Data Driven Opportunities
Actuaries in non-traditional roles
By Minyu Cao, ASA, CERA.
Derek Kueker, FSA, is a vice president and actuary leading data solutions at RGAx, a subsidiary of RGA, Reinsurance Group of America. He recently took up this unique position to look for data driven opportunities that have the potential to benefit the life insurance industry.
Let’s learn more about his actuarial journey.
How did you get interested in actuarial science?
It was an accident, really. My plan was to do something in the computer science area or something mathematics related. But then I came across Maryville University at a college fair, which introduced me to the program. I was interested because it was math related, but I wasn’t sold. From there, I was very lucky to get a scholarship to Maryville and the rest is history.
Have you ever envisioned working in a non-traditional position before? How did the opportunity unfold itself?
I had no intention of working in a non-traditional position. Honestly, I’m not sure if my position is non-traditional or more of a transition of the industry. My plan was always to be a very good technical actuary. However, that began to change as I got the opportunity to work at a reinsurance company with outside clients. I really enjoyed working with others and I liked working on new projects that needed innovative solutions. From there, my career naturally evolved into what it is today.
What is your typical day like?
A typical day for me generally involves a large amount of collaboration. I work directly with actuaries and non-actuaries, both within RGA and outside of RGA, on projects that are generally focused on enhancing processes or products with data solutions. Most days include a nice combination of strategic, innovative, and execution focused meetings. The key to making my days successful is being able to take what is generally a very technical idea or solution and making it understandable to any audience. I have found that my day has over the past few years moved away from individual based work to group settings.
What are the most challenging and satisfying parts of your work?
The most challenging is that as an industry we have generally moved a bit slowly, but we are all aware that change is occurring. It is very satisfying knowing that I get to work in an area focused on innovation and change and that I can help influence where we go as market.
How has a background as an actuary impacted your career?
The analytical skills an actuary has have been critical for me, even when I’m not in a technical setting. Being able to analyze a situation and ask the tough questions has been critical in the success of my career.
What actuarial skills do you possess that are most useful in the non-traditional role?
The skills that I possess that are most useful are the communication skills. Being able to communicate between actuaries and non-actuaries is a skillset that I tried to develop early on and has been instrumental ever since. In addition, a key skill or attribute that I try to demonstrate is having a sense of urgency to any project I work on. I have found that being proactive, innovative, and fast-acting has really helped me take on roles that are somewhat less defined than the typical actuarial role. The ability to think more theoretically has helped as well as most of my projects have either not been done before or have only been discussed but have not been implemented.
How have the exams benefited you in your professional work?
The exams were a significant challenge and one I am very proud of accomplishing. In the back of my mind, it has given me the confidence that there is nothing I can’t accomplish with the right amount of effort.
Your advice to the SOA candidates (Pre-ASA)?
My advice would be to look for new opportunities throughout your career. Getting multiple experiences early on is extremely valuable. Work on communication skills. The future of the actuary requires working with many different professions. Being able to communicate with others is a critical asset you should have. And have fun. If you don’t enjoy coming to work, you are probably not in the right spot. We can have fun as actuaries, we should be proud of our profession, and we should continue to push the boundaries of what actuaries do on a day to day basis.