Alison Saifer - President and Founder, Actuarial Management Strategies

Alison Saifer - President and Founder, Actuarial Management Strategies

What do you see as key characteristics of the innovative actuaries?

I think that the number one skill or characteristic would be communication skills. Actuaries have a bad reputation for being unable to communicate effectively. 

It is also important for an actuary to understand the business side of the work and be able to think outside of just the numbers. We need to escape the silo of the numbers and use our analytical skills to help solve broader issues.

What factors do you believe influence the impact actuaries can have within their organizations? That might be tools, collaborative opportunities, leadership positions, etc…

I think you need to show up as a problem solver and work WITH cross-functional departments, not against them. Remember that everyone is on the same team. It's very important to actively listen to non-actuarial team members because others have a lot of great ideas that can lead to amazing, innovative solutions when you work together. I've heard actuarial departments referred to as anti-sales or anti-innovation departments, and we really need to shed that reputation. We need to be able to take complex problems and communicate solutions in a simplified way that's easy to understand. Once you show up as a problem solver, you will get invited to the decision-making table much more often.

Do you think many actuaries are trying to position themselves as those problem solvers today?

I think that many actuaries have already achieved those positions today. Many others truly want to be problem solvers. As we continue to excel at working with cross-functional teams, and remember to look outside our actuarial silos, we will continue to increase our value and visibility for those important and fun roles. 

What are some of the key ways you see the actuarial profession evolving over the next few years?

I think that actuaries are already achieving more leadership roles in diverse and often nontraditional positions in the greater financial sector, not just the insurance sector. More of those roles will open and be filled by actuaries as we continue to broaden our skill sets. It's important to keep this trend going! To do that, actuaries need to be comfortable learning and using the new technologies that continue to emerge.

I'm hopeful that the profession will continue to evolve and produce more well-rounded actuaries who possess not just excellent mathematical skills, but also those skills that lead to innovation in our fast-paced world.

What got you into the actuarial profession and what drew you to that kind of a career?

This is not the right answer, but I was in business school (a long time ago), and I was good at math. I didn't want to be an accountant. The students who were headed to Wall Street careers were so cutthroat, so I didn't want to take that path either. Somebody told me, if you take some math tests, you can make good money, and that sounded pretty good to me at the time. Once I had passed some of the exams and started working, I was drawn to nontraditional roles pretty quickly. I started working at an insurance company but went into consulting early in my career and then started specializing in more general business consulting and non-traditional Specialty insurance products. It definitely wasn't a clear or pre-determined, purposeful path. I really love some of the off-the-beaten path opportunities that came my way, so I keep seeking those kinds of opportunities out. 

Do you find that to be a common story among people, or do you think most folks know that that's the path they want to go down when they choose the actuarial profession?

I believe that it's changed. When I was in school a long time ago, I think that many people just fell into it, often when they didn’t know what to do with their math degrees. At that time, most people didn't know what an actuary was. Over the years, the profession has emerged as a great career option and more and more schools offer actuarial curriculum. I think now people make a much more purposeful and thoughtful choice to go into the actuarial profession. Today, many high school students even know about it as a career choice. I had no exposure to it before I was halfway through my business degree.

What advice would you give somebody considering an actuarial career today?

I would say make sure that this is what you want to do because there are other mathematical careers that don't have the rigorous testing requirements needed for actuarial credentialing. Achieving actuarial credentials is a big commitment. I would encourage it, but you need to think about the exam process commitment versus other careers that have different types of entry or certification requirements. The actuarial credentialing is a pretty long and rigorous road.

Despite there being significant collaborative potential between data science and actuarial science, the two fields don't always mesh in insurance. How do you believe that they can work together more successfully?

I think an innovative actuary needs to be open to other views and opinions and vice versa. Our entire world would be better if individual disciplines would collaborate better. In the end, data analytics can drive better, more innovative, and more accurate solutions across the board. If individuals in general would get less “turfy”, work together, and appreciate what each discipline has to offer, we would all really benefit from that. If the insurance industry doesn't do a better job of staying ahead of the curve, it will certainly fall behind.

How do you think that the insurance industry can stay ahead of that curve?

Collaboration is key. We need to consider all the new ideas, new analytic methodologies and new technologies that are available and really embrace them instead of just sticking to the traditional, legacy methods. The world is changing at an increasingly rapid rate, and we need to keep up. In the past, the insurance industry has just stayed in their lane, but that's not going to be possible anymore.

What makes innovation impactful?

Innovation is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of perseverance and courage to push against legacy systems that have worked in the past. Successful innovations, coupled with timely implementation, can make you stronger, faster, more accurate and frankly, be more fun and effective for both the innovators and the end consumers. It's important to remember it's the end consumer who will ultimately determine the success or the failure of each innovation.

What are some of the more impactful innovations in the actuarial field, and why do you feel that they're so impactful?

I think that the actuarial field has worked hard at staying current. They've changed the educational system multiple times to be more relevant to the actual job, and they continue to update and change that system. In general, I think we've embraced technology to improve predictive analytics and that is really the backbone of our profession and is necessary for our work.

What is the best type of change we can adopt as actuaries to become more influential within the insurance industry?

First and foremost, we need to continue to strengthen our communication and collaboration skills. We need to make sure we're embracing all the data that's available to continue to be the go-to advisors for insurance risk. We need to show up as open-minded members of the team as we work to change our reputation of being that anti-sales and anti-innovation department.

Do you have any specific things someone in the actuarial profession could do to strengthen those communication skills?

Practice makes perfect. When I talk to younger professionals, I encourage them to stand in front of a mirror and practice. Today, you can easily video yourself with your phone doing a mock presentation or you can video yourself having an interaction with somebody - a sibling, a parent, a spouse or whoever. You can see what you look like when you communicate or give a presentation by reviewing and critiquing those videos. There are also organizations like Toastmasters that a lot of people join to sharpen presentation skills and receive peer feedback. Even the most skilled presenters can always get better with practice.