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Profile of a retirement actuary: Steve Vernon

A profile of retirement actuary Steve Vernon.


The Profile of an Actuary Series details the background, careers and inspirations of participants of the 2011 Society of Actuaries Annual Meeting, to be held between October 16 and 19 in Chicago. If you would like to pose any questions for the participants prior to the meeting, leave a comment below.

What originally inspired you to study to become an actuary?

I graduated from college with a math degree during the 1974-75 downturn, and wanted to get an MBA.  The graduate schools I was accepted into encouraged students to work for a while before starting the MBA coursework, and consequently they held open the acceptances for three years.  I thought that was a good idea, but the only job I could get at that time was as an actuarial trainee.  I never looked back and didn’t go to graduate school. I have never regretted my decision and am glad that I kind of stumbled into being an actuary.


How would you describe the general skill set of an actuary?

You have to think logically, be good at math, pay attention to details, be willing to work hard, and also be a good communicator and be sensitive to other people’s needs.  And it helps to have a sense of humor and be flexible.  It can be a tough skill set to combine.

What industry do you call home and what is the role actuaries play in that industry?

The retirement industry has always been my home.  Actuaries play a critical role today, with the responsibility for generating lifetime retirement income falling on the shoulders of individuals or their advisors. As a nation, we’re in uncharted waters, with large numbers of boomers approaching retirement years with just 401(k) balances and little or no traditional pensions.  Actuaries can help people deploy their retirement assets to generate reliable retirement income and decide when to claim Social Security, and also protect against common retirement risks such as medical bills, long-term care bills, death of a spouse and investment losses.

Could you describe a moment, after a project or deliverable, where you thought “this profession can do pretty amazing things?”

I do retirement planning workshops for employees of large employers.  I’m very clear about bringing an unbiased, actuarial perspective, and I describe strategies in simple terms that attendees can understand.  At the end of each workshop, I always get several people coming up to me with sincere gratitude and thanks for helping them with important life decisions.  That’s when I think “it doesn’t get much better than this.”

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