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How hands-on learning makes a more market-ready — and marketable — actuary

More and more, actuarial education and credentialing organizations are beginning to adopt a hands-on mode. This is because today’s market demands that new actuaries come prepared with practical experience and business know-how in order to confront the growing complexity and global interconnectedness of P&C risks, Stuart Klugman, FSA, CERA, PH.D., senior staff fellow, education, at the SOA, explains. Traditional training alone is no longer enough.

“We’re moving our candidates beyond the notion of just facts and being adept at a bunch of formulas,” Klugman says. “The advantage [of hands-on learning] is, you have a person who knows how to do something with those facts and formulas.” 

Here, then, are five essential components of a successful e-learning program for today’s General Insurance actuarial candidates:

1. Access to sophisticated analytics and modeling software and tools, including predictive analytics tools. As an example, the Application of Statistical Techniques module in SOA’s General Insurance fellowship program includes a take-home project where candidates must apply advanced modeling applications — GLM-based, many incorporating the R statistical package — to analyze data from real-world scenarios. Unlike traditional paper-and-pencil statistical exams, which tend to accommodate only elementary material, a self-guided project with a work-at-your-own-pace approach allows for deeper learning and hands-on experience with data and models, explains Scott Lennox, FSA, FCAS, FCIA, staff fellow, general insurance, at SOA. “The only way to learn how to run a model is to actually run a model.” 

2. Case studies that give candidates real-world data sets in order to seek solutions to real-world risk scenarios. For instance, notes Lennox, one SOA e-learning model includes a classification ratemaking case study that shows candidates how to use advanced predictive modeling instead of traditional rating factors to more thoroughly explore the relationship between risk and price. During that case study-based exploration, candidates not only learn to evaluate and apply the most appropriate models, they created a business case to support their solution. “They’re solving a business problem, not just a technical problem,” explains Klugman.

3. An opportunity to develop business decision-making and communications skills. Actuaries don’t work in a vacuum; they need an understanding of how their work fits into a broader, strategic and business context, along with the skills to communicate with others, both inside and outside the organization. That means developing both their oral and written communication chops via reports, memo-writing and the like. In the case of SOA’s decision-making and communications module, the exercises place “a heavy emphasis on knowing your audience,” explains Klugman. Are you trying to explain a complex analytics problem to a layperson, or to an analytics expert? Candidates need to demonstrate the ability to do both. 

4. Multi-channel access to multimedia learning resources. Webcasts, YouTube videos, in-person seminars, interactive online quizzes and games, spreadsheets, downloadable documents, traditional textbooks and more — “it’s really about having the right material, and the right medium to deliver that material,” Lennox says.

5. Exams that emphasize practical application of theories. Paper-and-pencil exams might be appropriate in some instances, while self-guided projects might be a better fit in others — such as those involving high-powered computing. “The closer we can get to having exams mimic what they do on the job, the better prepared candidates will be to do their job,” Klugman says.

Hands-on learning opportunities and resources ultimately benefit not just the actuarial candidates themselves, but the insurers who hire them, according to Klugman and Lennox. 

Through applied, experiential learning, actuaries stand to gain a stronger aptitude with complex models, data sets and software, plus enhanced critical thinking and communications skills and a broader business perspective on their work, all of which makes them more marketable to potential employers. 

Insurers, meanwhile, have access to a broader pool of better-prepared, better-equipped actuaries who may not need much on-the-job training in areas like complex modeling and analytics, and who understand their work not just theoretically, but in a strategic context, as well. These are the actuaries they’ll lean on to help them resolve the General Insurance threats of today — and tomorrow.

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