Daniel Rondon is a fourth-year student in the combined BS/MS Actuarial Science program at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He was president of the UCSB Actuarial Association last year and will be graduating in June 2019. In his free time, Daniel is involved in intramural sports and also enjoys creative writing, specifically, short stories. We spoke with Daniel in April 2019.
What has your experience at UCSB been like?
My experience at UCSB has been superb. I’ve really enjoyed UCSB because of its friendly atmosphere. You can start a conversation with anyone. People are fairly relaxed, but they still get their work done. I think having that environment really helped push me in doing more things because I felt relaxed and in a comfortable space.
UCSB is also right on the beach, and that has been amazing. Right now, I’m two blocks away from the beach—I could walk there after this interview! Having that has been awesome.
UCSB also allowed me to find different activities that I didn’t really know that I necessarily liked to begin with, like intramural sports. Growing up, I never really played basketball, and I played a little soccer, but now I’m very involved in both basketball and soccer intramurals.
We also have these PE classes you can take for a half-unit. I’ve done tennis, soccer, swimming, and fencing. I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do fencing, but now I do.
I felt that in the job of an actuary, each day would be unique. There might be some similarities and routines, but there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose UCSB?
The main three schools I was looking at, in the end, were UC Berkeley for Applied Mathematics, University of Wisconsin for Actuarial Science, and then UCSB for Actuarial Science. When I was applying to schools, I was either applying for actuarial science or some type of applied math or financial math.
There were a few factors that went into choosing UCSB. UCSB has a solid actuarial program, especially on the West Coast. I felt like I would have the opportunity to do what I wanted and excel from there. I also really liked the environment at UCSB. Everyone’s very friendly, and I just felt comfortable here. It wasn’t a high-tense, high-stress situation. Everything was a little bit more relaxed, and I felt that would lead to a much more collaborative environment.
UCSB also has great faculty in the Department of Statistics and Applied Probability. I visited campus my senior year in high school, and I talked to Professor Raya Feldman, UCSB’s Director of Actuarial Studies. I felt like with the systems in place, the program really focused on passing the actuarial exams, finding internships, and then finding full-time jobs. It’s this nice progression that gets the students prepared for the actual career.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
Often I hear that a standard answer is, “All right, the person likes math. I like math. But you want it to be applied in some way,” and that was the same for me. But I think, also, when I was doing a lot of research looking at how I wanted to apply math, a few things stuck out. For one, statistics was a big subject for me in high school. I really enjoyed it. I think it’s just kind of a way you sometimes see the world.
When I was looking at possible careers that have some stats and math, with maybe a little bit of financial math, I came across actuaries. I found that it was a job that has a high satisfaction rate, which is a big plus, and that it emphasized a lot of creative problem solving.
I felt that in the job of an actuary, each day would be unique. There might be some similarities and routines, but there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution. So I felt like I would be applying math in a more creative way if I went down the actuarial pathway.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
At UCSB, we have the Actuarial Science major itself, and then the other majors in the Department of Statistics and Applied Probability: Statistical Science and Financial Math. Within that we also have our schoolwide Actuarial Association.
During my first year in the program, I was taking a lot of prep classes—math, econ, and computer science classes. At the end of my spring quarter, I started looking more into the actuarial exams and the career. I took Exam P over the summer, and that was great. I think passing that first exam, with some help from the Actuarial Association, was really nice. It opened a lot of doors.
A big thing I love about our actuarial science program is that they have a fall career fair every year, which is geared just for actuarial science. Roughly 20 insurance companies show up, and through that, I was able to get my first internship. There were also a lot of workshops put on that year, so I decided to get more involved because I felt like I was now part of the major and a part of the club we had.
We had a lot of workshops and info sessions, with people from the industry coming. We also had case competitions where we compete with other schools in nearby areas. There was a lot going on, and I felt like I had all these resources outside of the classroom, which was great. I enjoyed this so much, and I really wanted to participate more, so going into my third year, I became president of our Actuarial Association. That was nice to have a different perspective, being the person to lead the presentations, teach in the workshops, etc.
Now, in my fourth year, I am a little bit more removed from the club, but I still have a lot of connections there. Since I’m in the master’s program, I’m also a teaching assistant. Right now, I’m a TA for our Life Insurance class, so I still see a lot of the members of the club. It’s just been nice to be around a lot of people that have similar mindsets and similar career goals as you.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
I would say time management because you have to study for the exams, but then you also have to study for your classes. There’s a lot to juggle. Time management is one of those skills I wish I had some sense of beforehand, but it’s not until you’re really thrown into the deep end that you’re forced to learn how to balance everything. Otherwise, you’re going to start sinking, and you’re not going to get everything that you want done. You still want to be able to apply focus to each thing you’re interested in, but now you’re directing how much weight to each focus and then how to slot and group things that you want to do together.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
Within my major, we have this stochastic processes series, and these deal with mainly Markov processes. You gather information about trajectories that move in either discrete or continuous time and also live in discrete or continuous space.The reason I enjoyed these classes is that the mathematics behind it all is something you learn previously in your lower division classes. But then these classes build upon that learning to create something new. It was great to see how everything came together.
Outside of my major, I really enjoyed this creative writing nonfiction class. A lot of times when you are doing creative writing, you’re creating stories, and you’re creating a new world, and you’re creating characters. With nonfiction, you’re writing about yourself and your personal experiences, but you still have the freedom to tell a story. I think one of my favorite assignments was writing a journalistic piece. I read about the Oakland Athletics baseball team and their organization, and I combined the creative writing aspect of telling the story of the organization and how they run the team, and maybe how it’s not that great. I also incorporated the stats behind it and some of the business side of how to or how not to run a baseball team.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
Between my second and third year, I had two insurance-related internships at two different companies. The first one was at Capital Insurance Group (CIG). They’re a P&C insurance company in Monterey, California.
My time at CIG was great. This was my first opportunity to see how an insurance company runs, work with other departments, and then apply the skills that I had learned at school in a workplace setting. Excel, VBA, and SQL were the main things that I had learned and could be used in this company. I feel like it was a great way to finally transpose what I learned in class to the workplace.
The second internship I had was between my third and fourth year with Aetna in Walnut Creek, California. At Aetna, I had many great resources to work with, and I felt like I got a solid connection with the company. It was also one of my first main experiences in health insurance and seeing how there are many different components that make up the health insurance industry. You have to know about the modeling of it, but then you also have to know more about the laws, how things work together, and how some things just can’t be done.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
Going off of my experience with Aetna and health insurance, I feel like there’s this trend around companies bundling services in order to internalize the key aspects of regulated health and health insurance. For example, a major component in a person’s health is their diet and nutrition. If a company can control diet, nutrition, and things like that, they can really then regulate the health insurance side of it and reduce costs.
When a company like Amazon acquires Whole Foods and then starts pushing toward the pharmacy industry—they had an acquisition of PillPack also last year—they’re setting themselves up to be a one-stop shop for healthcare. If a single entity can ship healthy food, provide medicine, hold clinical checkups, and provide insurance, the health pool that we’re looking at will be improved, regulated, and costs will go down. So I guess one thing to look for are these accumulations of services owned to one bundle.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
I will be returning to Aetna after I graduate. They have this great rotational program that I’ll be joining.
For the future, earning my ASA and FSA are very important milestones for me to achieve. But I think it’s also important to keep in mind that you want to enjoy the in-between steps that get you there, because if you’re not going to appreciate the entire process, then why bother?
So, I’m really excited to be doing Aetna’s rotational program and then working through the trenches. I also hope to advance after that into more managerial positions in the future. Nothing’s exactly set in stone or fitting a perfect form, but from my experience, I have really enjoyed working in insurance companies in the actuarial role. It’s just something that fascinates me.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
I don’t have any industry books in mind for insurance, but there is a science fiction series which would appeal to people interested in actuarial science or some type of predictive modeling. It’s the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov.
A main focus of that series is in this made-up science called psychohistory. It’s essentially predicting the future of an aggregated group of people based on the past, with some notion of likelihood. I think this concept sounds familiar, especially if you’re working in an actuarial role. I guess it may not help you figure out what’s going on in insurance or whether or not you like insurance, but if you’re interested in actuarial science, you might be interested in this book series.