice and take belt exams.
I’ve always found a passion for Tae Kwon Do. It’s a hobby of mine but it’s also something that always makes me relaxed. It’s also good to know that I am able to protect myself. I’ve become more of a teacher now, where I can actually pass my knowledge down to other kids, which is a really good feeling.
What has your experience at Robert Morris University been like?
Robert Morris University has been amazing. I’ve loved every year of it. The professors really do care about you, and you really get that one-on-one attention with the small class sizes. That was a big reason why I chose RMU.
Actuarial science is a good field to get into if you’re up for a challenge, because the field is always changing, so it keeps you on your toes.
The atmosphere at RMU is also very welcoming, and all the students are very nice. What I also really like is that the campus is close to Pittsburgh—close enough to the city to go out and have fun and explore, but far enough to get away and relax as well.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Robert Morris?
Within Pennsylvania, I considered Penn State, Thiel, and Lycoming colleges, but RMU stood out to me because they were so focused on the students and how to make them succeed. I found that very appealing. RMU is also one of the Centers of Actuarial Excellence, so I knew that I would be receiving a great education in the actuarial field. The school also has a very high job placement rate in the actuarial career world as well, so I knew I’d be confident in finding a job in the near future.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
I always loved my math, calculus, and business classes, and I always loved working with numbers and trying to find new solutions to problems. So I looked into careers involving that, and that’s when I found actuarial science.
But I didn’t know for sure until I attended a week-long actuarial science camp at Lycoming College, where I was introduced to what an actuary does daily and some of the programs that actuaries use. I just fell in love with it. Ever since junior year of high school, I have been wanting to be an actuary, and it’s never faltered at all.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
I think it’s a great career to look into if they love math or if they love solving problems. I think you do really need to do some hardcore research into it because actuarial science is not for everyone, considering the actuarial exams. But I think it’s very worthwhile, and if you can find a camp like I went to or even shadow an actuary, I think it would be really beneficial.
There are also so many different avenues that someone could work in with actuarial science, such as health, life insurance, or even consulting. There’s really a job for everyone in the actuarial field.
Actuarial science is a good field to get into if you’re up for a challenge, because the field is always changing, so it keeps you on your toes. From one year to the next, you might not be using the same program, or there could be a completely different tax bracket that you need to work with in your valuations.
I also like actuarial science because, in a way, you’re able to give back to the people. With insurance, you can help protect people and cover what they have and what they love.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
The actuarial science program at RMU is incredible. We have amazing professors that really want us to succeed. They’ll introduce us to companies that they have ties with, and the school will bring in companies to talk to us and share what their company is all about and what they look for in employees. Along with that, RMU also has a very good connection with alumni, so we are able to reach out to them at any point and not feel scared to ask them any questions.
Our program also holds an actuarial career day, where students can be interviewed for potential internships and full-time jobs. I think this is a big plus for RMU because not many other schools have that just for actuarial science students. The career day has been so beneficial to all of our students because I think at least 90 percent of students have walked out with internships and full-time jobs from that career day.
We also have an Actuarial Science Club, which I just became president of. All the actuarial major students are part of the Actuarial Science Club. When I first joined, I tried to attend everything I could—I went to meetings, I attended seminar nights, where companies such as Aetna or Highmark would come in and talk to us, and I just loved it. Every time you go to an event, you learn something new.
Throughout my years, I became more and more involved, and last year I was the treasurer, and I loved it. As president, I’m going to really try to get students prepared for working as an actuary and bring them as many companies to talk to and learn about as I can.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
My favorite class so far was Healthcare in Australia because I was able to experience a different country’s opinion on health care by studying abroad in Sunshine Coast, Australia. I learned how Australia has free public health care, but it also provides private insurance for those who want more coverage. It was very interesting to see how healthcare insurance is viewed and used outside of the United States.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
The exam process is probably the most challenging because to pass an exam, it takes a lot of dedication and studying—roughly 100 hours per hour of exam. But once the exam is passed, it’s the best feeling in the world.
I wish that I would’ve known how intense the studying should be because it can be overwhelming if the student is not really accustomed to studying that much at a time. I wish I would’ve known to have a study plan with how many hours I should study a day. But I think you also have to remember to reward yourself with study breaks, because you don’t want to overwhelm yourself at all by studying 24/7.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
Last summer, I interned with John Hancock. It was a 12-week internship, and I worked in the NAIC Valuations Department, where I got to work on reserves and see how the company holds money for paying off claims. I enjoyed my time there because it was a great introduction to the actuarial world, and I was able to use what I had learned in school and apply it to real-world problems.
I also had to find solutions on my own with my team because there were new tax brackets, so we had to account for that, as well as everyday problems we had to find solutions for. I loved how every day was a different type of work because in the actuarial field, it’s not going to be the same job that you’re going to do every day. I loved how flexible the actuarial field is, and how it always keeps you on your toes.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
This summer, I’m interning with Liberty Mutual, and I will be working in global retail markets, which I’m very excited to learn more about.
In the short term, within ten years, I’d like to become an accredited actuary by earning my ASA, and then my FSA, depending on what field I choose to pursue. I haven’t decided which field to go into because I think they all are enjoyable in their own way, and I don’t think there’s a wrong choice. I think when the time comes, I will find the one that’s the right fit for me.
Later on, I’d like to become more of a department leader and continue to grow my education, and then teach other actuaries and manage them. I’d like to show them what I’ve learned over the years and give back to the community that has done so much for me.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
Predictive and statistical analytics have become very popular lately because they can help with the use of big data. Robert Morris University just added a major for statistical analytics because it’s becoming so popular and much needed in the insurance field.
With more new codes and programs being created, actuaries are being introduced to more and more big data and analytics. But this will actually in turn save actuaries time because they’re not going to have to analyze this data all through one Excel worksheet that will take five minutes to run. It’s becoming a new way for actuaries to retrieve data because companies can share this big data with one another. So the models can become more accurate for actuaries, through using a larger sample size, depending on what factors they’re looking for.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
My advice would be to really look into and research the insurance field because it can be very interesting and enjoyable if it’s the right fit for you. Try to find summer camps to attend like I did. Don’t be ashamed of it. Going to a camp or shadowing someone could be the best decision you ever make because it could show you if you want to do this as a living.
Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions, take notes, ask anyone to shadow, or even just find research on your own. There are plenty of people in the field that are willing to be open and helpful with you. I think that’s one of the best things about the actuarial field—we’re all very nice to each other, and we want each other to succeed.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about actuaries?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that people assume we’re regular desk-job people who don’t really have a personality and just crunch numbers all day, which is completely false.
The community is so amazing because we’re able to communicate new ideas. And we do so much more than just crunch numbers. We find ways to help others. For example, by analyzing life expectancy, we’re able to find people better coverage for themselves and their loved ones. We consult with people on how to finance their retirement and how to make sure their pensions are on track. There’s a lot more to us than face value of an actuary.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
I read the SOA’s The Actuary magazine. It’s really interesting because they show the different jobs and aspects of what an actuary can do either in the insurance field or outside of the insurance field, and they talk about the new trends that are happening that will eventually impact the actuarial field. There are also personal stories from actuaries that show how they came to be an actuary and how they got to where they are today, which I always find to be very motivational and insightful.