A Career You Can Count On

MET’s Actuarial Science program prepares students for a top-rated job.

Hear what our alumni have to say. Read an online exclusive Q&A with our Actuarial Science alumni to learn more about the field.

For twenty years, MET’s part-time master’s program in Actuarial Science has been grooming graduates for success in the profession of “actuary.” Yet, ask a passerby on the street what an actuary does and you may get a quizzical look—even though the career consistently lands at the top of “best jobs” lists. Most recently ranked by CareerCast.com as the number one job of 2013, it’s a profession that boasts faster-than-average job growth and a median annual salary of $88,000 (as of May 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). There are plenty of opportunities for actuaries today. Born out of corporate scandal and financial crisis, more companies are hiring chief risk officers—a position well-suited to the actuary’s expertise with data analysis and interpretation. And, with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, actuaries are playing a critical role in determining the financial impact of an expected thirty million uninsured on the market.

Actuaries usually work for life, health, and property/casualty insurance companies, but are also employed by consulting firms, government agencies, accounting firms, industrial corporations, banks, and financial services companies. “Actuaries try to predict what’s going to happen next year based on what happened in the last five to ten years,” explains Glen Patashnick (MET’06), senior lecturer in actuarial science and a Fellow of the Casualty Actuary Society. “We seek the patterns in the available data, and examine what characteristics of a policy holder are meaningful in determining how risky they are—risk being measured in the likelihood of having a claim and the probable size of a claim. In the insurance business, you’re always going to lose something. Actuaries try to figure out how much the company can afford to lose and remain profitable.”

“It’s often said actuaries are the ‘bookies’ for insurance companies.”

“It’s often said actuaries are the ‘bookies’ for insurance companies,” agrees Lois Horwitz, department chair and associate professor of the practice of actuarial science. And, while an aptitude and appreciation for mathematics, statistics, and financial theory is helpful, what really makes a good actuary is attention to detail. “An actuary isn’t just doing statistical data analysis. You have to make sure everything is precise and accurate. You almost have to have that personality to start with.”

Prior to running MET’s Actuarial Science department, Horwitz—a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries—worked as a life actuary at John Hancock and MetLife. Her specialties, she explains, were product development and compliance. “I was looking at the profitability measures of insurance products and manipulating all the pieces—dividends, agent compensation, premiums, et cetera—but always ensuring compliance with various regulations. Does the reserve fit the standard valuation law? Do the cash values meet the standard non-forfeiture law limits? It’s akin to being a lawyer, understanding not just the contracts but the regulations.” Knowing the regulations is crucial, as consumers who purchase insurance place tremendous trust in the integrity of actuaries, especially when it comes to those critical moments in life when a claim must be made—whether it is calling in a life insurance policy or rebuilding a storm-damaged property. As Horwitz asserts, “The stability of the economy depends on insurance.”

The actuarial profession falls into two categories, life and casualty, as distinguished by two professional societies: the Society of Actuaries (SOA) and the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS). While the life actuary analyzes the probability and financial consequences of health issues, long-term care, pensions, disability, and—inevitably—mortality to determine adequate insurance premiums and costs, the casualty actuary deals with less “predictable” risks, such as damage from natural disasters or accidents.

“We can’t predict exactly when and where a catastrophe will happen. It’s like any other statistical science—you only get predictive power when you have lots of data.”

“We can’t predict exactly when and where a catastrophe will happen,” Patashnick acknowledges. “It’s like any other statistical science—you only get predictive power when you have lots of data, which comes from writing lots of policies over many years, and trying to see the patterns. That works well for common claims, like fires or thefts. For catastrophes, the data is too thin, so we also use software to model hurricanes or earthquakes striking our insured houses. We combine that with existing data to get a better idea of the probable risks.”

MET’s program excels at infusing the classroom with the hands-on insight of highly qualified faculty drawn from Boston’s insurance sector, emphasizing not just the quantitative elements of the practice but critical attention to detail and the ability to interpret the meaning of data. Prior to transitioning into a one-year, full-time visiting faculty position at MET this past fall, Patashnick had been teaching part-time while employed as senior catastrophe analyst at a homeowner’s insurance company. Based on his experience as a casualty actuary, he is developing a new course for the department, Survey of Casualty and Property Insurance, which will complement existing non-mathematics courses on individual and group insurance.

Patashnick explains that his hands-on experience with homeowner’s insurance, pricing policies, and catastrophe modeling for homeowner’s insurance policies—and with the Casualty Actuary Society exams—provides valuable context in his classes. “My midterm and final exam are completely practical. They replicate tasks that I, and other actuaries, perform on a regular basis. I’ve also taken the actuarial exams required to practice, so I can talk about what skills students need in order to do well on those exams.”

Hundreds of hours of exam preparation and industry knowledge go into the actuarial profession.

Hundreds of hours of exam preparation and industry knowledge go into the actuarial profession. A candidate seeking membership in the SOA must pass a total of ten exams or online course modules to attain fellowship status. To become a fellow of the CAS, nine exams and two online courses are required. While the Actuarial Science degree program covers material that is included in the first five exams—common to both the SOA and CAS—Horwitz warns that it is not a “test prep” program. “Students are required to take courses that cover material in three of the exams,” reveals Horwitz. “Students can choose to cover additional exam material in electives. You don’t have to write exams while you’re in the program. And two-thirds of our students are international—their governments don’t necessarily care if actuaries are members of the Society of Actuaries that serves North America.”

When it comes to graduation—and landing the coveted job as an actuary—graduates of MET’s program benefit from faculty members’ connections to the industry and a local pool of successful, practicing alumni who work for organizations such as Towers Watson, Blue Cross Blue Shield, John Hancock, Liberty Mutual, and the Massachusetts Department of Insurance, among others. “Students who graduate with two actuarial exams—and who are authorized to work in the States—have smooth sailing when it comes to jobs,” concludes Horwitz.  

Three graduates of MET’s Actuarial Science program share their perspectives.

  1. Kenn McClune, ASA

    Actuarial Analyst
    Monroe Plan

  2. Tiffany Eaton, FSA, MAAA
    (CAS’04, MET’06)

    Director of Product Management
    Peak Health Solutions

  3. Martin Chi

    Actuarial Analyst
    Towers Watson

Kenn McClune

Actuarial Analyst, Monroe Plan

Metropolitan: Why did you choose to enter the field of actuarial science?

A few reasons: I had a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics from Rochester Institute of Technology, and wanted a career in which I could use my quantitative skills to help drive important decisions. The actuarial career is perfect for this.

Being an actuary also promotes innovation. I wanted to use my quantitative, statistical, and professional skills to create and improve processes, and think through real, challenging problems. A career in actuarial science facilitates the use and application of these skills.

What attracted you to the program at BU’s Metropolitan College?

The master’s program looked attractive for many reasons. The first half of the program is designed to help someone new to the field understand and prepare for the first few exams required by the Society of Actuaries. Most actuaries take these on themselves, which works very well. But having the guidance of actual actuaries made the transition into the subject not only comfortable, but pleasurable.

Secondly, most of the staff teaching the classes required of the program are experienced actuaries. Those who weren’t actuaries were subject matter experts—the exact people you’d want to teach you this challenging material.

Also, the actuarial science master’s program is primarily part time. It’s designed to help transition those coming from other industries to the actuarial profession. Holding one’s current job, studying for exams, and taking this program part time creates a busy schedule, but the program helps facilitate a balance.

Did the program meet your expectations?

The program exceeded my expectations—I was able to pass the first two actuarial exams and secure an internship for the two years I attended. With a little hard work on my end, the actuarial science master’s program provided a great framework to pursue my interests, while learning about the actuarial field.

What did you think of the faculty? Did any professor stand out or provide especially useful advice?

The faculty was great. Overall, each professor brought a unique perspective to the classroom, to really help us apply what we were talking about. Individually, two professors stick out: Professor Lois Horwitz and Professor Daniel Weiner.

Professor Lois Horwitz is not only a professor for the program, she also heads the department. Having her for an instructor was invaluable—her deep understanding of the subject matter was helpful, and I feel like she made some difficult concepts easy to understand. I couldn’t imagine trying to learn the material to the first exam on my own, as many actuarial students do—a 45-minute discussion with her easily saved me hours of study. Her experience as a life insurance actuary was fascinating and helpful when learning how to price a complicated life insurance product. Aside from classroom interaction, Professor Horwitz was the first actuary I’ve ever met, and represented the field appropriately. She was a great guide and fantastic resource if we had questions about the field.

Professor Daniel Weiner is one of the most engaging instructors I’ve ever had. I had him for courses in probability and statistics, and each lecture was more interesting than the previous. He adds a slight humor to his lectures, which helped me remember and absorb his teachings—to this day, I can quote him about probability distribution functions and cumulative density functions. What makes this professor truly outstanding is his impact during office hours. In week five or six of the semester, a few classmates and I started attending his office hours, and by week ten, half of the class went—it was just a pleasant experience talking to the guy in general, especially when it came to something he clearly mastered long ago.

What is the main strength of the program, in your opinion?

I think the main strength of the program is that it’s part time and taught by experts who are excellent communicators.

Did the MET program help you advance or improve your career?

As I was introduced into the actuarial field, I was able to obtain an internship through this program, which proved invaluable. Gaining real-world experience helped me put the classroom in context—a win-win.

What do you like most about your career as an actuary?

What I like most about being an actuary is having the analytical toolkit to solve real world problems. Actuaries are problem solvers—many people within the company look to us to be able to quantify risk and measure success. I like being the go-to guy for intellectually challenging puzzles.

Would you recommend the program to other students?

I would absolutely recommend this program for potential students. My advice would be to study hard, and to take the program part time. During the part-time program, you study for the first actuarial exam. The program syncs up nicely with the actuarial exam process, so take advantage of that. Also, seek an internship—Professor Horwitz and others have contacts that are always looking for new talent, so ask around. Lastly, the work you put in is worth it—you’ll have a rewarding career, and it starts here.  

Tiffany Eaton

Director of Product Management, Peak Health Solutions

Metropolitan: Why did you choose to enter the field of actuarial science?

I started in a mathematics graduate program, but found it wasn’t for me. I thought actuarial science would be a field in which I could use my mathematics skills while working in business.

What attracted you to the program at BU’s Metropolitan College?

While a master’s is not really necessary to be an actuary, I needed more time to understand the field. Plus, my background was in a different branch of mathematics, so honing my statistics and finance skills was important. As for BU, I was tied to the Boston area and went to BU for my undergraduate degree, so it seemed a natural choice.

Did the program meet your expectations?

It was a little more "academic" than I expected. However, I think it was good preparation for my career.

What did you think of the faculty? Did any professor stand out or provide especially useful advice?

Hal Tepfer is a wonderful addition to the program—he’s very enthusiastic and entertaining. He also explains the why behind the formulas rather than rote memorization, which is really useful for long-term retention.

What is the main strength of the program, in your opinion?

I think the program excels in preparing students to pass actuarial exams. Since the students will go on to various branches of the field, the classes are general and not necessarily geared towards a particular branch of insurance. However, the general education is very important and provides a strong base.

Did the MET program help you advance or improve your career?

A master’s in actuarial science is still a pretty rare thing, so having it on my résumé definitely made me stand out. Plus, it was a great way to build my network and learn from others and their experiences in actuarial science.

What do you like most about your career as an actuary?

Generally, when working inside an actuarial department, you’re working with smart people who will challenge you and help you grow.

Would you recommend the program to other students?

I would recommend the program for people who are seeking time to learn about what it means to be an actuary and prepare for the exams.  

Martin Chi

Actuarial Analyst, Towers Watson

Metropolitan: Why did you choose to enter the field of actuarial science?

I was introduced to the field by a professor back in college who saw the profession as a good fit for me. He has since been proven right.

What attracted you to the program at BU’s Metropolitan College?

The Actuarial Science program has a strong reputation and came highly recommended by the same college professor who led me down the actuarial path.

Did the program meet your expectations?

Absolutely, the program has a great selection of courses that allow students to focus on a concentration within actuarial science while covering the material needed for the coveted actuarial exams. However, the greatest takeaway from the program is the opportunity to network with professors who are working actuaries, as well as with alumni.

What did you think of the faculty? Did any professor stand out or provide especially useful advice?

The professors were able to provide valuable insight to their respective concentrations due to being fully credentialed, working actuaries themselves. Professor Tepfer was especially influential as an educator as well as a professional. He was able to provide specific advice about pensions—his field of expertise—eventually leading me to my current position as a pension actuary.

What is the main strength of the program, in your opinion?

Having working actuaries teach the courses allows for extremely valuable interactions on top of the normal learning experience.

Did the MET program help you advance or improve your career?

The professors helped me to understand the many different career paths available to actuaries, which helped steer me towards the path that would best suit my interests.

What do you like most about your career as an actuary?

I had high hopes about the profession since learning about it in high school and have yet to be let down. Being an actuary is a perfect fit for my skills and interests, and I have been fortunate enough to work at a reputable firm with amazing people.

Would you recommend the program to other students?

The program provides a great opportunity to learn about the actuarial profession from real, working actuaries on top of the standard learning process for the degree and actuarial exams. Students should take full advantage of having experienced actuaries leading the courses and take any opportunities they can to learn and connect with them.