Susana Gisele Zelaya, FCAS, FCIA, works as an Actuary at ICBC in the Product Pricing Team. She graduated from Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) with a bachelor degree in actuarial sciences. Born in El Salvador, her parents moved to Canada where she grew up as French Canadian and recently moved to British Columbia. She recognizes her background as being an advantage and now wants to encourage more diversity in the P&C industry.
Why would you recommend a career in the insurance industry to current college students?
Why would I not? The insurance industry is in constant evolution. In the past few years, the industry has been coming up with new ways to provide and sell insurance, it has been immersed in the world of big data and predictive analytics and keeps on releasing products that better corresponds to the new and increasing needs of customers. This industry is even gaining more and more attention from outsider companies such as Tesla and Amazon. Not only that, the recent pandemic has shown us that the insurance industry provides a safe and stable work environment as many countries deemed it an “essential business” and many organizations quickly pivoted to a work-from-home model.
Why did you become an actuary?
I always had good grades at school and I particularly enjoyed math and science. As many children from immigrant parents have experienced, the career options that were often proposed to me were the classics: doctor, lawyer, engineer, or accountant. Ugh! So boring. One day my math teacher talked about actuaries and the fact that no one around me seemed to know what it was just got me hooked. Don’t worry, I did some research after that and got attracted by how actuaries used math and applied them to real-life issues. Also, the fact that you have to go through a series of exams to obtain your designation appealed to my goal-driven competitive side.
What drew you to a career in property and casualty insurance?
Even through my research of “what is actuary?” I was quickly drawn to the P&C industry because of the range of risks that can be covered. Knowing that actuaries could predict the cost of a natural catastrophe or how much it costs to rebuild a house burned down by fire seemed pretty cool to me. But it was really getting my first internship with a P&C company that cemented my choice. I really loved the atmosphere at work and how much I learned in such a short amount of time that I just couldn’t get away from that.
What can students do now to prepare for a career in the industry?
Learn how to communicate your results to non-technical audiences. It is harder to do than you think and the sooner you learn, the better. Actuaries tend to build great models or perform intricated analysis, but often fail to clearly communicate the result and impacts to others. Another suggestion is to learn to code in as many languages as possible. This skill will be particularly useful in your first few years working as an actuary.