Supporting a Nontraditional Pathway to the Actuarial Profession

A conversation with Organization of Latino Actuaries program manager Fernando Marín Interview by José Marroquin


The U.S. Hispanic/Latino population reached 63.6 million in 2022, up from 50.5 million in 2010. The U.S. population grew by 24.5 million from 2010 to 2022, and Hispanics accounted for 53% of this increase—a greater share than any other racial or ethnic group. In addition, there has been a rise in the share of Hispanic/Latino students earning bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields (up from 8% in 2010 to 12% in 2018, according to Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Department of Education data).

Fernando Marín

While Hispanic/Latino students remain underrepresented in STEM degree programs, the Organization of Latino Actuaries (OLA) has been making a positive impact by helping more students gain access to the actuarial profession. The mission of OLA is to increase the number of Latino actuaries by promoting the profession and providing guidance, mentorship and networking opportunities.

One of the current OLA program managers, Fernando Marín, has experienced the influence and impact of this values-based organization. In this interview, Fernando shares his career journey and how the OLA assists in diversifying the actuarial profession.

What led you to explore the actuarial profession?

It has been quite a long journey. I was born in Mexico and lived there until I was 12. In school, I enjoyed most subjects but often did better in math. In sixth grade, I won a countrywide academic skills competition in my region. This led me to earn a scholarship and a trip to Mexico City, where I met the president of Mexico.

While I was a committed student, one life-changing event led me to always keep pushing to do my best. My mother passed away when I was 7 years old. Right before she died, I promised her I would aspire to greatness. After her death, things fell apart with my family. Eventually, we were struggling to make a living in my native country.

At the age of 12, I was brought to the United States undocumented. That was a tough decision for everyone, but I understood there was no other way to survive. Suddenly, I found myself in a different country where everyone spoke a different language and I had no friends. Often, I found myself alone.

However, along the way, I would remember the promise I made. It kept me from making a lot of poor choices and away from the gang influences around the neighborhood. I strived to make progress academically. In just a few months, I went from needing a student interpreter to helping other students in math. While I still didn’t understand the English language well, I understood the topics, which quite often I had learned years before in Mexico. My counselor told me I could potentially get into any university.

However, no scholarships or financial aid was available for undocumented students back then. As I realized my dreams of a college education would not materialize, I started putting less effort into school and grades and shifted my focus to finding a job to help my family pay rent and other living expenses.

After high school, I found myself working two to three jobs at a time to make a living. Since then, I have had all sorts of jobs (at fast food restaurants, warehouses, UPS, FedEx, construction and newspaper delivery, to name a few). Working all these jobs was stressful and tiring, and I found myself feeling burned out.

I started looking for a hobby and began taking dance lessons. This changed my life for the better. The more I learned, the more I got into it. Less than a year into dancing (in 2005), I was offered a teaching opportunity at the studio where I took classes, and I have been teaching ever since! This profession, while still quite physical, was not nearly as labor-intensive as my previous ones. Later on, I started teaching on my own, so I didn’t need to depend on other companies giving me a job or being denied because of my undocumented status.

The dream of furthering my education never left me. As soon as I was able to afford it, I enrolled at a community college. It was a less expensive option than going to a four-year college, and I would be able to earn an associate’s degree while paying out of pocket. I ended up getting two associate’s degrees: one in general studies and one in computer information systems with high honors.

While there, one of my wife’s best friends, who happened to be an adviser at my college, informed me a new four-year college scholarship was available for undocumented students with STEM majors and encouraged me to apply. I applied and got accepted, and thankfully I was able to earn my bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics with a minor in entrepreneurship. The scholarship was not a full ride, and I still had to pay a lot of money. But with family loans and support, I was able to make it!

After graduation, it was a bit of the same frustrating story. I had a degree I could do nothing with due to my legal status in the country. While I had met with attorneys every couple of years in an attempt to legalize my status, most gave me a low chance of getting approved. My wife and I had a kid in 2017, and because I could not find a job using my degree, I became a stay-at-home dad for the first couple of years of my child’s life.

As fate would have it, my wife met someone on a train who worked for an immigration office, and she said their office was  recognized as one of the best immigration law offices in the state. This office took our case and said we could have a strong case for approval. Honestly, I was not confident. Many attorneys had given us a low chance of approval in the past, but our circumstances had changed since we had a baby.

Nevertheless, I wanted to keep my education up to date. So, while taking care of my baby, I enrolled in and completed a certificate in data science. I figured that, worst-case scenario, If I were to get kicked out of the country, I could use this education elsewhere.

After completing my certificate, my immigration case had not been approved yet. Not wanting to stop, I started looking for jobs or fields that I could get into with a math degree and a data science certificate. This was the first time I learned about the actuarial profession. I started researching the requirements and exam process and decided to go for it. I knew it was going to be hard, but life was hard ever since I could remember, and at least this profession could be rewarding. I started preparing to take my first exam, and while in that process, I got the news that my case was approved, and I had been granted permanent residence!

I became a permanent U.S. resident in 2019. I went from being an undocumented individual with an uncertain future to being in a position to mentor and motivate other students. I have been invited to speak at different organizations, including the Society of Actuaries (SOA). I find that telling my story motivates some of the candidates who may be struggling. While it can still be difficult and emotional to remember the struggles I went through by sharing my past, I enjoy helping other people find their own success, so I share my story whenever the opportunity arises.

I am still going through the actuarial exam process, which is often a struggle. However, I know I am blessed to have been given an opportunity to be in this position. Most importantly, I get to tell my almost 7-year-old son, Charlie, that there is not a thing in the world he can’t accomplish with hard work and dedication, and there is no better way to show him than doing it myself!

How does investment in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) help the actuarial profession?

The Latine population accounts for almost 20% of the general population in the United States. Furthermore, it is one of the fastest-growing populations. Yet, the percentage of Latine actuaries is much lower when it comes to the general population of credentialed actuaries in the country. DEI initiatives have shown increased engagement and participation. In an environment where everyone feels valued regardless of their beliefs, skin color and identity, employees tend to perform better and retention has been shown to increase for companies with DEI initiatives.

In general, DEI initiatives allow people from various backgrounds to collaborate and work together. People from different backgrounds may see things with a different lens, provide fresh ideas and improve current processes or provide new ones.

From an annuity and insurance perspective, which is my current space, diverse candidates can provide ideas about new products that may appeal to a more diverse population. This would, in turn, help the company grow by selling products to a new market. Also, a diverse population may be more enticed to invest in some of these products when people from the same background are the ones representing the company and selling these products.

I personally have helped DEI efforts by joining DEI committees and providing ideas to support the recruitment of more diverse candidates, such as keeping a role open until at least one candidate who identifies as a minority group is interviewed. Giving everyone a fair chance would enhance a company’s DEI efforts, and in turn, they would benefit from having a diverse pool of employees.

You are currently a program manager within the OLA. Why is that organization important to you, and how can other actuaries be an ally to OLA?

I simply do not think I would be where I am today if it were not for OLA’s help. OLA gave me a platform to be seen and heard.

When I passed my first exam, I was excited and started applying for actuarial positions. It was frustrating that after all the time I spent applying, I did not get a single response. Not even a rejection letter! I thought one exam was not enough. I stopped looking for roles and fully invested my time into studying for my second exam. This was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I was not working—studying was my full-time job. I passed the second exam and started looking for jobs again, but I was met with the same result. I realized that my background was unconventional. Who wants to hire a dance teacher for their actuarial roles? I was also older than most candidates, and companies typically look for recent graduates or students who were still in school. I knew I had to change my approach.

While studying for my second exam, I decided to look for other actuaries with whom I could network. I did not know a single actuary, and people I talked to had no idea what the profession was. Eventually, I found an event hosted by the SOA called Candidate Connect. This would be the last in-person event before things went all virtual due to COVID-19. I was hesitant to register because I didn’t know how to talk to people. I didn’t know what to ask or how to even approach someone. But I decided to register anyway, which was one of the best decisions I have ever made. While there, I met not only the first actuary but the first Latino actuary in my career. This was exciting and motivated me. He introduced me to the rest of the OLA board, and I could not believe that I was in a room with all these successful actuaries who were all Latine.

OLA has helped me in so many ways. Financially, the organization helped pay for a couple of exams and study materials when I was out of a job. Emotionally, someone was always there when I had setbacks. They shared their experiences with me, which helped me feel better about my situation. But I think most importantly, OLA put me in front of companies to talk to.

Organizations (enhanced by OLA connection) offered several networking opportunities and career fairs I attended. Once the representatives heard my story, they were more inclined to at least give me a chance to interview. This was the opportunity I was looking for! Not only was I able to interview, but I was interviewing with companies I thought would be hard for me to get into. While I did not have a lot of interviews (I did not feel the need to explore further), almost every interview turned into a full-time offer!

One of the things that was important to me was to give back once I was in a position to do so. Through my role with OLA, I can assist other candidates in having an easier journey into the profession.

There are several ways actuaries can be allies to OLA, including but not limited to:

  • Becoming a board member
  • Becoming a program manager or coordinator
  • Volunteering to provide mock interviews, resume reviews and mentorship for candidates looking to get into the profession
  • Having your company sponsor OLA—there are several tiers of sponsorship available

Regardless of your time commitment, OLA can work with you if you are willing to help the new generation of Latine actuaries. You can make a difference in someone’s life—the same way many people within OLA made a difference for me. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you are interested.

As program manager for the OLA Academy, can you describe the purpose of the academy and how it assists actuarial candidates?

OLA’s mission is to increase the number of Latino actuaries by promoting the profession and providing guidance, mentorship and networking opportunities. I feel like everyone I have met through OLA does a really good job of making this happen. Even now, when I need help, anyone I reach out to is always willing to take time out of their busy life to lend a hand.

Throughout the year, the organization takes several candidates to career fairs and conferences all around the country. Many of these candidates end up finding jobs at these events. Many of them also continue to be involved with OLA by volunteering and helping the new generation of Latine actuaries find success in the field. Every year, the organization sponsors more candidates than the previous year, and it is amazing to see the growth in such a short period of time.

Fernando Marín is an actuary analyst III at TruStage Financial Group, Inc., and a program manager with the Organization of Latino Actuaries. He is based in San Antonio.
José Marroquin is a manager of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the Society of Actuaries. He is based in Chicago.

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 © 2024 by the Society of Actuaries, Chicago, Illinois.