ASNA 2013 – Looking Back and Moving Forward
By Kedar Mhapsekar
Candidate, Master of Science in Statistics–Financial Modelling
University of Western Ontario
At the start of every year, university students and young professionals across North America converge to participate in a weekend-long conference governed and known as the Actuarial Student National Association (ASNA). For many, it will be their first chance to network with their peers, speak to distinguished actuaries, interact with hiring managers, educate themselves on the current exam structure of the Society of Actuaries (SOA) and Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS ), and learn about the challenges and opportunities facing the industry.
This was my second time attending ASNA in the beautiful city of Winnipeg, Manitoba; as well as, the second time for the city to host since the conference’s inception in 2004. Over the years, ASNA has continued to be a great resource of information for young professionals looking to learn about the actuarial field and for companies to recruit these talented individuals. The conference has continued to grow in number and in popularity due to the quality of the presentations, the greater opportunities available during the career fair, and the newly implemented live case competition—which pitted the finalists from Simon Fraser University, the University of Waterloo, and Manitoba University against each other.
This time around, I could understand and empathize with the younger generation of attendees that I saw in the crowds. I can remember being that very same young and naive student who felt lost, overwhelmed and scared. I had just completed my first class in probability, was unsuccessful in passing Exam P, and was terrified by the news of the struggling economy—I felt discouraged to say the least. However, I was even more frightened by the fact that I was in my second year and I still had no idea what an actuary did to earn such a large salary, as represented on the ubiquitous DW Simpson website. I loved that ASNA was an event that helped me understand the steps I needed to take to become an actuary and what industries they work in. But merely attending ASNA won’t help students with their careers, they must also be actively engaging everyone around them to get the most out of ASNA.
Students really have to be vigilant about the changes that are occurring in the industry and adapt to them in order to be successful. As actuaries, it is in our nature to work and mitigate the uncertainties of any type of risk, yet we rarely take the time to better ourselves by utilizing the softer skill sets. To become an actuary today, it is vital to embrace the practices of networking, communicating, and educating ourselves about the industry. Neglecting these practices, and not developing these skills, will hurt your future prospects as much as failing an actuarial exam would. And not to mention: ASNA is something you can attend only ONCE every year.
What better place to make the right choices for your future than in a conference full of professionals who have been where you are and are so willing to share their experiences with you? For example, the SOA presenters during the seminars highlighted the importance of social media and that having an online presence is crucial in marketing yourself. I really wish I had paid more attention my first time around and seen how valuable the ERM track is increasingly becoming to employers. Sitting in Great-West Life’s presentation this year, and seeing them talk about the problems of the rising cost of prescription drugs and the different approaches to managing risks for employers, clearly demonstrated how actuaries go about tackling problems. Also, the interactive Q&A sessions by Sun Life on how to transition from school to the workplace highlighted for me the mistakes I had made during my undergraduate years.
That’s when an important thought came to me during a mingling session in this year’s convention: I no longer feared the uncertainty in the job market or the thought of receiving a rejection letter from a company I had applied to. I wish I could tell my younger self to stop being so prideful, to break away from your comfort zone, and to really engage potential employers and fellow students.
At the end of the day, if you are going to an event like ASNA or any other conference, have fun with all the great people around you. Approach it as if you are studying for an exam; cultivating relationships as though you are going through a chapter of that ASM manual—slowly and steadily. I believe this is when you will come to realize what it is to be an actuary—thinking of risk as an opportunity.