Peter Roessler-Caram graduated this past month from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he double majored in Actuarial Science and Applied Statistics. Peter works as an Actuarial Analyst at Allianz Life, where he also interned previously. We spoke with Peter in May 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I love playing disc golf. I think it’s great to get outside, especially with a couple friends. We can just chat and catch up and throw some frisbees around.
The other thing I really enjoy doing is riding my motorcycle. I’ve been riding motorcycles for five or six years now, and it’s something that I really enjoy in the in the summers, especially here in Minnesota, where we only get a few good months of weather.
What has your experience at the University of St. Thomas been like?
I’ve definitely enjoyed it. St. Thomas is a little bit smaller than most other schools, so I’ve had a very personal experience here. I’ve gotten to know a lot of my professors on a first-name basis and have had a few professors write letters of recommendations that set me up for scholarships and internship opportunities.
Actuarial science is a huge focal point when you’re trying to combine analytics, both qualitative and quantitative, a business mindset, and a bit of entrepreneurship.
The same can be said with my classmates, who are in the same major as me. We all know each other, and that’s awesome, especially when we all go through the same classes and have the same goals. On top of that, this also allows you to network really well with other students in different actuarial clubs. I’m in Gamma Iota Sigma, and that’s another place where I get to meet a lot of these people.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose St. Thomas?
I wanted to stay somewhat close to home, so I looked at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and the University of Iowa, in addition to St. Thomas. I ultimately ended up choosing St. Thomas for a couple reasons.
One, St. Thomas had the Center of Actuarial Excellence designation. That was a big deal for me because I wanted to make sure that I had a good foundation for what I wanted to pursue as a career.
Secondly, I liked the smaller size of St. Thomas. I think that helps a lot with networking, and it makes it a little easier to stand out when you’re doing interviews. I really ended up liking St. Thomas for the culture and the size.
Lastly, St. Thomas ended up being the most affordable option out of the four, so that was definitely a motivational point too.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
When I was in high school, I initially wanted to be a botanist. Needless to say, that didn’t pan out, and once I got to get my senior year of high school, I had nailed down actuarial science.
Like a lot of other people, I knew I was good at math, and I wanted to pursue something in math but not necessarily be tied down to the academia path of becoming a mathematician. When I saw that actuarial science was a career that I could have within a business but also use my math background, that was a big turning point for me.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
Well, it’s kind of fun. I think actuarial science is a huge focal point when you’re trying to combine analytics, both qualitative and quantitative, a business mindset, and a bit of entrepreneurship, where you need to be able to develop and sell a certain product. I think this is a cool path that a student could focus on, so that they get this huge exposure to a ton of different areas, rather than being pigeonholed into one section of that.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
St. Thomas provides a liberal arts education, so we do have other requirements for the major to graduate and you get some exposure to different areas. One of my favorites was philosophy. St. Thomas has requirements from history to philosophy, which results in a wide array of different classes to pick from while trying to get your degree.
As far as the actuarial science major goes, I think it’s pretty great because you get some classes that help prepare you for the actuarial exams. With these classes, not only do you get a structure by which to study the content, you also get a professor that can answer your questions along the way. And the professors are familiar with the actuarial exams, so they understand that the exams are tough and they try to tailor the classes a bit to help the students.
I actually got the opportunity to take a risk management and insurance class in London for a study-abroad program. That was awesome. We got to spend a month in London, and we had field days where we went to Lloyd’s of London, a huge insurance centerpiece.
We also got a ton of industry knowledge from different syndicates that were over. You get exposure to the actual mathematical classes, to the conceptual side of the business, and to a lot of liberal arts classes that may not necessarily help you directly, but help you become a more holistic student.
In terms of clubs, we have a chapter of Gamma Iota Sigma that started a couple years before I had gotten to St. Thomas. There are opportunities throughout the year to go to different GIS conferences across the country. I’ve gone to both Chicago this past fall and then Dallas the year prior for a conference where we got to meet and network with all the other chapters.
We also try to offer students different insight into the insurance industry, and we also do professional development, where we help with resumes and interviewing.
We also have a Math and Actuarial Science Club. They host events that are a lot like GIS, but they’re a little bit more open to the math focus as well, rather than just the actuarial science or risk management side.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
A class that I really enjoyed was our Actuarial Science Topics in Communications course. This was a newly offered class, and it was broken up into three different modules. For each module, they had a local company come in with a few actuaries and teach us about what their company did. And they gave us a project that was similar to what their actuaries might do on a day-to-day basis.
That was awesome because we got exposure to both the life and health side, as well as the property and casualty side. We also got a lot of technical exposure to different software. Lastly, we got to present your findings at the end of the class to the actuaries that came in before. I think that class really ties in what it is to be an actuary. You’re trying to solve problems, and then you try to communicate your solution to those problems to some other actuaries.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
One of the more challenging things about the degree was being able to say no to your friends wanting to hang out on a Friday night. Time management and knowing what you need to spend your time on are really challenging. I think there were a couple of times, especially when I was trying to prepare for an actuarial exam, that I had to stay in for a month while I was getting into the grind of taking practice exams.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
I interned with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois over my junior to senior summer, and I’m currently an intern at Allianz Life and will be starting there full-time upon graduation. The internships were a lot of fun. I think it was great to get into the business setting and solve problems. One of the most fun things about it was trying to understand how and why something is as it is and then determining a possible solution and trying to model those solutions.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
At Allianz, I’ll be working in product development, and I’m going to be an actuarial analyst working with fixed index annuities as well as hedging.
Long-term, I’m hoping to get my accreditation and become a fellow. Short-term, I’m hoping to get my ASA. I only have a couple more exams left before I get to that point, so it’s the next step for me. I’m pretty happy at the place I’m working at currently, so I think I’ll stick around and try to soak up as much knowledge as I can.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
Reach out to somebody that can talk to you about their experience. Even if you’re in high school, I’m sure there’s a college nearby you can reach out to. Whether it’s the math or business department, they may have some insight into what an actuary does and what some of the challenges are. I really think it’s a good idea to talk to someone in person about what it is to be an actuary. That’s a lot more valuable than just hearing about it and reading about it.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
There’s a couple podcasts I really enjoy listening to. My favorite one is Freakonomics Radio. They do a lot of interesting segments, and while I know actuaries aren’t economists, I think a lot of what we do follows with what economists do. We’re trying to think about behaviors and how if we do X, how might that affect Y? Freakonomics Radio does a lot of cool sessions where they state a problem and then, not only do they talk high-level about what they might expect, they also try to go through and look at the data and see what the data says.
When you think about that at a high level, that’s what actuaries do. We look at data, and we try to develop plans and different processes from that.
As far as social media or websites go, I think LinkedIn is actually a great resource for this. You can follow a lot of big companies or inspirational people on LinkedIn who share a lot of interesting topics. I like to follow a lot of the companies locally, as well as people that I’ve met going to different conferences around the country.
Also, there’s this book we got exposed to in one of my finance classes here at St. Thomas. It’s called Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk, and it talks about the history of insurance and risk management. I don’t think a lot of people realize that this type of stuff has been around for a really long time, and we’re just now getting really good at trying to model risk.