Ryan Knapp is a senior at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri, where he is majoring in Mathematics with an emphasis in Actuarial Science and Mathematical Finance and minoring in Business. Ryan is the vice president of Mizzou’s chapter of Gamma Iota Sigma, and he interned at Anthem, Inc., this past summer. We spoke with Ryan in August 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I think for me that would probably be my love of sports. I’m a big Cardinals fan, and ever since the Rams left St. Louis, I’m now a big Chiefs fan because that’s the next closest thing. So I would say that’s probably my one thing, just hanging out with friends and watching sporting events. It’s the social aspect of my life that you don’t see on the resume.
What has your experience at the University of Missouri been like?
It’s been great so far. The cool thing about Mizzou is that it’s not built around a really big city—it’s a true college town. Everything here was built around the university, so you really get that tight-knit college-town feel.
When I came and toured Mizzou, what struck me was the whole college-town experience and how the campus is just absolutely beautiful.
It’s been great being able to meet people, through class or different organizations, that come here from all across the nation. A lot of them are going into the same thing I’m going into, so making those connections and friendships has been really good.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose the University of Missouri?
I’m from St. Louis, Missouri, so I was looking at the St. Louis schools, like St. Louis University and Maryville University. I was looking at those schools, and I toured the campuses, and I liked them and how close they were to home.
But when I came and toured Mizzou, what struck me was the whole college-town experience and how the campus is just absolutely beautiful. Mizzou is also only an hour-and-a-half away from my parents, which is just far enough away to where they’re not going to be there all the time, but not too far away to where I can’t get home easily for a weekend. Ultimately, I chose Mizzou because of its great location and beautiful campus.
What influenced you to pursue actuarial science?
I was originally going to go into engineering, and then I toured the engineering school at Mizzou, and I saw the four-year plan that they have for you. Basically, what Mizzou does for engineering is they cram a five-year plan into four years, so you can graduate in four years. Most people take four-and-a-half. So your workload is really high, with really difficult science and math courses.
I didn’t really want to do that because I’m not much of a science guy. I just like math, and I’ve always been good at math. That’s when I decided just to do a math major, and that’s also how I stumbled upon actuarial science, which I saw as a rising field.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
It’s been a great experience. The one thing about actuarial science is that you have to take a series of exams in order to get your credentials. There are ten exams total that you have to pass, and they’re all three hours long. So you pass the first set of exams, and you get your first set of credentials, and then the next set of exams allows you to get your final credentials. The thing about Mizzou is that in their program—they understand that.
They have classes that go along with the first four exams word for word, through the Society of Actuaries. The program here is really good at preparing you for those exams, because those are the most important ones to pass prior to graduation. Typically, two to three exams would be good enough when you’re trying to find a full-time job, so the fact that Mizzou has the ability to prepare you for four of them speaks to how great the program is.
We also have a chapter of Gamma Iota Sigma on campus, which is a professional insurance fraternity. I’m actually the vice president of our club. We cater to actuarial students since they’re a major part of the insurance industry, but we also have a lot of finance majors, risk management students, and people who are in underwriting or are going into insurance sales.
GIS is a really good place to meet everybody who’s going into the same industry and to be able to give each other advice. Especially for actuaries, because of the exams you have to take, it’s really good to get that advice on when to take the exams, how to prepare for them,etc.
We have a lot of alumni from GIS who are now working as actuaries at companies that are nearby, like in St. Louis, Kansas City, or Chicago. They are an incredible resource for our members.
Professor Luciana Bobitan is also really good at getting connections from the industry and sending out different internship opportunities to students. Professor Steven Goldschmidt, who is more on the finance and investment side of things, also has a lot of connections in the industry, and he’s been great at giving students resources for internships.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
My favorite class was with Professor Goldschmidt, who teaches Mathematics of Financial Derivatives, which is the class that goes along with Exam IFM. The class goes through different topics involving the math behind different investment strategies. It was great because a lot of our discussion was about various companies on the New York Stock Exchange that were having issues, and we were able to relate their issues to the classwork. Overall, this class was the most interesting for me because while I did know a little bit about investment, I didn’t understand the math behind it all.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
The most challenging parts are the exams to get your credentials. While the coursework does help you prepare for those exams, the majority of your preparation is done outside of class and after graduation, too. All the exams, in addition to trying to get internships before you graduate, is a lot to take on.
I wish I would have known more about the exams going into the program, so I would have started passing them sooner. I didn’t take my first exam until my sophomore summer, and it was a little late because I failed the exam the first time and had to pass it again in the fall semester, which was cutting it close to be able to get an internship. It ended up working out, but I wish I would’ve known to pass my exams sooner so I could get that internship and not have to worry as much.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
I’ve had two internships that are related to insurance. One is at an employee benefits firm in Columbia, and I work there during the school year. That internship is good because it gives me exposure to a business environment in an office setting. I get to better understand the different norms and behaviors that go along with working in that type of setting. The internship also gives me exposure to insurance terminology. When I started, I didn’t know what a deductible was or what an out-of-pocket maximum was, so it’s good to get that kind of exposure.
The other internship was at Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield in Indianapolis. That one was an actuarial internship, so I was able to do a lot more things that an actuary would actually do. I used a lot of Excel and did a lot of coding, and I was exposed to a lot of the conceptual insurance knowledge that goes along with being an actuary.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
After I graduate in December, I’m looking to start a career as a health insurance actuary. I’m looking to get my first credential, which is my ASA, within the next two or three years, and then after that, get my my FSA a few years later. Hopefully, from there, I can move up to an actuarial manager position.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
I think the biggest development going on right now, which has to do with the upcoming presidential election, is the “Medicare for all” talk, where they’re basically trying to have the United States buy everybody’s health insurance. A few of the candidates are discussing that idea, and I think that ultimately, it’s going to help the insurance companies better their businesses.
On the other side in property and casualty insurance, the big thing right now is self-driving cars, because that’s a big disruption to the industry. The big question is, “How do you insure a self-driving car?” I think that’s a really interesting problem.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
My advice would be to pass your exams early. Try to work them in during your freshman or sophomore year, just to get at least one under your belt, because it makes getting an internship a lot easier. If you’re focused on actuarial science, make sure that you do want to put the work in, because there are a lot of exams you have to take to get your credentials, and a lot of people end up fizzling out because they just don’t want to keep taking exams, especially after graduation. That’s the hardest part, that even after you graduate college you still have to learn. That’s why my advice is, make sure that’s the road you want to go for.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
The movie The Big Short is probably my favorite movie. It’s really interesting to watch, especially when you do have a little bit of a financial background. After taking classes at school and a couple of exams, it’s interesting to watch the movie with that background and see the financial lingo they use and see the finance atmosphere in the movie.