Building Trust, One Specialty at a TimeQ&A with Kiu Yuen, FSA, MAAA, consulting actuary at Ernst & Young May 2023
Photo: Joel Maisonet
What led you to an actuarial career?
My journey toward becoming an actuary began during my college years. As a sophomore at a community college, I was still exploring various career paths and majors to complete at a four-year university, but my aptitude for calculus stood out. That’s when my classmate in calculus class asked if I had considered becoming an actuary.
This question sparked my interest, and I decided to meet with my math professor at Harper College to learn more. He told me that actuaries use math and statistics to help businesses manage risk and make critical financial decisions. This immediately piqued my interest, as I had always enjoyed math and was looking for a career that would allow me to use my skills in a meaningful way.
The more I researched and learned about the profession, the more excited I became about the potential opportunities and the impact I could make in the industry. I love that the work of an actuary involves problem-solving, critical thinking and strategic planning to help companies make informed decisions.
With my professor’s encouragement, I felt confident that I could succeed in completing a degree that involves advanced mathematics and pursuing a career as an actuary. So, I worked hard and graduated with a mathematics degree with an actuarial specialization, ready to start my professional journey.
I began my actuarial career in the long-term care practice at a consulting firm, eager to apply my skills to help others and positively impact the industry. Looking back, I’m grateful for the encouragement and guidance I received along the way. Becoming an actuary has been a fulfilling and exciting career path, and I look forward to continuing to grow and learn in this field.
Video Exclusive: Kiu Talks About the Importance of Collaboration and Innovation
You’ve specialized in health, life, asset management and other areas. Can you tell us about your varied actuarial exposures?
Throughout my actuarial career, I have been willing to take risks and explore different roles, which has given me exposure to various areas of actuarial work. I started my career by working on long-term care (LTC) rate filings at a consulting firm in Minneapolis for two years. Following that, I transitioned to an LTC product management role with a midwestern insurer in Chicago. However, as the company was decreasing its exposure to long-term care, I took the opportunity to explore other roles within the company.
This eagerness to take risks led me to an asset modeling role in Indiana, followed by a rotation to the life valuation team for a year within the same company. These experiences allowed me to broaden my skills and knowledge in different areas of actuarial work. In the past five years, I have been working for a consulting firm serving life and health insurers, focusing on process improvement, reinsurance, accounting methodology and other related areas.
I am always looking for opportunities to learn and grow as an actuary, and being open to new experiences has allowed me to gain exposure to a variety of areas in the field. With the emergence of data science, I am excited about the new opportunities and challenges it presents in the actuarial profession.
What do you like most about the work you do?
The most fulfilling aspect of my work as an actuary in the insurance industry is knowing that my work has a meaningful purpose and impact on society. I take pride in the fact that insurance protects individuals from financial loss and provides a safety net for the community. It is a promise to pay when an event occurs, and as an actuary, I ensure that this promise is upheld by ensuring that insurers are financially sound and can meet their obligations.
In my day-to-day work, I constantly remind myself of this purpose, which motivates me to work diligently to maintain the integrity of the actuarial profession. Whether auditing an insurer, improving their financial reporting process, or assisting with rate filing, I am working towards building trust and confidence in the industry. It is rewarding to know that my work helps to build this trust and make a positive impact on people’s lives.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
As an actuary, one of the most challenging aspects of my job is staying up to date with the constantly evolving industry. This includes adapting to new regulatory changes, utilizing new technologies for data analytics, managing new products, and mitigating new risks. It can be challenging to keep up with these changes, but it’s also what makes my job interesting and engaging. Embracing and navigating these challenges is essential to ensure success in the industry.
How do you incorporate innovation into your work?
Innovation is a crucial aspect of any field, including actuarial science. I always strive to incorporate new and innovative ideas into my work to improve efficiency, accuracy and overall effectiveness. One example of how I have done this is by focusing on process modernization.
With the introduction of the new accounting standard, many of my clients have recognized the need for process modernization to comply with the new requirements. I work closely with them to understand their processes and identify areas for improvement. By leveraging technology and automation, we can streamline workflows and increase efficiency, ultimately helping them meet their compliance needs while also achieving cost savings. It’s an exciting opportunity to apply innovation to traditional actuarial processes and drive value for clients.
Another way that I incorporate innovation into my work is by staying up to date with the latest trends and developments in the industry, particularly in data science and machine learning. This has allowed me to explore new ways of analyzing data and identifying trends, which in turn has helped me to make more accurate and informed recommendations to clients.
Overall, I believe that innovation is essential to the success of any actuary. By embracing new ideas and technologies, we can drive positive change in our industry and create better outcomes for our clients.
Please tell us about your tutoring work and other volunteer efforts.
During my free time, I like to give back to the community through volunteering. For the past two years, I have been volunteering with The Actuarial Foundation, which offers math tutoring to those in need in the local community. As a tutor, I work with students from 4th to 8th grade, helping them pass school screening tests, complete their homework and play educational games.
I find it rewarding to provide students with the support they need to succeed academically, but tutoring is more than just helping them with their work. It’s also about building relationships with them and positively influencing their lives.
You have a leadership role with the SOA’s Young Professional Advisory Council (YPAC). Can you tell us about the group?
YPAC, or the Young Professional Advisory Council, is a group of 14–20 SOA volunteers who obtained their ASA within the last decade. The council’s primary objective is to help the SOA engage more effectively with young professionals, including actuarial students who have yet to obtain their ASAs.
One of YPAC’s main initiatives is a monthly podcast series to engage current SOA members and actuarial students. Instead of focusing on technical topics, our podcasts aim to connect with young professionals by covering a broad range of subjects, including upcoming events and how to become an SOA volunteer.
YPAC also organizes an annual, two-day virtual summit that is affordable and targeted toward developing leadership skills for young professionals, especially those who have yet to obtain their ASAs. This year, we have rebranded it the Next Generation Leaders Summit (formerly Emerging Leaders Summit). Anyone, including actuarial candidates still taking exams, non-SOA members, ASAs or FSAs, can participate. It’s all online and will be held May 16 and 17.
How can others who are interested get involved in YPAC?
If you’re interested in getting involved with YPAC, there are opportunities available:
- You can start by subscribing to our SOA YPAC podcast, where we discuss engaging topics for young professionals in the actuarial industry.
- Additionally, you can reach out to any of our YPAC members directly for more information or email us at YPAC@soa.org to learn more about upcoming events and ways to get involved.
We’re always looking for new members passionate about engaging young professionals in the actuarial profession, so don’t hesitate to get in touch! Feel free to contact any of our YPAC members or email YPAC@soa.org.
Why is it important to make the actuarial profession more diverse?
As an actuary who manages a diverse team, I recognize the importance of diversity in the actuarial profession. Not only is it the right thing to do from an ethical standpoint, but it also makes good business sense. Diverse perspectives and experiences can lead to more creative problem-solving, better decision-making and improved outcomes for our clients and stakeholders.
By promoting diversity, we can also expand the talent pool of potential actuaries, making it easier to find and recruit top talent. This can help us build a stronger, more innovative profession better equipped to meet the evolving needs of the marketplace.
Ultimately, the actuarial profession should reflect the diversity of the communities we serve. By creating a more inclusive profession, we can ensure that everyone has equal access to opportunities for career growth and success, regardless of their background or identity.
How can actuarial organizations, employers, and recruiters help in this effort?
Actuarial organizations, employers, and recruiters can play a vital role in promoting diversity in the profession. They can start by implementing recruitment strategies that reach out to underrepresented groups and creating an inclusive workplace culture that fosters a sense of belonging for all employees.
One effective way to promote diversity is by adopting an inclusive leadership mindset. This involves actively seeking diverse perspectives, creating a culture of belonging and promoting diversity in decision-making processes. Employers can also offer training and education programs to help leaders and employees develop the skills and awareness needed to lead in a diverse workplace.
Additionally, actuarial organizations can partner with schools and universities to promote the actuarial profession to underrepresented groups and provide mentorship and networking opportunities to diverse candidates. They can also offer scholarships and financial support to students pursuing actuarial careers.
Overall, promoting diversity in the actuarial profession requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders. By adopting inclusive leadership practices and creating a welcoming and inclusive workplace culture, actuarial organizations, employers, and recruiters can help attract and retain diverse talent in the profession.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned during your career so far?
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned during my career so far is that taking ownership of your career is crucial. This means proactively seeking opportunities for growth and development rather than waiting for them to come to you. I have experienced the benefits of being proactive, such as asking for a promotion or seeking new projects that align with my interests and career goals. It can be challenging, especially for introverts like me, but promoting oneself is a skill that can be learned and improved with practice. Ultimately, it’s up to us to take charge of our careers and shape our professional journeys.
How important are innovation and collaboration in your field?
Innovation and collaboration are critical in the actuarial field, particularly in my experience with process modernization. As a consultant, I often work with clients to improve their existing processes or create new ones to fit their business needs. This involves not only having new ideas but also successfully implementing them.
Process modernization usually involves a cross-functional team, including actuaries, data analysts and IT professionals, each with a unique perspective on what needs to happen. Collaboration is essential to ensure everyone is on the same page and that the final solution meets the client’s requirements.
Through collaboration, we can leverage each other’s strengths and ensure we are all working towards a common goal. For example, by working with the data team to build the necessary infrastructure and the IT team to support the data tools, we can create a more streamlined process that benefits everyone involved.
Ultimately, innovation and collaboration are vital in the actuarial field, and they are crucial to developing successful solutions that meet the needs of our clients.
What do aspiring actuaries need to know?
Aspiring actuaries should know that the actuarial profession is a challenging yet rewarding career path that requires a strong foundation in mathematics, statistics and business. In addition to technical skills, developing strong communication and problem-solving skills is essential to succeed in this field.
It’s also worth noting that the field of actuarial science is constantly evolving, and staying up to date with the latest advancements and trends is crucial. For example, one exciting growth area is the intersection of actuarial science and data science. The ability to analyze large amounts of data and use machine learning techniques to develop predictive models opens up new and exciting opportunities in the actuarial profession.
Finally, I encourage aspiring actuaries to prioritize self-care and stress management. Studying for exams and working in the field can be challenging and demanding, so finding ways to unwind and recharge is essential. I find exercising and meditation helpful tools for managing stress and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
What skills should actuaries strive to learn?
I believe actuaries need to focus on a broad range of skills to succeed. While technical skills such as mathematics, statistics and financial analysis are crucial, developing soft skills such as communication, leadership and problem-solving abilities is equally important.
Communication skills are essential as actuaries often need to convey complex ideas to diverse audiences, including nontechnical stakeholders. Thus, actuaries must be able to present technical concepts clearly, concisely and comprehensibly.
Leadership skills are another crucial focus area for actuaries. As actuaries rise in management positions, they need to manage teams, delegate tasks, motivate their colleagues and effectively handle conflicts.
The ability to work with data and programming skills such as R, Python and SQL are increasingly crucial for actuaries to stay ahead of the curve. Data science skills can help actuaries effectively analyze and interpret vast amounts of data, offering valuable insights into a business.
In essence, actuaries must strive to learn diverse skills, including technical, soft and programming skills, to stay ahead of the competition and excel in their careers.
What do you like to do in your free time?
In my leisure time, I engage in a variety of activities that help me unwind and grow personally. One of my favorite activities is running in the park and practicing mindfulness. These activities allow me to clear my mind and re-energize myself.
Recently, I have also taken up gardening, which has been a great way to spend time outdoors and connect with nature. I am excited to see my plants grow and eventually enjoy the fruits and vegetables of my labor.
When looking for social activities, I love playing board games or card games with friends and family. Not only is it a fun way to spend time together, but it also provides an opportunity for friendly competition.
Overall, I strive to balance my free time between activities that help me relax and recharge and those that challenge me and provide opportunities for personal growth and social connection.
Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries or the respective authors’ employers.
Copyright © 2023 by the Society of Actuaries, Schaumburg, Illinois.