Ethan Wong is a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto in Ontario, where he is majoring in Actuarial Science. Ethan is president of the Actuarial Science Club on campus, and he interned this past summer at Manulife. We spoke with Ethan in September 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I’m a huge sports fanatic. I captain an intramural flag football team at the university, and I’m a huge fan of the Philadelphia Eagles and the Toronto Raptors. For me, playing sports is a great way to stay active, and it’s also a great way to meet new people.
What has your experience at the University of Toronto been like?
My experience at the University of Toronto has been nothing short of amazing. I’ve gotten to meet some really great people here. I’ve gotten to meet people from all sorts of different backgrounds who are very talented and kind to me, and they’ve really been helpful in helping me grow as a person and helping me develop as an actuary.
I think my favorite part about the program would definitely be the professors that I’ve had. The professors have been extremely supportive and crucial to my development as an actuary.
I’ve also received countless opportunities here on campus. I was living on residence for my first two years, I was a don last year, and I’ll be a don again this year. For me, being a don is one of my favorite things I do on campus, because it gives me an opportunity to help students transition into university, and help pay it forward to everybody who’s helped me become who I am today. Also, I found a Christian fellowship on campus that I like going to, and I also participate in intramural football and basketball.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose the University of Toronto?
I was also considering actuarial science at the University of Waterloo. I ended up choosing the University of Toronto because I’m from Markham, which is a city that’s just north of Toronto, so going to U of T meant that I could be close to home and visit my family every once in a while. It also gave me the opportunity to live in the city of Toronto. Toronto is such a vibrant city, and there’s always something going on, so for me, living in Toronto was just a great opportunity I couldn’t have turned down.
The University of Toronto also has a four-year actuarial science program, as opposed to a five-year program, so I would be able to graduate sooner. Waterloo is typically known for their co-op program, which gives students a great opportunity to get involved in the industry. But for me, I figured that I could find those opportunities myself at the University of Toronto, and I believed in my skills enough to find those internships myself.
What influenced you to pursue actuarial science?
I was originally debating between computer engineering and actuarial science. I’ve always had a passion for math and stats, but I’ve also always loved computers and technology. Luckily, I have family in both. I have two cousins that are computer engineers, and one cousin who is an actuary.
The cousin who is an actuary persuaded me to do actuarial science. His main driving points were that the actuarial profession is a more sustainable career, and it would give me the opportunity to use my passion for math and stats and put it toward real-world, practical use. He also mentioned that I would be able to really use my communication skills, and being an actuary would allow me to network and meet as many people as I can.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
Actuarial science has always been a growing industry. There are advances in society that are always creating countless opportunities for insurance companies. For example, the development of Uber creates such a huge opportunity for multiple insurance companies, which is something that actuaries can really take advantage of.
I would definitely consider actuarial science if you have any sort of interest in math and stats. It’s a really good opportunity to have a job that’s consistent and stable, and it also lets you use your knowledge of math and stats toward a real-world, practical use. Also, the exams that you write allow you to become globally recognized, which is something that’s really cool.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
I’ve really enjoyed my experience within the actuarial science program at the University of Toronto. The classes are always very engaging, and they really bring out the best in me. But, I think my favorite part about the program would definitely be the professors that I’ve had. The professors have been extremely supportive and crucial to my development as an actuary. I’ve had professors that really care about my development as a student and have really made themselves available.
At the University of Toronto, we also have an Actuarial Science Club, which bridges the gap between students and the industry by organizing information sessions, career fairs, etc., and providing opportunities for students to obtain internships and network. I got to participate in a lot of their events in my first and second year, and now as the president of the Actuarial Science Club, I get to pay it back to the community.
The Actuarial Science Club also has an alumni mentorship program, where alumni from the University of Toronto will serve as mentors for students. It’s a really great opportunity for first-year students to get to know actual industry professionals and get to network and learn more about what they do as actuaries.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
My favorite class has been Advanced Life Contingencies. The class material is very practical and also helps you study for the new LTAM exam. My favorite part of this course was the professor. My professor was an extremely good lecturer, and the course was really well taught. The lectures were very engaging, and they gave you a lot of in-depth knowledge about the material, and the class really helped me prepare for the LTAM exam.
The professor also made himself very available, and he really showed an interest in us as students. You could tell that he genuinely cared about our learning and about making himself available to make sure that we were in the best spot possible to succeed.
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 definitely the actuarial exams. The exams are a very long and grueling process, but it’s truly worth it. Recently, with that process getting a little longer with a couple more exams being added, it really shows you just how competitive this industry is, and it shows just how long of a road there is ahead. For me, it’s definitely very challenging to mentally prepare for each one of those exams, but it’s a real learning experience. You get to learn about material that you can apply to the workplace.
There’s nothing that I wish I knew ahead of time in particular, but if there is anything that I could advise to people coming in, I would say that your networking and communication skills are arguably more important than your mathematical knowledge. My opinion on this is that for companies, if you’re recruiting, it’s not hard to find somebody who can do the math and crunch the numbers. What is hard is finding somebody that stands out. If I were to give advice to somebody coming in, I would definitely advise them to start developing their communication skills and really try to get their name out there.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
Two summers ago, I interned at Willis Towers Watson, a consulting insurance company, working in pension consulting. Last summer, I was working at Manulife as an actuarial intern in capital management and group segregated funds oversight.
Both internships were extremely helpful to my development, and I learned so much about the industry. I didn’t really have any actuarial experience in either field before I went in, so both companies were great in helping me in my development, and they were really patient with me in helping me learn.
I not only got to learn about the industry, but I also got to learn about myself as a person. I was able to develop my communication skills and find out what it’s like to be in a professional workplace environment.
At Willis Towers Watson, I got to shadow an actuarial analyst, so I got to see the day-to-day lifestyle of a pension consultant. At Manulife, in capital management, I got a bird’s eye view of everything that goes on within the company, and I got to assist with quarter-end reporting. They were both very beneficial experiences, and I’m glad I got to have them.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
After I graduate, I definitely plan to take a couple months off to have some free time and relax before I dive into a full-time job. I think, like everybody else, my short-term goal would be to get my FSA designation.
In regards to working, I want to have a job that really uses my skillset. I’ve always loved communicating with people, and I consider myself an extrovert by nature. So any sort of job in the actuarial industry that allows me to use those communication skills would be something that I would definitely work toward.
But I’ve also really enjoyed statistical modeling. It’s one of my other favorite courses that I’ve taken at the University of Toronto. If I were to obtain a job or a position where I was going to use that as well, it’d definitely be something I’d be interested in.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
Definitely have an open mind. The insurance industry is very broad and there are a lot of opportunities that aren’t just specific to actuaries, so keep an open mind and try to learn as much as you can.
Learning also comes from networking. As I said before, networking is extremely important, not only in order to get your name out there, but also to help get perspective from somebody who is actually in the industry.
It’s also important to be able to communicate, because if you’re just getting into the insurance field, communication skills are very important. Finding somebody who can crunch the numbers is not hard—everybody in actuarial science takes the same exams and is roughly on the same level academically. I would definitely advise people going into the industry to try to develop their soft skills, because those are just as important as analytical skills.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
If you’re just starting the actuarial exams, I would recommend Coaching Actuaries. Coaching Actuaries is my favorite resource that I used when preparing for my exams. They make the materials extremely easy to learn, and they give you a lot of practice, which is what you need.
In regards to learning about the industry, I would say the SOA website has plenty of resources for us to use, and they’re always coming out with new articles and news about the insurance industry.