Mikayla Skoczny is a fourth year student at Western University in London, Ontario, where she is pursuing an Honors Specialization in Actuarial Science. Mikayla is president of the Actuarial and Statistical Undergraduate Association at Western, and she is interning at TD Bank in Montréal this summer. We spoke with Mikayla in May 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I actually used to do freelance hairstyling and makeup, and that’s all self-taught just by watching videos online. I have a portfolio, and I used to do it mostly out of interest in the evenings and on the weekends. I’m not currently doing this anymore because I’m working on writing my exams, but it’s something that I’d love to pick up again when I have more free time.
What has your experience at the Western University been like?
My experience so far at Western has been really great overall. The campus is known for being absolutely stunning, and our school spirit is unlike anywhere else in Canada. It’s kind of the most U.S. version of a school here that you can get, in the sense of school spirit and football games, etc.
There are endless possibilities of focus in actuarial science. Actuaries can work in a wide range of different companies, and as the field becomes more and more well-known, the range is even larger.
I’ve gotten a chance to connect with so many different students from all different backgrounds, especially during my first year, which has been really awesome. I got to live on campus, which is one of the most memorable experiences that I have here, and it allows me to really appreciate my campus and feel like I’m part of a broader community.
One nice thing about Western is it’s really close to my hometown, which I really appreciate because it allows me to maintain relationships with my old friends and family as well. It also gives me the chance to experience university life and independence, while also having the comfort of being able to go home.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Western?
I only considered schools within Ontario because I wanted to be close to home. Western has a really great reputation as a school, and their actuarial program is well-established. Also, the campus is really great. There are a ton of clubs, and we have a ton of school spirit, so I was really drawn to that aspect.
After I attended fall preview day and spoke with some current students, I felt that the culture of the program really fit what I was looking for. I felt welcomed right off the bat and felt really good about being at Western right when I arrived. Talking to other students in the program really solidified that choice.
I was also really drawn to the fact that there’s potential to do a co-op that you could opt-in or opt-out of, depending on the stage you’re in. I felt like it gave you more flexibility with your choices, and you didn’t have to make any big decisions right off the hop, which I really liked.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
In my junior and senior years of high school, I was unsure in what direction I wanted to go. I always knew that I wanted to do something in finance and business, but I also found myself really enjoying math. When I talked to my mentor, he told me that actuarial sciences was a great way to combine these two interests.
I was also drawn to the fact that you can pace yourself with the SOA and the CAS designations and continue to pursue these designations while you work after school. The program starts off really broad, even with the potential exam tracks, because even if you get your ASA designation, you can pick from so many different FSA designations, for example.
I found that this gives students time to decide what they really want to focus in on and where their interests lie. I was drawn to the fact that the program is more specialized, but you don’t have to make any major decisions right away. You have the opportunity to go to different internships and see what you like.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
There are endless possibilities of focus in actuarial science. Actuaries can work in a wide range of different companies, and as the field becomes more and more well-known, the range is even larger. The industry is forever advancing and adapting to the world and changing technologies. Right now, for example, with self-driving cars and artificial intelligence, the industry is adapting to these technologies, which is really interesting.
Also, students who know they enjoy math and have an interest in finance should consider the field. Another great thing about actuarial science is that with the exams, you can graduate with not only a degree, but also a globally recognized designation. And finally, the actuary profession is consistently one of the jobs that provides the most career satisfaction.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
My experience with actuarial science at Western has been really amazing. The program at Western is medium sized, relative to other Ontario schools. This means that you get to know your classmates on an individual basis, which I love. When it comes to professors, they’re all extremely supportive, and I find they really take the time to get to know you on a first-name basis.
We also have an actuarial club, and I’m very lucky to have been on the executive team for three years now. This coming year, I’m going to be president of the club, so I’m really excited to continue making sure that our club is inclusive, fun, and educational for all students interested in the field.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
My favorite actuarial-focused class has been the theory of life contingency courses. These are taught in three separate credits. I found that they built off each other really well, and I could see so many applications to the insurance practice with these courses. I also found that these classes allowed students to work with Excel, which was a fun change from just doing problems with pencil and paper. I was always excited to get to go to computer labs.
My favorite non-actuarial so far is actually a summer online class I’m taking right now. It’s a psychology course, and the topic is “Understanding Yourself and Others.” This is a really fun course, and I find that I’m constantly applying these concepts to my everyday life.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
I think that the most challenging part is actually learning how to manage your time well because you are preparing for the SOA or CAS exams while you’re managing your school workload or an internship. This can be very daunting, and it takes a ton of self-discipline and motivation.
Not to mention, it’s also important to be involved in extracurricular activities and to take care of your own personal life and health. It’s hard to balance all of these things, and I’m still, to this day, working on finding that perfect balance and what works for me best on a day-to-day basis.
A lot of my family and friends sometimes have a hard time understanding. They ask, “Why do you have to study so much for every exam?” Or, “Why are you starting to study for an exam that’s three months in advance?” So I wish I knew how in-depth these exams really were when I first entered the program.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
I’m actually currently on an internship. This is my second summer at TD Bank. I’m within the asset management division. I really love asset management because it allows me to apply both my mathematical and actuarial backgrounds with finance. Right now, I’m working on the asset liability matching team, so that has a lot of actuarial applications, especially in the pension world. It puts everything that I’ve learned so far in school into practice, and it’s been a really great outside-of-the-classroom learning experience.
Also, my colleagues have been nothing short of amazing. Everyone is so keen on helping interns learn as much as they can about the industry and taking time out of the day to make sure that interns have an exceptional experience.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
Long-term, like most students in actuarial science can agree, my goal would be obtaining the FSA designation. Right now, I’m working toward the ASA designation, and I am currently studying for my third exam that I’ll be taking in July. Besides that, I am really interested in the investment side of actuarial science, so I might get my CFA at some point in the future.
I am really enjoying looking at capital markets with an actuarial mindset, so I would love to stay within the realm, although I am open to learning new things and different applications of what I’ve learned in school so far. Overall, I want to continue learning more about the field in any way possible, and I really want to connect with as many other professionals as I can to learn about all the different ways that actuarial science can be implanted in the professional world.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
More and more coding skills are being implemented, and it is a very hot skill set that an actuary can have on top of having a background in insurance. Artificial intelligence is always a common topic that comes to mind when you think of new technology in the finance world. And there’s definitely a big focus on predictive analytics and how it can be implemented in all sorts of fields.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
Focus on trying to meet as many industry professionals and fellow students as you can. It’s really hard to understand the impact of learning through others until you actually put yourself out there and do it. I know I’ve learned a lot of technical skills both on the job and in school, but discussing the industry with other working professionals is probably one of the best ways to broaden how you think about the industry.
Besides this, focus on learning as much as you can about all the different tracks an actuary can pursue. Like I said before, I’m personally working on the investment and pension side of actuarial sciences, but there are so many routes that you can take. And it actually is really interesting when you look into it, so learn as much as you can about all of the different things an actuary can do, rather than just focusing on starting exams and just pursuing the same track as everyone else.
My last piece of advice kind of ties it all together. Never give up. The classes and exams can be extremely difficult at times, but they are very rewarding.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
Anyone who has an interest in insurance should check out the SOA website. They have a ton of great content, especially under the future actuary and professional development tabs. You can listen to a podcast, read a full academic paper, or you can also just read a short newsletter.
This is great for someone who’s interested because you don’t have to know a ton about the math or the stats to really be able to read some of these articles and understand what’s going on in the insurance world today.
Besides that, there are tons of great resources for those who want to take their first exam. I’ve used Coaching Actuaries for all three of my exams right now, and I really love that resource.