Andrey Ugarte Montero earned his Master’s Degree in Actuarial Science this past month from the University of Lisbon (ISEG, ULisboa). Andrey earned his undergraduate degree in Actuarial Science from the University of Costa Rica and recently served as the vice president of the Actuarial Science Club at ISEG. We spoke with Andrey in June 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I’m obsessed with castles. I love visiting a castle and getting to know the history behind the castle. I find them to be very interesting buildings.
If you like castles, Europe is probably the place to be. I’m getting to know the continent and every time I go to a different place, I visit the castles surrounding the area, and they’re just amazing buildings full of history. It’s incredible, but it’s something very different from what we have in my home country of Costa Rica.
What has your experience at the University of Lisbon been like?
I like it a lot. I came to Lisbon because of the master’s program, and I really didn’t know much about the city. I was attracted to the program because the university is very well ranked in terms of mathematics and also in actuarial science. It’s classified as one of the top-20 master’s in the world according to specialized rankings like Eduniversal’s. Now that I’m finishing my experience, I can honestly say that I wasn’t disappointed at all.
Once you start discovering the major, there’s pretty much no limitation when it comes to what you can do when you study.
I like a lot of the courses. I think they show you a very good variety of the type of tasks that you can take on as an actuary. I love the fact that it combines a lot of mathematics, like the theoretical part of it, with the practice behind it. Professors are always talking about real-life environments and how certain things can apply in the real world. I feel that they try to put in extra effort to actually get people thinking about the practical part of the theory that we study.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose ULisboa?
I considered other universities in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and France. I wanted to be here in Europe, so that’s why I focused only in this area. In the end, I decided to come to ULisboa because of some of the factors that I already mentioned, like how the university is very well ranked, and the master’s also has a lot of international prestige.
The university also has an agreement with the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries of the United Kingdom. You can do your master’s here, and if you get grades that are high enough, you can get exceptions from different exams that are required for certification with the Institute. That really made a big difference for me.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science master’s program?
My bachelor’s degree is in actuarial science from the University of Costa Rica. When I was starting at the university, I didn’t know about actuarial science. I knew that I wanted to study something related to mathematics and statistics, but I wasn’t sure which one it would be.
I’m a language fan, so I decided that in order for me to decide on mathematics or statistics, I would start by enrolling in the Bachelor’s of English, and during the first year, I was going to think of which major I would pursue.
As it turns out, in one of the first classes at the university, I met a classmate who was studying actuarial science. I asked what it was, and she told me, “It’s like a combination of mathematics and statistics.” When she said that, it definitely caught my attention, because it sounded like the kind of thing that I wanted to study. After doing some research about the major, it made a lot of sense for me.
In my second year at the university, I applied for actuarial science, and I liked it a lot. I worked as an actuary for Ernst & Young. There, I learned the corporate side of actuarial science, and I loved it. Then I decided that I wanted to have an international certification, and that’s why I decided on the master’s and pursuing the certification with the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
I think it’s a major full of opportunities. There are many different types of jobs that you can do as an actuary. It all depends on what it is that you want to specialize in. You have health insurance, life insurance, and more. And there are many areas that are growing for actuaries, such as data science, machine learning, and big data.
I think a professional in actuarial science has many opportunities that not many other professionals have. There are not many actuaries out there, especially when compared to the demand for actuaries. That gives people many good opportunities in terms of jobs and developing a career.
Of course, it’s not just about that. You have to like what we do. You have to like mathematics, statistics, numbers, a little bit of finance, all those things. But if you do like it, and if you feel this is something that you want to pursue and that you can do it, I think there’s very little to think about. Once you start discovering the major, there’s pretty much no limitation when it comes to what you can do when you study. You can go more to statistics or more to mathematics. You can remain in the most theoretical actuarial science part. There’s a lot to do and many possibilities.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
I’ve liked it a lot, and now that I’m finishing, I can honestly tell you that the school met all my expectations, and they went further. I think there is a very good body of professors. The curriculum is currently very updated. They work directly with Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, so they have to make sure that they have updated the contents of every subject we study.
The courses are evolving, and from my perspective, they’re evolving according to the needs of the profession and what is expected from an actuary in the future. I feel the school is putting a lot of effort into making sure that students who graduate from the master’s program can do the job that’s expected of them. And it all starts in the classroom, and I think in our case, we have a very good start in that sense.
How are the extracurricular activities and clubs for actuarial science students?
I’m actually the vice president of the Actuarial Science Club. We have different types of activities. I think, by now, most of the students in our program actually come from outside of Portugal, so we developed a program to assign a newcomer to one of our current students, so that the new student can receive help if they have questions about what life is like in Lisbon, about certain administrative procedures, etc.
We also have master’s trips. This year, we went to Mafra, which is a very historical place here in Portugal. Mafra has one of the biggest palaces in the country. We visited the palace, learned about the history, and had a guided tour. We later hiked at a park called Tapada Nacional, and then we made a short stop at a beach.
The master’s program is fairly small, with 40 or 50 students, so we are a very united group. You really feel this sense of family in many ways. We have many activities to promote bonds between students beyond just the academic part of the major. Since we have many international students here, it’s very important to make them feel that they have friends and a home here.
We also hold events, where we bring people either from Portugal or outside of Portugal to give us talks about certain actuarial topics. The last one we had was about alternatives to solve the pension crisis that we are facing on an international level. Now everybody’s thinking of all the difficulties that defined benefit schemes are facing, but we’ve also covered cyber risk and other topics in past events.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
I would’ve liked to know that it’s as time consuming as it is, because it actually requires a lot of time. A lot of people don’t realize this, but actuarial science requires a lot of studying, and you have to invest a lot of time in your studying. So it’s very important for people to have this in mind if they want to study actuarial science. But if you really want to pursue the major, that’s an investment that you make, and it will pay off in the long run for sure. I think it’s not an aspect to be discouraged or anything; it’s just to be prepared.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
Everybody’s talking about cyber risk and how to insure it, how to price it, and how far it can go. I find this very interesting. There’s also this very trendy topic of catastrophic risks—how to price natural disasters and how to develop models that deal with these types of issues. In health insurance, there’s a lot going on with the evolution of diseases, how diseases are changing human life, and how it should change the way we price health insurance.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
I will continue my career developing some research in Switzerland. That’s the main plan that I have so far. I would like to get my PhD in Actuarial Science while doing so.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
It may seem very hard at the beginning. But, it’s all persistence and discipline, so if you really want to pursue a career in actuarial science, know that it will take some effort, but that only makes it better at the end. I think actuarial science is a major that offers many incredible opportunities for the people interested in it. It’s all up to you.
In my case, I always had people trying to discourage me, saying certain things about actuarial science and what life as an actuary was. So far, I’ve managed to make it what I wanted it to be. There are always certain things that people will say, but it’s all up to you and the way you do things. If you want to pursue this major, of course, go for it. Put in the effort it requires. Don’t do it just because of money, because it’s not all about money. At the end of the day, you have to like what you do, and you have to feel passionate about it. And if that’s the case, I think developing a career as an actuary should be a lot of fun.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
For people who want to learn more about insurance, what’s happening, and what the challenges are, you can check out the different magazines that organizations such as the Society of Actuaries or the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries of the United Kingdom publish.
Their magazines cover many different topics in actuarial science, from insurance to pensions to data science. These articles are usually written for everybody to understand, and for someone who is trying to acquire some basic knowledge about the industry and what’s happening, I think they’re very good references to read.
Of course, there are many other specialized books or references one can resort to that I like, but recommending them would depend a lot on your particular interests, so it becomes complicated to mention some specific cases for a general case.