Riley Jones is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he is majoring in Mathematics, Economics, and Spanish, with a minor in Computer Science. Riley worked this summer as an actuarial intern at Prudential Financial and is also president of the Actuarial Science Club at UNC Charlotte. We spoke with Riley in August 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
One thing you won’t get from my resume is how much I like to run. I have been running since middle school, competing in races from then until the start of college. Now, I just run casually but I hope to complete a marathon in the near future.
What has your experience at UNC Charlotte been like?
This university has been great. I grew up in the area about 40 minutes north of here, so I was familiar with the city of Charlotte. This university is about six or seven miles outside of the city center, but there is a light rail system that takes us from the middle of our campus to the middle of uptown. That’s a really great feature, and I go uptown quite a bit to enjoy the city. But the university itself is fantastic.
An internship is the best way to learn what the field’s actually like and get hands-on experience. I experienced that this summer, and I was able to clearly decide what I wanted to do with my career.
It’s about 30,000 students, so it’s pretty big, but it feels a lot smaller than that when you’re actually on campus. I’m part of several smaller groups on campus, like the Actuarial Science Club, the Business Honors Program, as well as the Levine Scholars Program. Being in those smaller communities makes you feel a lot more like you’re home, even though it is a huge university. We’re also in Division 1 athletics, so going to the sporting events are a lot of fun. I definitely enjoy doing that.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose UNC Charlotte?
I applied to about ten different schools, but I narrowed my decision down to Cornell, Chapel Hill, and Charlotte. I chose Charlotte because of the Levine Scholars Program. I was fortunate enough to receive this offer. It’s such an amazing program, which made my decision really easy.
What influenced you to pursue actuarial science?
I actually had no idea what actuarial science was when I came into college, but I lucked out. Charlotte’s got one of the best actuarial programs in the state.
I first found out about actuarial science when I was taking a math elective my freshman year. I was trying to get more credits, and the course I ended up taking was the first actuarial science course, Actuarial Science IA, which goes over the material in Exam FM. The teacher of this course is the head of the actuarial science program here, and she always gave us information about the actuarial science club.
That’s when I first learned about the profession. I went to club meetings a few times, and I just genuinely enjoyed the class and the material, so I sat for the exam and remained active in the club as well.
Sophomore year, I was in charge of community outreach and doing community service events for the club. Junior year, I took over the presidency role, and I’m doing that again for my senior year.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
I’ve really enjoyed actuarial science, and I feel like a lot of other people would as well, but a little caveat there is that actuarial science isn’t for everyone. You have to have a high aptitude in math and just genuinely enjoy solving problems, because going through all the exams, and even in the profession later on in your career, you’re solving problems daily. So if you enjoy solving problems and working through things, I think actuarial science is something to look into for sure.
Also, with actuarial science, it’s a surprisingly small, but extremely supportive community. That’s what I discovered going through the exam process and my internships. It’s a nice group to be a part of. Everyone’s gone through the exam process and can relate to that, and they are extremely supportive when you’re going through it as well. Everyone tends to know each other a little bit better than the other majors I’m doing.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
It’s been amazing. Actuarial science at UNC Charlotte, in my opinion, is the strongest in the state. We have classes for six different exams, and I’ve taken several of those. The actuarial science program director, Dr. Wafaa Shaban, is fantastic. She kicked off the actuarial program at Charlotte a while ago, and she’s been growing it ever since. She’s very dedicated to the school and to the actuarial science program, and she’s really grown it from almost nothing to this huge program we have today.
The classes are enjoyable because we’re studying directly from the textbook, so it’s not like we’re having to study for all of the exams on our own. We can go to class, study out of the textbook, make friends in the class, and study after class as well for these exams, because the exam process does require a lot of studying.
I’ve also enjoyed being able to attend a lot of conferences, like the SOA and the CAS, through the club and the program at Charlotte. Being able to travel to those conferences with Dr. Shaban and other members of the club makes a nice little community to be a part of at Charlotte. I’ve really enjoyed that.
We also bring in different companies and people from industry to come speak to our FM class directly. Dr. Shaban takes time out of her teaching to have companies come and speak to students about what the company is, what the actuaries do, what it’s like being an actuary. We have about three or four companies come in a semester to do that during the FM class.
We also have an actuarial science day and career fair every year. In the beginning of the day, we have an actuarial science day where we bring in guest speakers. The SOA came and did a panel discussion last year, speaking about what the actuarial profession is and what actuaries do. We try to give students on campus who are interested in actuarial science a better understanding of what the profession is from hearing directly from professionals. The career fair in the afternoon is a great opportunity to speak one-on-one with company representatives who are looking to hire actuaries either for internships or full time.
We’re also currently working on expanding our alumni network. We have an alumni luncheon every spring where alumni come back to the campus, and we get to meet with them in a more personal setting. Our last club president is now working as an actuary in Australia, and she reached out to me a while ago about an internship at Prudential Financial. I followed up with her, applied for the internship, and that’s where I ended up working this summer. So I got my internship this summer through a connection with alumni, so I feel like we have a pretty strong network.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
I’d have to go back to the class I was talking about earlier, Actuarial Science IA. The class prepares you for Exam FM, and the course is broken up into two semesters. I really enjoyed the material for FM, and that’s what initially drew me to actuarial science. I enjoyed the class, passed Exam FM, and then the next semester I came back as a teaching assistant for that course.
I got to know the material even better as a TA. As a TA, I really enjoyed seeing students being introduced to actuarial science and helping to answer all of their questions that they had about the field.
But I am also taking a course this semester for the predictive analytics exam, which I’m really excited about. That might pass my current favorite course, but we’ll see.
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 the exam process and going through all the exams that we need to take to get the ASA and the FSA designations. Going in, I knew the exams were hard. People communicated that to me. I didn’t realize how long it the process would be though, and how many years it takes to go through all the exams. That was something that surprised me a little bit.
Along the same lines, I wish someone had explained to me how important and also how difficult it would be to balance going to school, having a social life, and studying for exams, because trying to manage all three of those is extremely difficult.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
I’ve completed four internships now. Three of those were non-actuarial, and the most recent one was an actuarial internship. After freshman year, I did an internship with the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, where I worked on the data analytics team. I enjoyed that experience. Following my sophomore year, I did an internship in Pamplona, Spain, where I worked with Linden Comansa. They’re a tower crane company. I worked in their finance department, which was also a really fun experience, along with being able to work in a foreign country.
In the spring of my junior year, I worked with a nonprofit in Charlotte called Prospera. They work with Hispanic entrepreneurs in the area, helping them get their business started and following through with any business ideas they may have.
This summer, I did my first actuarial internship with Prudential. Going into that, I wasn’t set on the actuarial profession. I had passed three exams, but I still wasn’t dead-set on being an actuary. But after the internship, or even three or four weeks into the internship, I thought, “This is what I want to do.” I was really enjoying the work I was doing, and I enjoyed the people and the environment I was in. That helped me determine that I wanted to start out as an actuary, so I got a lot out of my internship experience this summer.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
After graduation, I’m hoping to get a job as an actuary. I’ll start off there, get my ASA relatively soon, ultimately receive my FSA as well, and I’ll be fully designated. Longer term, I’d also be interested in getting an MBA and going back to business school to broaden my experience and expertise from more of a business perspective and try to build myself to be a better leader.
Also, I could see myself eventually transitioning into more of a nontraditional actuarial role. I’ve always been interested in finance in particular, so even within an insurance company or within a bank, I could possibly transition to doing actuarial work with more of a financial lens on it.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
Because I worked in the actuarial industry this summer, which was my first real taste of the industry, one trend I picked up on was the push for automation and building efficiencies. To do that automation, you’ll need to have programming skills and know VBA very well, but you’ll also need to learn SQL and other languages to help build better systems to do the work we’re doing.
More and more of the work that actuaries would typically do are being automated so that actuaries can spend time focusing on higher-level thinking and analysis, instead of focusing so much on computation. There is a shift away from computation to higher-level analysis and being able to present that analysis clearly and concisely to upper management.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
For those who are interested in actuarial science and insurance in general, the best advice I could give is just to go try it out. An internship is the best way to learn what the field’s actually like and get hands-on experience. I experienced that this summer, and I was able to clearly decide what I wanted to do with my career.
I think an internship is extremely valuable to learning what you want to do. Even if the internship doesn’t go well, just getting the knowledge that, “Hey, this is something I don’t want to do,” is a great way to start, instead of actually going into the field. There’s more flexibility with the internship. You can change around a little bit more.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
The website that I found most helpful when I was first figuring out what an actuary is, what the career’s like, and what job opportunities there are, was BeAnActuary.org. I found this to be a very helpful resource.
For studying for exams, I always go to the SOA website and look at previous exam questions that they release. That’s an amazing resource. It’s free. Everyone should use it. Also, I’ve used Coaching Actuaries to study for all my exams. I like the way they format their studying. I would recommend that as well.