Derek Lap is a senior at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York. Derek is double majoring in applied math and statistics and economics. He is currently the president of his university’s Actuarial Club and recently interned at Korn Ferry, a consulting company in New York City. He plans to begin work at New York Life in Manhattan after his graduation this May. We spoke with Derek in May 2020.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
Cooking is a recent addition to my hobbies and is not on my resume. I started working on my skills about a year ago. It’s something my mom always loved to do, and my sister’s really into it too. Especially now, being at home constantly and having the opportunity to cook an actual lunch and dinner almost every day, it’s been nice to try some new things and work on recipes. I really enjoy cooking.
Being part of the Actuarial Club … is something I’ve enjoyed the most out of everything I’ve done at Stony Brook.
What has your experience at Stony Brook University been like?
It’s been really great. I transferred from a private school, Northeastern University in Boston, after my first semester. Going from a private school to a public school was a big shift. It’s been interesting to see the class sizes grow. I felt like there were lots of advisors and people always there for you at Northeastern. There are people there for you at Stony Brook, but there’s definitely less handholding. But at the same time, it helps you learn how to do things on your own and be proactive.
Being part of the Actuarial Club has been nice as well. I started going to the meetings in my sophomore year, got an executive board position a year later, and became the president shortly after that. It’s something I’ve enjoyed the most out of everything I’ve done at Stony Brook. I like having the opportunity to help other students, especially younger ones, and give them tips. Hopefully, they’ll learn from my mistakes.
I’ve had a lot of really nice professors, especially in the economics department and in AMS too. I had a professor named Alan Tucker for the first time this semester, and he’s someone that everyone has at some point. My uncle actually had him, and he went to Stony Brook 35 years ago. He’s been around forever, and it was great to finally have him this semester. I would definitely recommend Stony Brook as a good place to go for STEM, but also for other majors. It’s just a nice environment to be in.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Stony Brook University?
In high school, I applied to Northeastern and about eight or nine other schools. Some of my other top choices were Princeton, Cornell, and the University of Maryland. Those were my big four, and Stony Brook as well. I went to Northeastern and really liked the school, but I didn’t like living in Boston and living in a city as much. That was my main reason to come home and commute to school, which is what I do now. Stony Brook was always a top choice for me, and I was still interested in going there. It ended up working out great because it allowed me to do some things that I wouldn’t have been able to do in Boston.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
Both of my parents are in finance and accounting, so the math gene is definitely in me. It was something I was always good at and interested in, and as I got older, I got more interested in business, investing, and finance. I knew I was going to do something with math and business, and at the end of high school, I kept switching between math and business majors. I finally went in as a finance major, but after a semester, I was yearning for more math and statistics. I changed my major when I transferred, and that was when I became dead set on becoming an actuary.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
We don’t have a dedicated major, so it’s a little less structured than other schools. We have classes that cover the material for the first two exams, and then we have all the VEE classes, which is great.
I really enjoyed being a part of the Actuarial Club and running it, and I would say that’s the biggest point of information for most students. It’s been nice to be a part of that, and I hope it’s been helpful to other students. I know it was to me when I was in my sophomore year.
We have meetings every week. We start off each semester by going over what actuaries do and what you should be doing now at Stony Brook to prepare yourself to become one. We usually have freshmen and transfer students coming in, so it’s always helpful to start out with that. We sometimes have general business workshops for things like interview skills, and we also talk about actuarial topics. We’ve done some Excel and R workshops in the past, too, focusing on functions in those programs that are used by most actuaries.
The biggest component of the club is having guest speakers come in. We have a few each semester. Usually, we’ll have a mix of people, from seasoned FSAs who have been working for a long time to people who are still taking exams. It’s a nice range of people. We had a speaker who was an FCAS, and she did her own consulting for a while. She was talking about different kinds of modeling she was doing. It’s always nice to hear from people with different levels of experience, and it’s definitely very beneficial for all the students.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
I took a jazz history class that I really enjoyed. I also took an international film class that was focused on horror movies, which was very cool. And the math class I’m taking with Alan Tucker this semester has been very interesting. It’s graph theory, and it covers lots of different topics and interesting applications. Our final project was a cryptogram that we had to solve, which took me a good six or seven hours to do, but it was a fun final project. That’s been an interesting and unique class, and definitely something that’s different from what I’m used to studying in actuarial science.
What is unique about focusing on actuarial science relative to other majors you could have chosen?
I like that it’s a combination of a lot of different things. It’s good for someone who’s interested in math but also interested in business and other fields. It’s a nice blend. Another thing that I think a lot of people are drawn to is that it has a good work-life balance, and it’s not generally a very high-intensity career like working on Wall Street. Also, I think it’s a very niche career in the sense that there are about 30,000 or 40,000 licensed actuaries in the United States, but you could do so many different things with it. You could branch out into so many different avenues, especially now with consulting roles.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you had known ahead of time?
I wish I had known about the exams sooner so I could have started working on them sooner. Most people try not to take too many exams before they graduate college, especially if they don’t have a job offer in hand, because you have to decide on what society you want to go into with the different exams. Though, it still would’ve been nice to start preparing a little sooner.
The most challenging part of actuarial science is probably figuring out what you need to do. There are plenty of resources online, but there are a lot of things you need to be doing, so it can be a little overwhelming at first. That’s what I find with a lot of freshmen, or even sophomores, who are just looking into it now. It seems like this insane amount of information they need to be learning. Once you start studying, you’ve just got to buckle down and do it. But getting started and figuring out a path for yourself is probably the most difficult part.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
This past summer I interned at Korn Ferry in New York City, which is a consulting company. They do a lot of executive search consulting, but they also have an actuarial department. We were doing the review of Medicare bids for the government. It was almost like we were hired as consultants to help out with this project. It felt like a real job, as opposed to a program where you’re focusing more on networking. It was really about work, which was cool and led to a fun experience. The whole project was very collaborative. It was me, two other interns, and three other people who worked there full time. It was a fun environment to be working in, and I really enjoyed it overall.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
I think it’s going to be interesting to see how the coronavirus situation affects different companies. I know some auto insurers were saying they have no claims because no one’s driving. For health insurers, some people are saying that there are lots of claims because of people needing to get treatment, but I’ve also heard that there are fewer claims because people aren’t going to routine doctor and dentist appointments. Once things start clearing up, it will be interesting to see if companies start getting overwhelmed with claims when people are trying to catch up and get all their procedures done.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
In October, I accepted a job offer at New York Life in Manhattan, so that’s where I’m going to be heading in June. From what I’ve learned and the people I talked to when I interviewed, it seems like everyone who works there usually stays there for their whole career, so that’s my plan of action. I’m planning on pursuing a life and annuities FSA track, so hopefully I’ll have my ASA in a couple of years, and then my FSA a couple of years after that. Ideally, I’ll get through the exams as quickly as possible, so I can start really focusing on work and my career. They have a rotation program, like a lot of companies do, so I’m sure I’ll find a niche for myself there and figure out what I like and what area I want to work in for the rest of my career.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
I would say to start studying and doing your research as early as you can. Even if you’re not dead set on becoming an actuary, at least learn about what you need to be doing, and see if there’s a way that you can mix that with other things. I know there’s someone on the club executive board at Stony Brook who wasn’t really sure what they wanted to do. They were a chemical engineering major, but since early in their college career, they were mindful of what they needed to be doing to become an actuary and were simultaneously working on that, just so they could have both options available.
I think starting early and doing your research early helps you keep your options open, which is great if you don’t know what you want to do yet. I would also suggest applying to internships as early as you can. I worked at a camp for my first two summers in college, which I really enjoyed, but it could’ve possibly been better spent at a different internship. I think it would be good to try to get a business-related internship as early as you can, even if it’s not an actuarial one. It could be a good experience to have.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
Actuarial Outpost is an online forum that a lot of people use, and I think it has a lot of good information, especially for later exams. There’s also an actuary subreddit, which I really like because it’s a nice blend of humor and useful information. There’s a lot of younger actuaries and students there. It’s definitely a good place to browse for advice.
» If you liked Derek’s interview, check out our other actuarial science student interviews.