Angel Yang is a fourth-year student at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, where she is majoring in Actuarial Science and Statistics. Angel is the vice president of events and finance for the UW ActSci Club and president of the Actuarial Students’ National Association (ANEA-ASNA), and she recently finished an actuarial internship at Munich Re. We spoke with Angel in September 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I really like learning about things that are not related to actuarial science at all! During my free time, I enjoy reading about cosmology, history, and philosophy, because I believe learning more broadens my view and gives me more dimensions as a person. You gain knowledge at school; you gain experience at work. But to really improve your way of thinking, that’s something else, and reading books on unrelated subjects is a great way to do that. It gives you more ideas about life in general.
What has your experience at the University of Waterloo been like?
Students here are very diligent, and they are very smart. Because of that, it’s pretty competitive, but everyone is still very nice, friendly, and willing to help if you need guidance on homework or projects. Sometimes school can be challenging and stressful, but you just need to pull yourself through.
In the end, I chose Waterloo because they offer the co-op program. I thought I could really use that opportunity to see what it would be like working as an actuary, instead of just learning about it.
Because we are a smaller school, our classes are smaller. Generally, a class will have 50 to 60 people. I found that small classes are better because then the professor can give you more attention and better address your questions.
On a side note, the University of Waterloo is famous for having the constant threat of being harassed by the geese on campus! They are cute to look at though, especially the little ones.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose the University of Waterloo?
I applied to both Waterloo and the University of Toronto. In the end, I chose Waterloo because, first, they offer the co-op program. I thought I could really use that opportunity to see what it would be like working as an actuary, instead of just learning about it.
Also, Waterloo is situated in a smaller city, whereas Toronto is a much larger city. When I was in high school, I thought it would be better if I went to school in a smaller city. This way, I would be able to concentrate more on my studies and not get distracted. Also, I tend to enjoy a quieter neighborhood.
Lastly, I chose Waterloo because internationally, it has a very good reputation for actuarial science.
What influenced you to pursue actuarial science?
I got into actuarial science because a family friend studied actuarial science at Waterloo, so he introduced me to the major and got me interested. Back in my first year, I was kind of hesitant as to whether or not to pursue actuarial science since I had a lot of other options, and they seemed very interesting too.
But then I went to the 2016 ASNA Convention in Niagara Falls, where I listened to professionals in the industry giving seminars about trends in the industry, and I also learned what actuarial science really is. I realized that actuarial science really suits my personality and my skill set. That’s when I became certain that I wanted to pursue this career. After that convention, I immediately signed up for my first actuarial exam.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
If you like math, have an interest in statistics, but also like the business side of things, then actuarial science is a great option. It offers a steady job with a great work/life balance. The community is also very tight, so you’ll definitely meet a lot of great people and work with them a lot.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
Waterloo offers great courses and support for its actuarial students. When I talk to students from other universities, I realize that we offer a lot of courses that other schools don’t. We also have a lot of opportunities for students, like the co-op program. This gives you experience with interviewing and internships, and there are also case competitions that you can participate in. The best part of the program is that there are a lot of Waterloo alumni that are currently working in the insurance industry, so you have a really great professional network.
We also have the UW ActSci Club, which is our actuarial science club. The club host events biweekly or weekly, and they provide resume critiques, interview tips, and networking sessions. There are also educational sessions where they teach you Excel and SQL. It’s a really supportive community.
The faculty here are all really nice and accessible. If you call them and ask them a question or book a meeting, they’re always open to meeting and are flexible with their schedules. And although we are a smaller school, actuarial science is one of the best-supported programs at Waterloo, so we still have a lot of resources.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
My favorite class so far was Stochastic Processes, because it’s really a beautiful and systematic way of solving probability problems. To me, it’s a constant reminder of why I love mathematics in the first place.
There are also classes that I’m very much looking forward to taking. We have classes that teach you about P&C pricing/reserving, and also predictive analytics. These courses are taught by working industry leaders, so I’m really looking forward to those classes, and they potentially could be my new favorites.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
Definitely the fact that you have to take actuarial exams. There are a lot of them, and they take a long time. It doesn’t feel great when your friends are out having fun, and you’re stuck in a library studying. But, in the end, it’s all worth it.
Something I wish I had known earlier was that there are, in fact, a lot of directions you can go in actuarial science. I wish I had explored a bit more in the beginning, instead of just going in one direction because that’s the only direction I knew of.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
Yes, in fact, I’m on my sixth internship right now. Working in the industry is really different from what I had expected. The stuff you learn in school does actually apply in real life. Sometimes, I think the formulas are just for textbooks since they are very theoretical, but they are actually used, which was really surprising.
You get to meet a lot of people during a co-op, and the people I met are all very nice, and helped me to learn more about the industry and find where my interests are. You can learn all the calculations at school, but the business sense is something that can only be acquired through practice. Overall it’s been a great experience.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
The biggest buzzwords in the industry right now are probably IFRS 17 and data analytics. IFRS 17 is required by regulation, so all the companies are preparing for it. Both the life and P&C companies are all forming new teams for this.
In the meantime, because of the developments in data science, both life and P&C companies are also employing more data analytics techniques in their practices to better price their products, calculate reserves, and monitor performances.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
Because I’m more interested in the property and casualty field, I plan to work in that field when I graduate. And because we have all these new types of technologies that we’re expecting, like more detailed real-time data, autonomous driving, and drones, the industry will have to adapt to these changes. We have to develop new products and revise current products. I’m really looking forward to being a part of it because I really like innovation.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
When you enter the field, learn more about the industry and get involved more. Volunteer more. The skills you gain through volunteering and planning for events really goes a long way. And also, since actuarial science is a very tight community, your professional network is really important. Volunteering is a great way of meeting like-minded people. I volunteer a lot, and I’ve truly enjoyed it. I also believe it has helped me to grow as a person. I’ve become more responsible, have better time-management skills, and also developed better public speaking skills. All of these skills are very important for you to be successful as an actuary, so the best advice I can give is to get involved more.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
The best resources are probably the SOA, CAS, and CIA websites, and I know in the U.S. they also have the AAA. Canadian Underwriter is also another great resource. You can read about news and trends and the latest research. If you’re particularly interested in certain fields, some consulting companies publish new articles and studies online, and you can usually read them for free. They’re all great ways of learning about the industry. For students just getting into the industry, there are also webinars and newsletters on the ASNA website that provide an excellent introduction to the industry.