Titan Wibowo is an Actuarial Science graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he also received his undergraduate degree in Actuarial Science. Titan is President of the Actuarial Science Club during the Fall 2018 – Spring 2019 term and is also an active member of the Indonesian Students Association. Titan will complete his Master’s program in May 2019. We spoke with him in April 2019.
What has your experience at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign been like?
It’s been nothing short of amazing and wonderful. College has been the best part of my life.
I’m originally from Jakarta, Indonesia, and when I came to U of I as a freshman, I really didn’t know anything about US culture. I didn’t even really know much about actuarial science, except the part about taking exams.
During my freshman year, I lived in a dorm where the majority of students were American. I had to try to make friends with new people and learn about a culture that is extremely different from mine. What was great about the people I met was that they were all very welcoming to me, and they really educated me about the culture here.
As a freshman, I also joined the Actuarial Science Club, and I think the current success that I’ve achieved at U of I is due in part to the seniors I met in the club. I remember walking out of a company presentation and meeting these five seniors who introduced themselves to me, and I ended up becoming part of their social circle. They mentored me and gave me all the tips and tricks to survive college and get a job here in the States.
I think what makes the actuarial science program very special is the Actuarial Science Club. I would have never survived college or gotten a job without it.
My experience at U of I really expanded my horizons beyond just actuarial science coursework. I think what makes me value my time here the most is the fact that everyone was so welcoming and that I was able to forge friendships with a lot of people from different backgrounds and cultures. I never really felt that I would end up making friends outside of my own cultural bubble, but at U of I I was able to. If it wasn’t for the friends I made here, I don’t know how I would have survived college.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose UIUC?
I initially wanted to go to Hong Kong University or the London School of Economics. Back then, I didn’t really think about going to the States. But after much consideration, I chose to go to UIUC. I knew that UIUC was a Center of Actuarial Excellence, and also, the current finance minister of Indonesia came from UIUC, so I thought, if it was excellent for the finance minister, it must be excellent for me too.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
Honestly, I didn’t really know I wanted to go into actuarial science. I liked finance, and I liked the world of Wall Street. Whenever I saw movies like Too Big To Fail, The Wolf of Wall Street, or The Big Short, it really appealed to me the way they would talk about life and the excitement of living. I originally thought I really wanted to go into finance, but then my dad suggested that since I liked math, I should go into actuarial science. I looked into it, and actuarial science was rated the number one job in the US as well as in Indonesia. Actuarial science also combines both business and math, so I decided to give it a try.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
Actuarial science is big business. Risk management is in very high demand right now. I recently read a Wall Street Journal article about how 10-year yield curves are inverted again, so they’re thinking there might be a recession coming around the corner. If you’re a good risk management professional, you’ll be able to keep your company solvent and help your company survive in any crisis. I think just having the risk management component in your background will help in your success in the future, especially given the volatility in the market that we’re seeing today.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
U of I has historically been very well established in terms of actuarial science classes. All of the classes that we take here are well geared toward a certain exam, such that if, let’s say, I take a class that’s tied to an SOA exam, I’d only need a month to complete my studying in order to pass the exam. The program here is just that good.
There’s also a very good blend of theoretical and practical learning in the program. I remember in the class Math 478: Loss Models, which is meant to help prepare you for Exam C, the professor brought in somebody from State Farm to give a guest lecture on credibility and what State Farm deems credible data within their insurance books. The lecturer actually revealed a small portion of their real business, and we were asked to calculate credibility from that data set as a case study for the class.
The actuarial program here is also incorporating predictive analytics into classes, and students are asked to use R in a few assignments so they can see the real-life practical applications of the theories they’re learning. This also helps prepare students for the industry later on, as we’re seeing more and more R and Python use in the industry.
I think what makes the actuarial science program very special is the Actuarial Science Club. I would have never survived college or gotten a job without it. I met a lot of my mentors from the club, and they gave me a lot of support in helping to manage classes, interviewing, etc. Because the club has been so amazing to me, I decided to climb the ranks and become club president and help establish a lot of new programs for the club, including the alumni mentorship program and the first insurtech symposium.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
I’ve had three favorite classes so far. The first is Leading Negotiations, which taught us about the different negotiation styles that a lot of experts subscribe to. I felt like the skills I learned were not just applicable in business or in an actuarial science aspect, but also in my personal life too.
My second favorite class is a case formulation problem solving class. This is the class that basically helps you prepare for management consulting interviews. I wasn’t going for management consulting, but that class taught me a lot of the frameworks that management consultants use and how to approach a complex problem and break it down. As actuaries, I believe that we shouldn’t just be focused on the pricing or reserving, and we need to be able to look at the entirety of the insurance business and make strategic decisions on where we should allocate our resources, how much reserve should we allocate, and how we should approach our marketing.
My third favorite class is Public Speaking. This class gave me theories and applicable practices to really help me improve my public speaking skills. Public speaking is basically a hobby of mine, so I really enjoyed this class and felt that it was actually a great way for me to just practice my hobby.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
I’ve had two insurance-related internships. The first one was at AXA Financial in Indonesia, where I worked on their group health product line. I was asked to do experience studies on their group health insurance line, classifying the pool of insureds by age, gender, and plan line, and then trying to find the expected loss and premium. I thought it was a good general introduction to actuarial science.
What was really amazing about that internship was that I got a chance to have conversations with the CFO and Head of Finance at several lunches, and I also got to meet and have several sessions with the Chief Actuary. They taught me a lot about how the business works and what I’d need to do in order to succeed in the business and climb up to their ranks.
My second internship was with Milliman Financial Risk Management in Chicago. Milliman is one of the most efficient companies I’ve ever seen. A lot of the systems that could be automated with other insurance companies, Milliman already automates them.
At Milliman, I got to learn about creating the most efficient actuarial team. The product I was working on was variable annuities, one of the most complicated life insurance products out there.
A lot of companies outsource their variable annuities to Milliman, so what Milliman needs to do with their limited human resources is effectively streamline a reporting process for those variable annuities clients by creating an automated product line, kind of like an assembly line for reports.
I worked on one small part of that assembly line, which was basically translating inforce, which is a dataset of clients, policyholders, policies, and details of those policies. I needed to translate that dataset into what was compatible to Milliman’s production line, and in order to do that, I needed to write code in C#, which was actually the first time that I had touched C#. The experience of learning how to code, learning more about the nitty-gritty details of the products, and collaborating with the IT team was really beneficial for me.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
I’d like to try to get my FSA in the next three years, and after I get my FSA and start to be able to live life a little, maybe I’ll go for an Executive MBA program while climbing up the ranks as a manager. The reason for this is, while actuarial science teaches me the liability side of the business, an MBA in finance gives me an understanding of the asset side of the company. An understanding of both sides lands me in a better position to understand how a company works.
While at my internship at Milliman, I learned that one of the crazy things the company is doing right now is creating a sort of ETF, using actuarial methodologies in order to hedge the risk that seniors who want to retire are going to face, allowing seniors to take the upside of the S&P, let’s say, when the market is bullish. I’m pretty interested in working on these types of investment vehicles, so maybe after I’m done with my FSA, I’ll try to work on that to see a different part of the insurance industry.
In the future, I’d love to establish my own firm, develop my original derivative products, or have my own actuarial consulting practice and find that niche where I can innovate in order to further serve clients and make this world more efficient.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
This is something that I picked up from an equity partner at Milliman when I had lunch with him. I asked him why he stayed in actuarial science, rather than going to Goldman Sachs and making a ton of cash. He told me that the culture of investment banks doesn’t really relate to what he believes in. He believes that actuaries are, in general, very friendly people who are willing to share their knowledge, and that’s why he stayed in actuarial science.
And I hear this from almost every insurance professional I talk to. They say insurance is a really small world, and you’ll meet the same people over and over again. So if you want to succeed in this business, start making friends and start shaking a couple of hands. The best advice I can give someone who is interested in the insurance field is to brush up on your interpersonal skills, get yourselves out there, and start talking with people.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
I like to read The Actuary Magazine from the SOA. It doesn’t hurt to read it just to be ahead of the game and understand what’s going on in the insurance field currently. It might also give you something to talk about with recruiters or with other professionals within the insurance realm. Another publication I like to keep track of is The Wall Street Journal, so I’m more on top of what the market is doing and economic trends.