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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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Q&A: Jessica Hussong (USA) 


02 JULY 2015 | BY JESSICA HUSSONG 


Jessica Hussong


I was born in the United States of America and currently work for Praedicat in Los Angeles, California. I qualified as an Associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society, and am working towards becoming a Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society.

I have a passion for dancing, music and maths. My favourite way to spend time in Los Angeles is taking professional dance classes from top choreographers, and performing.
While the actuarial and dance worlds don’t often collide, it’s fun to have a diverse group of friends. Being from Green Bay, Wisconsin, my Sundays during the autumn are spent watching the Packers while eating vegan snacks – the perfect combination of Wisconsin and Californian culture. Every chance I get, I book a trip to a new country, because exploring new places puts my life into perspective.


Why did you decide to study and work in this specific field?

Property and casualty (non-life) – casualty catastrophe modelling, used for pricing, reserving, capital modelling, underwriting and ERM, and reserving for all major lines. I have always excelled in math and I feel as though I have the skills necessary to make a difference and contribute to the overarching benefit of insurance to society.

 

Which actuarial society are you a member of?

I am an associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society and a member of the American Academy of Actuaries.

 

Which actuarial fields are most dominant in the USA and why? 

Actuaries have traditionally specialised in life, health, retirement, or property and casualty insurance. 

The two main professional bodies for actuaries are the Society of Actuaries and the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS). The latter specialises in either reserving or ratemaking. Modelling in various areas and enterprise risk management roles are growing quickly across all lines of business.


Tell us a bit about the industry or market that you work and study in?

The company I work for is currently developing the world’s first forward-looking casualty catastrophe model. For a line of business that suffers from a scarcity of data and operates in an environment where the risk landscape shifts after catastrophic events, we are applying a novel approach and new technologies to the problem. 

Harnessing data extracted by text-mining peer-reviewed science, it identifies systemic, catastrophic liability risks and provides estimates of future potential loss from mass litigation events arising from such risks. Much like the way in which property catastrophe models changed the property insurance market, casualty catastrophe models can support growth in the casualty space.


What kind of support do students get in your company?

For upper-level exams, students are generally allotted 120 working hours to study per exam with all exam expenses paid, including preparation seminars and travel if needed. The typical rule is that students need to spend 100 hours studying per hour of exam. Upper level CAS exams are typically four hours. For the property and casualty track, there are 10 exams, two online modules including multiple choice exams for each and Validation by Educational Experience (VEE) credits that need to be completed before obtaining the FCAS designation.


Is there an actuarial student society in the area where you work? 

While we do not have any formal candidate society, Future Fellows is a quarterly newsletter for candidates of the Casualty Actuarial Society and there is an online forum called Actuarial Outpost.


Are you involved in any actuarial activities outside your day job? Tell us about the benefits and challenges

I am a member of the Innovation Council for the CAS. We focus on helping it bring innovative thinking to its products and services, while expanding and deepening the innovative roles actuaries play in both existing and emerging areas of practice. 

I also volunteer for the University Outreach programme in Southern California. Being a volunteer not only broadens your network within your field, but expands your thinking beyond that of your current role, and gives you the opportunity to influence the course of the profession.


What are the social and economic drivers for actuarial work in the USA?

Currently, I am focused on casualty catastrophe modelling. Rating agencies and regulation drive companies to understand and quantify their casualty exposures. With several years of favourable catastrophe losses, companies are faced with market pressure to decrease prices when the underlying risk is abundant and growing. 

By harnessing new data sources, companies are able to refine exposure and future loss estimates to drive growth in the insurance market. 


What’s the reputation and image of actuaries and the profession in the USA? How does the professional body try to enhance their image?

No matter the source, being an actuary is consistently rated as one of the best jobs in America. The rigorous examination process supports the reputation by rewarding dedicated, determined and thought-provoking students with entry into the profession. The SOA and CAS require continuing education, and internal initiatives like the Innovation Council of the CAS are created to help keep the actuarial field relevant and adept in our evolving, data-hungry world with the growing field of data science.

 

What are your views on the role of an actuary in the market you work in, now and in the future?

Wherever there is risk, there are opportunities for actuaries. Just as fast as technology is changing, such as automated cars, insurance products need to be innovative and adaptive.

The key is to bring fresh ideas to the traditional actuarial mind-set. While actuaries specialise in insurance analytics and risk to date, I think they will be challenged to occupy more roles within insurance companies, technology companies and other industries than they are today.


In the UK, the skill set of an actuary is being recognised across many non-traditional disciplines. Is this also true of the USA? 

Yes. I have seen a shift in actuaries not only moving into non-traditional roles, but seeking them out, both within reinsurance companies and outside traditional companies. With the right skill set, actuaries can be beneficial in many fields for those with both soft and technical skills. 

I consider my role non-traditional, as I work with economists, lawyers, scientists and software engineers every day, which traditional actuaries do not typically do. Collaboration is key to understanding the underlying risks and expanding solutions to current problems. 


What were the influences that shaped your career decisions to date?

The starting influence was my mathematical skillset combined with encouragement, and my competitive drive to be among the best. Attending a university strong in actuarial science and risk management, it would have been hard to miss the intersection of business and math that encompasses actuarial science.

I have a desire to be intellectually stimulated in a way that leads to altruistic outcomes. Working for my current company was an easy decision, fitting that requirement in a much more direct way than most traditional actuarial roles.


Could you tell us about your immediate and longer term goals?

My short-term goal is to get my FCAS and help my company succeed in any way I can. With my underlying aspiration of making a difference in other’s lives, my long-term goal is to educate and challenge myself to think in ways outside of the norm.

 

What do you say when asked: “What is an actuary”?

An actuary builds mathematical models to put a price tag on future risks, and help prepare for future financial uncertainty.


How did you celebrate the day you qualified?

I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa because sitting, for what seems like endless hours, at a desk studying for all those actuarial exams makes you quite fidgety.