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Expanding the Boundaries of the Actuarial Profession: A Profile of Entrepreneur J. Bradley Murray

The Independent Consultant

Expanding the Boundaries of the Actuarial Profession: A Profile of Entrepreneur J. Bradley Murray

by Ruth Ann Woodley

Brad Murray, of Smart Tech Actuarial Consultants (STAC), provides actuarial and technology services to both the insurance companies who are actuaries' traditional marketplace, and to other kinds of businesses with non-traditional needs. For his insurance customers, Brad provides assistance with data warehousing, modeling, and other technical projects. But Brad's real passion and entrepreneurial spirit lie in the non-traditional side of his business: bringing an actuary's unique expertise and skill sets to all kinds of business problems. This work can range from basic business management consulting, to data and modeling issues, to solving logistical problems like how to allocate scarce resources or efficiently design delivery routes.

Brad spent several years working in large insurers and actuarial consulting firms - doing traditional actuarial work for traditional insurance industry clients. He always felt that there was a huge untapped need for actuarial talent in the broader business world, yet found those opportunities difficult to pursue within the defined structure of a large firm. About four years ago he went out on his own to explore this idea, with the knowledge that he could fall back on traditional clients or employers if his hunch turned out to be wrong.

It wasn't. Brad still does some traditional work, but now he also works for a variety of clients in industries ranging from dairy farms to school systems. He uses his network of friends, business associates and insurance brokers, or just the phone book, to generate ideas of businesses to contact. "I first look to set up meetings with decision makers at a company to understand their business. Most people are willing to agree to that, and then I use the time to listen and learn. I pay particular attention to unveiling and understanding their most pressing problems," explains Brad. He then leaves the meeting and develops his ideas on how he can help solve those problems. Since (as he points out) "every business has finance and risk aspects," there are almost always areas where he can add value. Some of the assignments are much more basic than the complex modeling or analysis actuaries are used to performing. But in a company that may never before have been able to quantify costs by product or use clear metrics to manage their business, the impact can be powerful. Brad emphasizes the importance of selling his proposals based on a specific quantification of that value - how his ideas can improve revenue and/or lower expenses far beyond the cost of his work.

I asked Brad what he has learned from his experiences so far, including ideas that went well or things he wishes he had done differently. One practice he uses, especially when going into a new customer or industry, is to start with a low risk project. These are projects that are technically well within his comfort zone and where he can be sure to beat the client's expectations. Sometimes this means staging the work by making a specific time and cost proposal for the first one or two steps while laying the groundwork for possible enhancements to come. This approach allows him to understand the issues and solutions well from the first stages before committing to the "blue sky" solution.

Brad also stressed the need to suspend your fear of rejection or a negative reaction from customers. Call the prospect who may not be interested; ask the questions you think might be stupid; suggest ideas that may seem basic. The few times that you will be rejected are easily offset by the many successful opportunities you would otherwise have lost. If he were starting again, Brad says he would reduce the time he spent planning and structuring his business. Instead of spending so much time building a long, researched and prioritized marketing list before he started calling on prospects, he now realizes he could have had money coming into the business earlier by making calls quickly and learning as he went. "As when you go to college or start any new job, you think you know going in what your path will be, but things always turn out very differently. You end up retuning skill sets and adapting to situations (realities) different then expected."

Through his work bringing the actuarial mind-set to a broader set of industries, Brad is pushing the boundaries of the profession and expanding opportunities for us all. It's clear from the excitement he exudes when discussing his plans that he has a real passion for his approach, and also that there are lessons here for any entrepreneurial actuary to consider.

J. Bradley Murray, FSA, MAAA, is principal consultant with Smart Tech Actuarial Consultants in Granby, CT. He can be reached at 860.306.9240.