Ryan Klapatch is a senior at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is majoring in Actuarial Science and will graduate this May. Ryan is involved in his local chapter of Gamma Iota Sigma, serving as Executive Vice President, and will be working at Aon after graduation. We spoke with Ryan about his experiences as an actuarial science student in April 2019.
Tell us about your experience at Temple.
Each year has been really different for me. Coming in as an actuarial science major, I didn’t really know anybody from my high school in the major, so it was tough to branch out to people at first. That led me to being a little less involved than I probably should have been. But once I found the usefulness of going to Gamma Iota Sigma, which is essentially the professional development arm of our actuarial science and risk management program, I met a lot of friends through meetings and social events, and I became much more enthusiastic about my major and where I was going in my career.
In insurance, we’re always on the cutting edge of different technologies, and with more consolidation in the industry, they’re finding new ways to succeed. I think it’s one of the best times to be in the insurance industry.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Temple?
I knew I was going to be an actuarial science major, so I was only looking at schools that had actuarial science programs. I also looked for schools that were certified Centers of Actuarial Excellence. There were several different schools that I looked at, like St. John’s, Robert Morris, and Penn State, but for me, since I’m one of four children, it really came down to financial support. Temple University was able to give me a lot of financial support from me being in-state and also from merit-based scholarships. My sister also went to Temple and graduated in 2010, and she had a great experience being in the Fox School of Business.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
I knew the basics of actuarial science. I knew that a lot of actuaries work for insurance companies and that they were very knowledgeable when it came to data science and statistics, and those were two subjects that strongly resonated with me in high school.
I remember my Algebra II teacher one day telling me that if he could go back in time he would be an actuary, so I stayed after class that day and found out more from him. After school that day, I went home and talked about it with my parents, who in turn talked to my sister about it. She was at Temple at the time, and she basically explained that Temple had one of the strongest actuarial science programs. My parents were very supportive of me making the decision to go into actuarial science, so they kind of gave me the nudge I needed to pursue the major.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
The experience has been great. Our program is really challenging, but it’s not a baptism by fire. What I mean by that is when you start the program, you get a lot of support that might not exist for a higher level class.
I remember the one thing that really stuck out to me when I was a freshman was when I had a class with Dr. Krupa Viswanathan. I had a question about a homework assignment, and I emailed her around 10:30 at night, and she responded to me in two minutes! That was something that I was not used to at all, and I think it was one of the things that differentiated Temple from high school and any other school.
As I’ve progressed through my courses, the thing that’s always resonated with me is that Temple has had this program for many, many years, and it’s a really well-oiled machine. They know what they’re doing, and the teachers know what the students should be learning and what to expect on the exams. When I eventually got into the actuarial exam, I felt extremely prepared based off the coursework that I had and also the supplemental material that I used through Coaching Actuaries.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
I think Modeling II would be one of my favorite courses that I’ve taken, and the other is a capstone course that’s a writing intensive. The modeling class is part of the life contingencies material, and that was my last mathematical course. I thought that life insurance was something that we hadn’t really covered in previous courses since we were just learning the fundamentals, so it was nice to see where all these concepts led. Modeling II was the culmination of everything that I’ve learned up to that point, all in one course. It felt challenging and pretty intense at times, but I think that that’s one of the reasons I wanted to become an actuary—to experience the insurance aspect of it all. I was also really glad I took the course because it was taught by Dr. Viswanathan, who taught the first course that I took in the program. It really felt like everything came full circle for me.
In the writing intensive course, you’re essentially given a large data file, and you have to underwrite the claims on it for a self-insured or fully-insured plan. I thought that was very interesting for me because I had interned at Aon this past summer in their health and benefits practice, and I was able to use all of the different things that I had learned at Aon in this class. The class really bridged the gap between academia and the professional world.
What is unique about focusing on actuarial science relative to other majors you could have chosen?
In actuarial science, you get a great business perspective in the degree. At Temple, as you progress through your degree, you’re required to take a lot of business courses, like Financial and Managerial Accounting, Marketing, Introduction to Risk Management, and some finance classes as well.
If you were to just major in math or statistics, you wouldn’t really learn about some of the things that go into marketing or risk management, etc. I think actuarial science provides a holistic view of both math and business. I think if you are a prospective student, and you’re very strong at math and also very interested in the capabilities of a business degree, actuarial science would be a great fit.
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 a little bit different across each year that I’ve been here at Temple. In the first two years, the challenge was just finding the support through other actuarial science majors and finding the friends who were as enthusiastic about the major as I hoped to be.
Once I found them, that’s when I got more involved. When you get more involved in the major and the supplemental programs, you also find yourself having to manage your time more. So as I got into my sophomore and junior year and really started studying for exams, I needed to figure out when I should be studying for exams and when I should be studying for my classes.
In this past year, I became the Executive Vice President at Gamma Iota Sigma, so that was another point of involvement for me that was another huge time commitment. I had to balance classes, exams, this organization, and then also any prospects for interviewing or getting a job. Those were all things that came into play my late junior and early senior year.
The one thing that I wish I knew going in was just how being involved in things outside the classroom can be beneficial. I wasn’t very involved my freshman and sophomore year in Gamma Iota Sigma, and I think it made me suffer a little bit because I missed out on several different valuable speakers and several committed students in the organization that really want their peers to succeed. Once I joined the organization, I had to play catch-up.
One thing I feel very passionately about now is finding these students that are younger and maybe not as involved as they could be, and trying to explain to them that I was in their shoes once upon a time and that it really is beneficial to go every Wednesday and sit down from 12 to 12:50 pm and listen to our speakers.
Have you had any insurance related internships? If so, how was your experience?
I had an internship with Aon in their health and benefits practice, and back in September, I accepted a full-time offer to return to Aon. My internship there was really interesting. I got a lot of good exposure to not only the actuaries in the health and benefits practice but also the brokers in different segments.
The internship taught me so much about insurance. They taught me about underwriting a self-insured client, incurred but not reported claims, monthly reporting and trends, and some of the issues that are going on with pharmacy. The internship taught me a little about every topic that is involved in health insurance. I couldn’t be more grateful for that, and that’s why I was very happy to get the offer in September and am very excited to return.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
I really do like the consulting aspect of Aon, and I feel very comfortable in it. I feel like there’s a new project every day that you’re working on, which is very interesting for me. You get to see from beginning to end where your work is going, and you get to see how the adjustments you make impact the client.
At Aon, I met several different people on their executive committee that were former actuaries, which was very inspiring for me. I would love to one day be on an executive committee where I was the CEO of a business unit.
I’ve also always been very passionate about coding and trying to find the most efficient ways to do things. I would love to get into a role where I could code but also really demonstrate how coding can improve many different business functions. If that role exists in the future, I would love to do it.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
I feel like in insurance, we’re always on the cutting edge of different technologies, and with more consolidation in the industry, they’re finding new ways to succeed. I think it’s one of the best times to be in the insurance industry.
Insurtech is one of the exciting developments in the industry. For example, installing devices in automobiles to take a look at fuel economy, speed, or driving safety. This could be something that potentially lowers our premiums, or maybe it even raises our premiums.
We’re in essentially a digital race to gain the most effective underwriting procedures, while keeping them cost effective at the same time. That involves a lot of actuaries, so it’s great to be an actuary today and to see where all of this data is going.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
Be very dedicated and don’t let one small failure hamper any goals that you have. I remember sitting down for my first actuarial exam and studying for it, and it was very ugly. I was getting many questions wrong, and since it was my first exam, I didn’t really know if I was cut out for it. But you have to get used to failure, and once you do, you need to adjust the goals that you’ve set for yourself.
I also think that as an actuarial student, you need to branch out to maximize your own potential. That’s one thing I didn’t do at the start of my academic career that I did end up doing at the end.I learned over the summer when I was sitting down and getting coffee with brokers in different units that just talking to them really gave me a better understanding of how insurance is sold, what kind of products are offered, and what clients expect.
Do you have any favorite books or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
Our local chapter of the Risk Management Society (RIMS) has meetings that I attend, and RIMS also has a website where they publish different interesting reports on risk management. Many of the major consulting and management consulting companies post reports on their site.
While this doesn’t really teach you a lot about being an actuary, it does teach you about the insurance industry in general. I used the site a lot to prepare for interviews during my junior year. I found it to be harder to study the company before an interview than to simply study the industry. Studying the industry makes me knowledgeable about the risks that everybody faces. So if I read something about property and casualty insurance, I can talk about it with Travelers, Liberty Mutual, Chubb, or any company.
In terms of studying, I think that Coaching Actuaries has really made strides in being one of the premier ways to study for actuarial exams. I’ve also used the ASM online version and the SOA problem sets. I think the SOA problem sets have the language that SOA uses on the test. It might not be the level of difficulty that you need, but the language and the wording of the questions is very similar in the exam.