Kaini Chen is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where she is majoring in Economics with concentrations in Finance and Actuarial Science. Kaini is president of the Penn Actuarial Society and currently interns at private equity firm Magnus Oak Capital. We spoke with Kaini in May 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I’ve recently taken up swing dancing, which has been a pretty fun addition into my school life. That includes dancing with people I already know in school and also social dancing with other people who I might not know. I think it’s a great way to meet people and have fun.
What has your experience at the University of Pennsylvania been like?
When I first came to Penn, it was a pretty foreign experience because I had actually never visited the campus. I’m from the West Coast, and Penn was a new environment for me. But I think student life helps a lot with the transition. There are tons of clubs on campus, and I found a lot of my friends either through the clubs that I’m involved in, the extracurriculars like swing dancing, or Greek life on campus. I’m also part of a business fraternity, and I think those organizations have really helped me find community within UPenn.
If you’re interested in math, statistics, finance, business, or some combination of those, you should definitely check out what actuarial science is.
In terms of student life, pretty much everyone is involved with one club or another. I think it’s a great way for you to develop both socially and academically, like with the Penn Actuarial Society. It’s a fairly small club since the actuarial presence is not very large at UPenn, so the club is a great way to get to know upperclassmen who are also concentrating in actuarial science. That’s where I learned most about what it’s like to be an actuary and met people who were also interested in the field.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Penn?
I applied to Penn early-decision, but I was also considering a few UCs near me, like UCLA and UC Berkeley. Ultimately, I chose Penn because of the Wharton School. I think it’s a really robust business program that allows me to explore different options, but it also offers actuarial science, which is what I went into school looking for. I ultimately decided to commit to UPenn because it offered actuarial science, and I thought it would be a good environment for me to pursue that.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
When I was applying to schools and looking at majors, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I looked through potential careers and what I wanted to get into, and actuarial science sounded interesting from my preliminary research. When I got into college, I wanted to study something related to applied statistics because I thought theoretical math was too far of a reach for me.
I thought that actuarial science was a good combination of a lot of different areas of study, as well as being a very applied field. Also, there is a very limited pool of actuaries, so I thought after graduation, I would be a more valued asset.
Throughout my time at Penn, I’ve learned more about what being an actuary is like and the day-to-day responsibilities of an actuary. All of it sounds pretty interesting, and that’s why I’m still pursuing actuarial science.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
If you’re interested in math, statistics, finance, business, or some combination of those, you should definitely check out what actuarial science is. There are the actuarial exams in the beginning few years of being an actuary, so students should really see if they’re willing to commit to that. Keep that in the back of your mind, because it is a really long process. But I think actuarial science is a pretty interesting field, and if you’re interested in applied statistics, then actuarial science might be a good fit.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
The actuarial concentration at Penn is pretty small. In my classes, there have been about 12 to 16 students in a class. There is one head professor, Professor Jean Lemaire, who is basically the basis of actuarial science at Penn. If anyone is interested in actuarial science at Penn, you should definitely get in contact with Dr. Lemaire.
In terms of the program, I find it very focused. The latter courses are more focused on exam prep for the SOA exams. The class that I most recently took was geared towards Exam MLC. So if you wanted to get more into property and casualty, you’ll have to do a bit more discovery and exam prep on your own.
We also have the Penn Actuarial Society, which is a club that supports actuarial students on campus. We host study sessions, and we help host information sessions for companies who come and recruit. We also have events that introduce what actuarial science is to students who may be interested and don’t really know much about the profession. We cover what it means to be an actuary, the whole exam process, and how you can pursue actuarial science at Penn.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
It would probably have to be Introduction to Asian American History because a lot of my classes are pretty quantitative, and I thought it was a breath of fresh air in terms of what I’m studying. It was pretty relevant, too. As an Asian American at Penn, I thought the class was a great way to learn about history that’s related to me and also see what kind of impact it has on my worldview. I’ve recently become a U.S. citizen, so it’s nice for me to see the history and really feel empowered.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
I think the most challenging part is the exams. The actuarial exams require a lot of studying outside of school. If you go to a school with courses that are geared towards preparing for certain exams, that’s great. But even still, there are exams that you’ll have to prepare for after you graduate. I think being mentally prepared to be diligent about studying on your own time and setting up your own timeline for when you want to get things done is really important.
I knew about the exams before I started, but I don’t think I really understood how much of a time commitment they would be. In terms of other things I wish I would have known ahead of time, I think knowing a little bit about the languages that are pertinent to actuarial science, like Excel, R, SQL, or SAS, would be very helpful.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
I’ve had an internship with a private equity firm. I know that’s not very related to insurance or actuarial science, but in my freshman summer, I was trying to explore what other career routes there were outside of actuarial science because in school, I’ve been pretty actuarial focused. I think that was a good way for me to learn the more financial side of things and get a little bit acquainted with Excel as well.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
This summer, I’m planning on looking for an internship closer to California, because that’s where I’m from. I’m also going to be interning again for the same private equity firm, but I’m also looking for something more insurance-related at the same time.
In the short term, I definitely want to be either an ASA or part of CAS and beyond that attain fellowship. But aside from more exam-based goals, I definitely want to be in an actuarial role at first. And then after that, I’m not too certain where I’ll end up, but hopefully in the future I’ll be in some kind of managerial role.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
The advances in technology and the rise in the amount of data coming in are leading to more more robust insurance programs. For example, in the auto industry right now, some insurance companies have mobile apps that track your driving performance. And in terms of health insurance, companies are linking up with Fitbits or Apple Watches to track your health. The insurance industry is definitely utilizing more and more new technology.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
Definitely speak to professionals who are in the field. I think networking is a very important skill that allows you to have these connections to people who know firsthand what it’s like to work in the field, and maybe they can provide you with their reasons of why they decided ultimately to choose their profession and insight into their day-to-day lives and what it’s like working in the insurance field.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
Not necessarily pertaining to insurance, but more specifically actuarial science, I found that the website Be An Actuary was really helpful when I was first researching what actuarial science is. The website has tons of information about how you get started, why you should pursue actuarial science, and the whole exam process. So I think if you’re interested in insurance or actuarial science, this is definitely where you should start your search.