Interview with Joel McVey

Joel McVey is a Actuarial Science major at Butler University. Joel spent last summer interning with CNO Financial Group in Indianapolis. This summer he will enter another internship at Towers Watson in Chicago before heading back to BU to start his senior year.

What influenced you to pursue being an actuary?

I entered Butler University as a finance major.  This decision was partly influenced by the respect I had for a few attorneys who had employed me during high school.  I appreciated the value they provided to others seeking help, so I thought I could provide similar value by becoming a financial planner.  While I enjoyed my first business classes, I took calculus and other mathematics courses and learned more about the actuarial profession.  Several faculty informed me of the value that actuaries provide in the finance and insurance industries.  The opportunity to use mathematics to help people solve business and economic issues influenced me to change my major to actuarial science.

Why should other students consider a focus in Actuary Science?

There are a good number of reasons for a student to consider pursuing actuarial science.  Like myself, many students are attracted to the profession because it presents an opportunity to use a variety of skills.  Actuaries are considered technical experts in mathematical applications, but they are also required to make presentations, develop computer programs, and work with professionals in accounting, law, and economics.  People and businesses face risks on a daily basis, but they are rarely equipped to deal with the financial and economic issues that are presented in these risks.  The actuarial profession is a great way to provide this need to society, and actuaries are currently in high demand.

What has been your experience with Actuarial Science at Butler?

I consider myself very fortunate to be apart of Butler’s actuarial program.  The curriculum includes traditional mathematics courses and preparation for the preliminary actuarial exams.  Nearly all students minor in business administration.  Our department is small and growing, and the students and faculty know each other very well.  I have benefited greatly from the help of other students and faculty and enjoy being apart of the successes of the department at an individual and group level.  The faculty has an outstanding reputation for not only their personal achievements, but also for driving the program through their genuine interest in students.  Alumni also actively participate by providing feedback for the direction of the program, assisting in job placement, and providing financial aid for students.  The fact that so many parties are invested in the program’s success shows students the importance of the profession and motivates us to achievement in our pursuits.

Have you participated in any internships, and if so, how many and how were they?

I have been lucky enough to have a couple internships thus far.  Last summer, I worked at CNO Financial Group (formerly Conseco) in Indianapolis in its actuarial systems department.  This was a great experience and I was very satisfied with the program.  I had an opportunity to work with actuaries in multiple departments particularly in the valuation process.  The internship coordinators and other employees educated the interns on insurance company operations, the actuarial profession, and professionalism.

Although I enjoyed the experience at CNO, I decided that I wanted to spend this summer at a different side of the actuarial profession in consulting.  I will be working at Towers Watson in Chicago in its retirement department and will be starting after Memorial Day.  Already, I have been contacted by my coach, supervisor, and the internship coordinators.  Again, it seems everyone is interested in the interns’ success and making the internship an enjoyable experience.  In fact, I have already been placed on the company’s softball and volleyball team rosters!

Please share an interesting or little-known fact you’ve learned about the world of actuaries…

When I tell people that I am studying actuarial science, they typically ask me why I like taking exams and assume I will be working in a life, health, or property/casualty insurance field.  Although these are certainly possibilities, I think it is interesting to know the variety of areas actuaries can work.  As I am sure you know well, insurance can be purchased in a number of areas (such as pet insurance), and actuaries work in non-insurance roles as well.  Some might help companies plan pension funds for their employees, others can find roles in sports statistics, while I have even heard of an actuary working for the military to estimate casualties of different battle tactics!

What are the latest developments or trends in Actuary Science?

I will not claim to be an expert on the actuarial profession, but I do know of some issues that are playing a role on the profession.  One example is the Affordable Care Act, where actuaries are typically called upon to provide interpretation and recommendations to companies in planning employee benefits.  Also, with an approaching social security crisis, many companies are turning away from defined benefit plans, which pays a fixed amount to employees on a specified interval during retirement, to defined contribution plans, which pays a lump sum upon retirement.  Defined benefit plans face longevity risk, since they pay amounts until death.  Actuaries are involved in helping companies plan for these retirement packages and plan for the future payout of the retirement funds.  Finally, I know that insurance companies typically rely on investments to account for claim payouts, and with the economic crisis, actuaries have to provide a deep level understanding of different investment opportunities to help companies match liabilities with assets.

What are your future aspirations and career plans?

At this point, I am not sure where I would like to work at a permanent level.  I am currently trying to understand the different aspects of the actuarial profession and determine where I see myself fit.  As I mentioned earlier, I enjoyed working for a health and life insurance company, but I am also interested to see what a consulting environment is like.  As I grow in my profession, I would like to stay involved in academia as an alumnus or in some other form.  Someone asked me not too long ago what type of actuary I would like to be, and I simply responded “a good one.”

Anything else you’d like to share?

From my experience, risk management professionals and research companies are interested in the continuation of the success of the industry, which is a testament to the quality of the individuals working in these areas.  The interest and opportunities given to young professionals has generated enthusiasm and motivation, and I am very lucky to be the be part of the future of such a great industry.