Edison Gu is a junior at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, where he is majoring in Actuarial Science and Data Analytics. Edison is the president of the Actuarial Club and currently interns at Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. We spoke with Edison in June 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I like being outdoors, and one of my favorite activities is playing Frisbee. I also like to hike, and I love gardening. I’ve really been enjoying going to the student farm this summer, and I’ve been involved in growing and harvesting some vegetables on the farm.
What has your experience at Ohio State been like?
It’s been a journey because while coming into The Ohio State, I had no knowledge of what actuarial science was. I gradually learned about this major through some of my classmates and professors. I’ve been participating in a lot of our club activities, and I’ve also been talking and networking with peers and upperclassmen. I’ve learned a lot from all of these experiences.
For someone who has an interest in quantifying risks or mitigating risks, I think actuarial science is a perfect major.
I think Ohio State has been a great school so far. I’ve learned a lot not only inside of my major, but I’ve also learned skill sets that are essential to being in a corporate environment.
I’ve also made a lot of friends here. The environment here is really open-minded, and there’s a very diverse student population at Ohio State, with people coming from different backgrounds and having different interests.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Ohio State?
I also applied to Purdue, the University of Michigan, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Generally, I like the vibe that a big school gives you, so Ohio State being a school with over 50,000 students really gave me a lot of opportunity to network with different kinds of people.
Another reason I chose Ohio State is Columbus. Ohio State isn’t located inside a downtown area, so there’s not much distraction, but at the same time, you still have the opportunity to take a 15-minute bus ride to downtown. So the location is kind of a nice spot—not too close that it would distract from academic life, but also just close enough to give you the opportunity to explore the fun stuff if you want.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
In high school, the first time I went into the college counseling office, I asked my counselor what major I should pick for college. He pulled up this super-long document, and on the very first page it says “actuarial science” because it started with an “A”. I had no idea what actuarial science was, so I did some research online, and it turned out that it was something that I really wanted to do.
Actuarial science has an overlap between math and business, and it involves using rigorous statistical and mathematical methods to solve tangible business issues or problems. This brings my interests and skill sets together. That’s how I landed on actuarial science.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
I won’t say that actuarial science is a major for everyone, but if you’re interested in math, and you don’t like theoretical or abstract math as much, and you want to use math to be more applied and solve some problems, I think actuarial science is a good option. With actuarial science, you can use math or statistics to solve business problems and find real business solutions.
For someone who might be interested in understanding finance or investments at a deeper level, actuarial science surveys the mechanisms and the theories behind all those methodologies that are being used in modern-day finance. For someone who has an interest in quantifying risks or mitigating risks, I think actuarial science is a perfect major. It really helps you understand risk better.
I also want to mention that actuarial science is an evolving industry. Nowadays, a lot of companies are starting to use databases and technologies to process data. So if one has an interest in uncovering the stories behind data, I think actuarial science is a good major to choose.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
I’ve really liked how the classes are structured. I would say 80 percent of the classes help you with getting through the actuarial science exams, and the other 20 percent of classes help you with technical and communication skills.
Besides the coursework, I think Ohio State has a very supportive and skilled faculty group. They’re very focused on keeping track of what the industry is doing.
Speaking of the industry, Ohio State is located in Columbus, which is the home of many insurance companies like Nationwide, Root Insurance, State Auto, Safe Auto, Motorists, Grange, and more. So it’s a nice place for you to start your career.
Our Actuarial Club is entirely run by students, and it gives you a lot of career opportunities. During the fall semester, companies will come to our school to give presentations to students, and you can learn a lot about the different sides of the industry, like health, life, P&C, or even consulting. All these companies bring very different perspectives to the table, which is very helpful to our students.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
There are two classes I’ve really liked. One was a stats class, where we learned R, which is a programming language for statistical analysis. I liked this class because it wasn’t the teacher giving you a template, where you sort of copy and paste the code inside. It was more like helping you to understand the structure of the data and teaching you a lot of the theory behind data management and data analysis. I learned a lot from this class, and the project we did really gave us hands-on experience to explore a dataset, which was very helpful and practical.
Another class I would highlight is a leadership class here. A lot of people would think that leadership is intangible, and you can’t really learn leadership through a class. But as it turns out, after taking this class, I learned a lot of the theories behind leadership skills and good leaders, and there’s some science behind it.
One thing I learned from the leadership class is being a better communicator and trying to understand from another’s perspective. When you’re talking to someone, you want to allow them to speak their own opinions, and you want to understand where they’re coming from. I think it’s very important. I also learned that there are a lot of different types of leadership, which I had never heard of before, so I would say I learned a lot from the class.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
I wish I would have known that programming is a very important skill for actuarial science because I wasn’t aware of any programming languages before my freshman year. After I looked into a lot of job descriptions that had been posted from the insurance firms, it turns out they use a lot of computers in their day-to-day work, and not just using Excel. Sometimes, some proprietary software requires certain levels of coding skills. This is something that is not mandatory for our major, so sometimes a lot of students overlook this area.
I’ve started taking a few computer science classes, and it’s been really helpful for me. It’s really a different way of thinking, and I find it very interesting. Right now in my internship, I’ve seen a lot of projects involving coding, and I think the computer science classes have really helped me. I just wish I had started earlier.
How has your internship experience been?
My internship is at Nationwide, and I work in the asset adequacy team, which is under valuation. We validate that the company will hold an appropriate amount of reserve for their products so that they can pay out benefits in the future. We do a 30-year projection into the future, and we have to make sure that over those 30 years, the company has enough reserves to withstand different interest rate scenarios.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
One trend is the use of predictive analytics. We have a whole team at Nationwide dedicated to predictive analytics, in order to better help our customers. We are using predictive analytics to help accelerate the underwriting process. In the past, a lot of underwriting processes involved urine tests or blood draws, but now with the accelerated underwriting that Nationwide is doing, it enables customers, at the click of a button, to be given a quote, without even seeing an insurance agent. I think this has greatly improved the customer experience.
Another trend I’ve been seeing is the emergence of a very dynamic work set for actuaries. In the past, people always picture actuaries as just number-crunchers or introverts. Nowadays, though, a lot of insurance firms are looking for actuaries who can communicate well, who can explain their ideas well, and who can tell a story behind the data.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
My goal is not being a typical actuary. I want to be a data scientist who understands risks, rather than a traditional actuary. With the help of technology that enables me to understand big data, I can provide more insights into making management decisions. Also, I would like to explore some applications that are outside of insurance, because a lot of the skill sets that actuaries have could be applied to a broader area, not just insurance.
Maybe at the corporate level, an actuary can understand the risks an enterprise is facing better than other people. Even some emerging markets like sales, an actuary might understand some of the risks behind each marketing strategy. Actuaries are really the experts in understanding the risk, modeling the risk, and it’s not limited to insurance. I would like to explore those different areas in the future.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
If you’re just getting started, look into different resources online and see if anything interests you. For example, AdvisorSmith is a good website to go to, and there’s also the Be an Actuary website, and even the SOA website gives you a lot of insight into what the industry looks like. Try to understand that there is a broad spectrum of positions out there for actuaries, not just life insurance.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
The Actuary Magazine, published by the SOA, is one magazine I would highly recommend. It surveys a broad spectrum of the industry trends, and it discusses some of the emerging topics in the industry. The articles are really easy to understand, and they don’t use a lot of industry jargon. It’s straightforward enough for anyone to understand.
I also recommend a YouTube channel called MJ the Fellow Actuary. It’s a personal vlog-style channel with an actuary who gives a lot of advice and even online courses on different topics. The channel discusses a lot of cool topics that people might be interested in, like cryptocurrency, finance, and business in general, not limited to the insurance industry.