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Q&A with Olyvia Leahy, ASA, ACIA, MAAA, associate actuary, U.S. Life Pricing and Product Development at Manulife Financial Corporation

Photo: Alkan Emin

Why did you choose the actuarial profession?
More than once I have stopped and asked myself: “How did I get here?” Looking back, I think there were several small decisions and happenstances that together led me to this profession; but, in short, I think I got very lucky.

My journey began in high school. I was habitually running late in the mornings, and my locker was located just outside of an AP Statistics classroom. I later signed up for that class after overhearing a number of interesting lessons in passing. That statistics class made me think a career in numbers was in my future, and I took every quiz College Board offered to try and find my perfect career match. I briefly stumbled across “actuary,” and after only a little research, I thought it sounded all too intimidating.

That summer, Bentley University was the first of two colleges I toured. I fell in love with the campus, and I applied early decision with the intention of majoring in my next closest career match: accounting. During my senior year of high school, I took an accounting course dual enrollment at the local community college and subsequently wondered if I had just made a huge mistake. I later found out Bentley had added actuarial science as a major, and not long after getting on campus I started asking around to get more information. I challenged myself one class at a time and realized with hard work I could make this happen. I love this profession, and I’m so glad my high school started at 7:20 a.m.

How do you differentiate yourself as an actuary?
I’ve always been big on the concept of developing a personal brand. My brand is built around three core values: authenticity, transparency and a strong work ethic. For me, this means that every time I put my name on something, I am guaranteeing I’ve stayed true to my brand’s values.

At the end of the day, my actuarial credentials assure that I am technically and conceptually qualified, but my brand assures that I am a reliable team member who delivers quality work. I would challenge every actuary to assess and refine their brand, whether they’ve intentionally developed it or not.

Video Exclusive: Olyvia Gives Advice on How to Differentiate Yourself as an Actuary

What is the most interesting aspect of your job?
I work in U.S. life insurance pricing on a team that builds our annual new business plan (NBP) and performs quarterly new business value (NBV) reporting, where I coordinate and organize these projects from a modeling perspective. I think the most interesting part of my job is getting to see the full picture of product development. My team builds a plan for profitability and sales, and this is often the starting point for new product pricing and repricing. As products are launched, my team monitors the emergence of profitability and actual sales each quarter in NBV reporting. Based on this monitoring, management may take action to price or reprice products, which we then will integrate into our NBP and NBV projects again. Through this cycle, I get to a take a macro view of our portfolio and be a part of the decision-making process that drives our new business.

What skill sets are most important for actuaries to have in their toolkits?
The most important skill sets are communication and continuous self-improvement. Communication is everything from day-to-day conversations to final reports and memos. You might have the most technically correct proposal, but it means nothing if you can’t communicate it effectively. For continuous self-improvement, it’s crucial to be adaptable and willing to explore new technologies, methods and ways of thinking. The world changes so fast, and it takes a conscious effort to change along with it.

Describe the value of teamwork.
Teamwork is everything. I don’t think there is anything more fulfilling than being a part of a great team and knowing that, as a whole, the group equals more than the sum of its parts. I think teamwork is critical not just to achieve the goals of the group, but also to help achieve those of each individual. Besides it being nearly impossible to completely go it alone, I think the big wins are a lot more gratifying with a team.

Are you involved in volunteer actuarial activities?
I currently serve on the Society of Actuaries’ (SOA’s) Leadership and Development Section Council, as well as the SOA’s Community Engagement Strategy Working Group. I’ve previously written for the American Academy of Actuaries (AAA) and began volunteering in 2019 with Actuaries Without Borders in its Global Mentorship Program. Within my company, I am a member of the Actuarial Newsletter Committee and have assisted with co-op and full-time actuarial recruitment activities.

I love volunteering, both within my company and in the industry as a whole. I want to be a part of the development and progress of this profession. I think we can all agree that what it means to be an actuary is evolving, and I think the value an actuary brings will only be as strong as their preparedness for change. I plan to be at the front of this evolution, supporting current and aspiring actuaries.

What advice do you have for aspiring actuaries?
Don’t be afraid of being ambitious. If you are interested in something, learn about it. If you want to be a part of something, reach out. If I had to choose between a qualified and less qualified person, I’d want to work with the one who is more enthusiastic. Seek out opportunities and be ready to grab them when they present themselves. Finally, take the advice of mentors and leaders, but never feel there is only one path, or even a correct path. Challenge yourself and others to consider different ways of growing your career. If you are ambitious, you’ll find that you don’t need to wait for an open door. With enough perseverance, you’ll learn to open them yourself.

What attributes make an inspirational leader?
I think the most inspirational leaders lead by example, demonstrate patience and understanding, and communicate a clear vision. Inspirational leaders are relatable and work toward the same larger goals as the people they lead. They show an empathetic understanding of the work being done below them, and they support their people in any way they can. Inspirational leaders act transparently and make sure everyone knows how they fit into the larger mission.

What is your definition of success?
I think success is defined by whether you feel successful. I’m a very competitive person, which is why I know it is unfair to judge your success solely based on the perception of others. Success for me has meant many different things throughout my career so far, and I think that is OK. While the career of an actuary is full of predefined concepts of success and failure, I would encourage others to define their own milestones and reflect on their own personal journeys.

Olyvia Leahy, ASA, ACIA, MAAA, is an associate actuary, U.S. Life Pricing and Product Development, at John Hancock, a subsidiary of Manulife Financial Corporation.

Copyright © 2020 by the Society of Actuaries, Chicago, Illinois.