Olivia Barnard is a junior at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana, where she is double majoring in English and Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics (ACMS) and minoring in Actuarial Sciences. Olivia is the social chair for the Actuarial Science Club of Notre Dame, and she will be interning this coming summer at Aon in Chicago. We spoke with Olivia in November 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I’m a dual citizen with Ireland, so both a U.S. citizen and an Irish citizen. Both of my parents immigrated to the States from England and Ireland, so I have a lot of family over there. I travel there frequently, and I’ve kind of developed a love to travel. I’m trying to get to all seven continents.
What has your experience at the University of Notre Dame been like?
Apart from the cold, Notre Dame has been pretty good. I’m originally from Atlanta, so moving up here was a bit of a change, with regards to the winter.
One of the most interesting things about actuarial science is that it’s such a great combination of applied math, programming, and business.
Academically, I’ve loved Notre Dame. One of my favorite things is that you get to know your professors one-on-one really well, and they’re always such a great support system for you.
Socially, I’ve met some really cool people—very diverse, very interesting. Having classes with a lot of different people and living in the dorm has really opened my eyes to a lot of different cultures and ways of life in general. I’ve gotten to participate in different things and try new activities as well, which have all been really fun.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Notre Dame?
I was ultimately deciding between Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. I looked at a few other Catholic schools, but it came down to the decision between, “Am I going to stay in-state and go to Georgia Tech and become an engineer? Or am I going to take a risk and go out-of-state?” They’re both fantastic schools, but Notre Dame allowed me to also study English and a wide variety of material.
Notre Dame provides a very liberal education, and I’ve enjoyed the diversity of classes, with anything from English to theology to history. Notre Dame also has such great opportunities to learn both inside and outside of the country. The university has helped me to connect to a lot of different people and has helped me find internships and jobs as well.
What influenced you to pursue actuarial science?
When I got to Notre Dame, I added my ACMS major, and with that program we had quite a few actuarial speakers come in. I remember hearing my high school teacher talk about actuarial science, so I decided to go to a couple of the talks, and I found myself very stimulated by what they were talking about. If someone can pique your interest for over an hour on what they do in their daily profession, I thought it was definitely worthwhile to look into. So I added the actuarial science minor program at Notre Dame, and then after taking the classes and having my internship this past summer, I really solidified the direction that I was going in.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
I think one of the most interesting things about actuarial science is that it’s such a great combination of applied math, programming, and business. Being an actuary is such an interesting job because your projects and clients are constantly changing. You ask an actuary what they do for a living, and everyone has a different answer.
I think actuarial science is always personally challenging and stimulating, and it’s a great way to challenge yourself in a career, which is something that I’ve always wanted. I want to be able to progress myself further and become an expert in something. With the actuarial exam program, you challenge yourself to pass all the exams, and in that, you’re moving up in the company, and you’re moving up in your job and becoming more knowledgeable.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
Notre Dame has a lot of different courses that align with the SOA exams. There’s a structure in which you take an order of classes with the actuarial science program. We have probability, financial mathematics, and then a series of courses that align to IFM, STAM, and LTAM. The minor itself and the classes bring in a lot of speakers, both inside of class time and outside of class time. I think that provides an application for what you’re learning in class, which is really beneficial so you’re not just pounding out the math and not understanding how it applies to the real world.
The other really important aspect of the actuarial science program at our school is that we have an active recruiting season. From August to November, we have employers coming to campus who want to talk to actuarial students, get to know them, see what they’re interested in, and see if they’re a match for them. I’ve always had an engaging August through November, where I might not join a company, but I learn a whole lot. It’s given me a really good perspective on what I might want to do in the actuarial field.
I think with the actuarial science program you’re also able to find your mentor—one of the professors who really sticks out to you in the program and helps guide you in your career path, connects you with people, and is someone you can always go to. I’ve found that the relationships are really important for me in the program.
We also have an actuarial science club, where we work with the actuarial science program to bring a lot of speakers on campus outside of class time (e.g., for a dinner talk). That happens at least twice a month. The other really great thing about the club is that it helps prepare you for exams. The club provides outside study material and if you pass your exam, the club will reimburse you for your exam fee, which is one of the biggest perks. The actuarial club also provides mentorship, where you can either pair up with another student at Notre Dame, who may be older and has more experience than you, or with a professional actuary. I had a mentor last year who worked at Milliman, and I would call once or twice a semester and pick his brain about the profession and his experience.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
I think Probability has been my favorite class. It was my first class in the minor, and it was such a different way of thinking for me with regard to math. It works a different part of the brain, and there was such a big learning curve. I had to teach myself to think differently and approach problems differently.
My professor Tom Totten brought in real-life applications as much as possible into the course. While you were learning the material about different probability models, he would bring in a speaker who would talk about how he uses that model every single day, which changed up the course of the class quite a bit and made it very interesting.
It was a fast-paced class for sure because we learned all of the material for Exam P in one semester. By the end of the semester, I felt ready to take P. I studied for a couple of weeks and passed it. I think there’s something about taking your first exam and succeeding. It’s just really empowering. I would attribute a lot of that to the probability class.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
The most challenging part is balancing your social life and your study time, and balancing your schoolwork and the time you set aside to study for the SOA exams. I think it’s taught me a lot about time management and how to prioritize. Once you get a handle on what your study method is and what works well for you, it works out to be a pretty nice balance. It makes you feel like you’re succeeding in something on the side, outside of school, which is awesome.
With regard to what I wish I would’ve known before, one thing that I didn’t really realize was how they keep changing the requirements to get your ASA. I wish I would have known more about the VEE credits and how you need to take certain classes to get your VEE credit in order to get your ASA. Those classes, ideally, you would complete during school. It might work out for me that I might not have room to take one of the classes, so I’m going to have to self-study once I graduate. But if I had known that ahead of time, I probably would have planned more accordingly to get all of those classes in.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
This past summer, I worked for a consulting firm called Nyhart in Indianapolis. I worked in their health care department, and it was such a great experience. The work was really stimulating because each client had a different insurance history and different set of employees. So each client that you worked on, you had to acclimate yourself to this new client and accommodate them in your models and process of evaluating their health care premiums for the upcoming fiscal year. I think that internship also taught me a lot about working in a business setting, working on a team, and a little bit more about what actuaries do.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
I think health care insurance is going to change immensely in the next couple of years. Health care costs keep increasing, but that can’t continue. I know with the upcoming presidential election, I think the laws will probably change again, which will change the field again.
Another insurance trend that I think is really interesting is in the field of retirement. There’s the whole shift from defined benefit plans to defined contributions, in addition to an increase in the older working population. So retirement-wise, it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out for upcoming generations, specifically ours. I know for our generation, they’ve run models that say we’re less likely to save than other generations. Since we’re not saving enough to retire, we’re less likely to retire, so we’ll have an older working population, and liability will probably go up for companies. It will be interesting to see how that unfolds over the next couple of years.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
Next summer, I have an internship in retirement consulting with Aon. I’m excited to do that and see what actuarial field I really do want to go into. Long term, I would love to get my ASA quickly, but also in a way that I can manage my own social life and be happy and have a good balance. I want to work for a company that really values progress in its employees and just be challenged to become a better person and actuary.
I’ve always considered going back to school eventually. I don’t know in what field in particular. I’m an English and ACMS major. I don’t know whether I’d go back to do grad school in one of those or get an MBA, but I would like to go back to school and potentially become a professor in the long term. I respect so much the mentors that I’ve had here and how much impact they have had in my life, and I would love to be that for someone else.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
I think it never hurts to try it out. See if you like it. See if the work is interesting. In the end, you’ve just got to go with a gut feeling. I think no matter what experience you have, you’re going to learn something. With regard to insurance, some people say insurance is boring—I get that a lot—but I really don’t think so. I think it changes so frequently, and it’s such an important part of our society; it’s always going to provide growth and challenges.
I think another aspect to consider is that there are so many different types of insurance. There are a lot of different niche areas that you can develop and grow in. I think for whatever you want to get out of a job, you will be able to find it in some way in your field. As long as you vocalize and say what you’re interested in within the insurance field, your team and your coworkers will fully support you in what you want to do.
» If you liked Olivia’s interview, check out our other actuarial science student interviews.