David Miller is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he is majoring in Actuarial Science. David was the treasurer for the student-led Actuarial Club last year, and he interned this past summer at Travelers Insurance in St. Paul, Minnesota. We spoke with David in August 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I really love being outdoors, specifically hiking and kayaking. Of the two, hiking would be my favorite. I think it’s a great chance to talk to the people that you’re hiking with, and you can take pictures and really take in some awesome views. This summer, my favorite hike was at Willow River State Park in Hudson, Wisconsin. It was a lot of fun, and when you get down into the valley, there’s actually a really cool waterfall that you can go wade and swim in.
What has your experience at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire been like?
I’ve had a really good experience in Eau Claire. I think it fits me really well, and I’ve been able to do a wide variety of things. UW Eau Claire has this phrase of “The Power of AND,” meaning that you can do things that aren’t necessarily connected, and you aren’t solely defined by one discipline or profession. I’ve been able to major in actuarial science as well as participate in Student Senate, which is focused on communication and leadership. In between all of this, I’ve also been able to have a lot of fun.
Actuarial science is really unique because of how broad it is. You have to take classes in finance, advanced mathematics, as well as business. In order to succeed, you have to have all those skills put together.
Eau Claire is a medium-sized campus, and I came from a pretty small high school, so that was a nice transition. It was pretty easy for me to fit in and feel that I could grow in a little bit of a bigger space that way. Eau Claire’s campus is really beautiful. They actually just finished up a lot of renovations, so it’s been nice to see that transformation.
At Eau Claire, I think there’s a big focus on students. Most professors are really understanding, and there’s a lot of campus resources, so I really try to take advantage of that.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Eau Claire?
When I was starting my search, I was already thinking that I wanted to do actuarial science, so that narrowed down the search a lot. I ended up narrowing it down to Butler University and Eau Claire. Both the programs were really great and had great offerings in the courses that covered the first five preliminary SOA exams at the time.
I ended up sitting down and talking with an actuarial science professor at Eau Claire. We spent over an hour just talking about what I wanted in a college, what types of programs I was looking at, and what my career goals were. He was really honest with me, and I could tell how much he really cared about the students. From that point on, I knew I wanted to be an actuarial science major at Eau Claire.
There were also a few other factors that helped me choose Eau Claire. Eau Claire was about three hours from my home, instead of the eight-hour drive to Butler, and financially, Eau Claire was a lot more affordable.
What influenced you to pursue actuarial science?
I knew that I wanted to do something with math. Growing up, I was always pretty good at math, and I really liked the problem-solving aspect. In high school, I ended up getting really involved in one of our business clubs and enjoyed that, so I was trying to find something that kind of fit between math and business.
My mom was actually the one who told me about actuarial science. Once she mentioned it to me, I looked into it and found that it really had a great career outlook, specifically with the salary and mobility within a company. I also liked that it combined business and math, and I felt like it was a really good fit for me and would enable me to focus on my strengths and then develop in a few areas as well.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
I’ve had a great experience at Eau Claire. I think that the courses really prepare you well for actuarial exams and internships. The program provides you with a wide base of knowledge, including the industry background that’s needed to be successful.
My favorite part of the program is the professors. The professors in the program are my favorite professors across Eau Claire. Most of them were actuaries before or have taken the exams, so they really understand what skills you need to have to be successful as an actuary. They’re able to give some really great and valuable career advice.
We also have an actuarial club on campus that does a good job of bringing industry employers and actuarial groups to campus. There are a lot of presentations throughout the school year, as well as opportunities to talk to employers, network, and get your name out there.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
My favorite class actually wasn’t actuarial-related—it was a game design class focusing on simulations. That class was my favorite because I had so much fun in it, and the class was really thought-provoking, too.
In the beginning of the class, we played a lot of games, specifically simulations. Within that, there were a lot of thought processes around how you go about making a simulation and what that process looks like. In the second half of the class, we had to model something and turn it into a simulation. That was kind of interesting, getting the essence of a topic into a game. I got to see the broader picture, rather than focusing on the small details. And that was kind of a challenge, coming from more of an analytical background and being so detail oriented.
What is unique about focusing on actuarial science relative to other majors you could have chosen?
There were points in college where I was considering looking at engineering or switching to more of a business focus solely, like with finance. But I think that actuarial science is really unique because of how broad it is. You have to take classes in finance, advanced mathematics, as well as business. What’s unique about actuarial science is that in order to succeed, you have to have all those skills put together.
It’s not just looking at the finance or the business side of something; you also have to know the math behind it all. On top of that, you have to be able to communicate successfully to your business partners. Getting that wide variety of experience and having the opportunity to excel in each of those areas was a really nice challenge.
The other aspect of actuarial science that I think is different and that really kept me looking into it is the continual learning aspect. Even after graduating a four-year program, you still have a lot of exams left. Being able to learn continually and develop personally really attracted me to the field and kept me going.
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 for me is definitely dedicating the time and effort to studying for the professional exams. I think there are a lot of students that go into actuarial science and have really excelled in math without needing to put in very many study hours and being able to understand the concepts really easily. The professional exams aren’t that type of thing.
For me, I really had to take the time to do a lot of practice programs and review those problems to understand the tips and tricks. This is even after taking a course specifically on the exam.
Going in, knowing that that’s exactly the type of work that you’ll need to be putting into this major is something that’s important for everybody to know. With all that said, I think it’s really important to remember that through it all, it is okay to fail. The professional exams have about a 40 percent pass rate, so you’re not expected to pass everything on your first try. Being able to succeed through failure is, I think, really important for students.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
I just finished up my second summer internship at Travelers Insurance in St. Paul, Minnesota. I had a really great experience there. The work that I was doing, I felt, was very similar to the type of work that other full-time people were doing. I really felt like I had a big impact on both my team and the company as a whole, and the work environment was really fun.
There were a lot of events after work, like tailgates, kickball games, etc., so it’s not all just sitting in a cubicle and crunching numbers all day. There’s a big team aspect and a really great actuarial community there.
Outside of that, there’s a lot of personal development that I went through at Travelers. I worked on my communication skills. I developed a lot of technical skills, working on code and other programs, and I also gained a lot of general insurance knowledge.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
After graduation I hope to start full time at an insurance company working as an actuary. I hope to continue passing exams to become a fellow in one of the actuarial societies, either the CAS or SOA. An aspiration would be to manage and develop interns and other people in the beginning of their careers. I would like to either continue to improve an internship program or develop one at a company that doesn’t have one yet. I think it’d be really fun to see people develop and grow, help people on their journey early in their career, and to see them succeed later.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
One of the trends I’ve seen is self-driving cars and seeing how the industry is going to change insurance and their coverages to capitalize on that. One way would be looking at product liability, which is when a company makes a faulty product and causes damages from that, or the insurance industry could continue with personal auto insurance as it is and just make some adjustments that way.
The other trend that I can see coming up in the future would be the sharing-based trend that we’re seeing. That’s things like Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and electric scooters, etc. It’ll be important to see how the insurance industry can react and find opportunities in that space, instead of people just owning their own car.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
First off, don’t get scared off right away. Insurance isn’t boring! There are lots of problems to solve, and it’s a really fast-paced, changing environment. So it can be exciting. Don’t listen to all those stereotypes about just sitting in a cube all day.
The other piece of advice that I’d give people is to explore as many opportunities as you can, whether that’s job shadows, going to professional conferences, or trying to get some real work experience through an internship.
My overall advice would just be to learn as much as possible, continue your research, and keep learning. That way you can really see if insurance and the industry is a great fit for you or not.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
I think that BeAnActuary.org is a great website for people who are looking into actuarial science. When I first found out about actuarial science, that’s where I went. You can explore the career, the types of jobs that you can have as an actuary, and what types of daily tasks there are. They also have some really great articles for current students, like about how to get an internship, interviewing techniques, as well as what to study and what to look for in a program when you’re starting your college career.