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An Interview with the International Association of Black Actuaries and the Organization of Latino Actuaries

The lack of racial diversity in the actuarial profession is staggering – only 1% of CAS members are Black or African American, and only 1% are Hispanic or Latino. There were more CAS members who became Fellows in 2017 than there are CAS members who are Black or Latino (either Associates or Fellows). The CAS has recently recommitted itself to correcting this issue, as shown by updating its diversity strategy this year. The International Association of Black Actuaries (IABA) and the Organization of Latino Actuaries (OLA) are also working to solve this problem. Here, representatives from each organization discuss what they do and how all actuaries can get involved.

 

Becki Hall (BH) is a founding member and former Vice President of the IABA.
Daniel Fernandez (DF) is a founding member and current Secretary of the Board of Directors for OLA.

 

How long have you been a part of your organization, and how have you been involved over time?

BH: I am a founding member of IABA who has been involved since its inception in 1992. I previously served as Vice President. In that that role, I was responsible for the Annual Meeting planning and serving in the absence of the president. Value-adds to the Annual Meeting which I spearheaded were incorporating professional perspective outside of the actuarial profession into the annual meeting and also, working with the American Academy of Actuaries (AAA) to obtain status of IABA providing continuing education credits to actuaries who attended professional sessions at the annual meeting. In my current role, I advise affiliate leads across the country who are responsible for spreading IABA’s mission at the local level.

DF: Prior to being organized as a legal entity, I was a member of the Steering Committee, which was essentially a precursor to our current Board of Directors. I was part of the Steering Committee since late 2016. I am currently the Secretary of the Board of Directors.

 

When was your organization founded and what was the original mission? Has your mission changed over time, and if so, how?

BH: IABA was founded in 1992 at its inaugural meeting in Washington DC. While there was no formal mission established at inception, there was an innate hunger for diverse actuaries to connect with others from like backgrounds. Two years after the inaugural meeting, the purpose was outlined, officers were appointed and bylaws were formally implemented. Today’s mission is “to contribute to an increase in the number of black actuaries and to influence the successful career development, civic growth and achievement of black actuaries” and this is a natural progression of our initial purpose. The organization has evolved over time in terms of structure, activities and partnerships expanding its reach to students and professionals across the country. Affiliates at the local level play a key part in this objective which closely aligns with the mission.

DF: OLA was founded as a legal entity in July of 2017. Our mission is to increase the number of Latino actuaries by promoting the profession and providing guidance, mentorship and networking opportunities. I am glad to report that our mission has not changed over the one year that we have been in existence!

                                                                                                                     

What is the core of what your organization does?

BH: One of our key focal points is providing a safe space for personal development and workplace skill building for students at the college level. Prior to the annual meeting, IABA hosts a boot camp which we have worked feverishly over the years to expand. Students are provided accommodation over a week long period where they are trained in resume building, interviewing, soft skills, and technical skills and also have the opportunity to listen to speakers who work in the field. They then have the opportunity to apply these skills throughout the annual meeting including at the career fair where they have access to numerous employers. City affiliates are grass root groups in geographic regions with large pockets of actuaries. They host professional networking events including speaker series and are involved with high school and college outreach. IABA also provide scholarships, exam fee reimbursement and mentoring in various capacities by partnering with its corporate advisory council and other private employers. Value-adds for seasoned professionals include continuing education credits, networking opportunities and skillset refinement in a more relaxed setting.

DF: Most of our efforts thus far have been focused on students – either making them aware of the profession or trying to help them get an actuarial internship or entry-level position.  However, our long term goal also includes mentoring young actuaries to help keep them in the actuarial profession through the credentialing process and helping seasoned actuaries attain management positions and succeed at that level. I believe there needs to be a support system throughout the entire career of our actuaries.

We currently provide resume review, mock interviews, and general mentorship to start.

Additionally, we have been providing travel scholarships to candidates to attend Casualty Actuary Society (CAS) Student Day and Society of Actuaries (SOA) Candidate Connect events.  OLA covers travel, lodging and event expenses. During these events, candidates will learn about the actuarial profession and will network with credentialed actuaries.

In order to connect candidates with actuarial recruiters, OLA awards scholarships to candidates to attend Conventions that are not organized by the CAS or the SOA, but that provide the opportunity to students to connect with actuarial recruiters (STEM focus or Latino focus conventions).   OLA covers travel, lodging and convention fees. One such event is the ALPFA (Association of Latino Professionals for America) convention. During these events, candidates have the opportunity to learn about companies with actuarial jobs or internships and connect with them to interview for these actuarial positions.

We are currently working with one of our sponsors to organize an actuarial day at their offices for OLA students. The day will start with an overview of the company and the opportunities that they have there. Then there will be a keynote speaker, and then a discussion about their rotational programs. During lunch, students will network as well. After lunch, there will be working sessions until the day is complete. We would love to duplicate this type of event at other companies! One of our long-term plans is to have an Annual Meeting.

 

What projects/initiatives are you excited about?

BH: As the person responsible for overseeing our affiliate leads and their activities, I am most excited about expanding our geographic reach. Boston is regenerating. Houston and Des Moines are two key areas where affiliates are being developed. Additionally, I have always been passionate about the educational component and continue to play a key role in improving the quality of any professional development series that we host.

DF: Based on the study conducted on behalf of the Society of Actuaries (SOA), The Actuarial Foundation, the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) and the International Association of Black Actuaries (IABA), one barrier in the career pipeline is inadequate financial support for resources – whether it be exam fees or study materials/exam prep. Even though students can be reimbursed for the exam fee upon passing the first two exams, candidates might not even have enough money to front these costs. One initiative I am excited about is trying to tailor some sort of scholarship to assist candidates with this. We are still trying to figure out the logistics, but this is a problem we would love to tackle.

 

What do you think your organization does well? Where do you feel like you could be doing better?

BH: IABA is generally considered a valuable resource for college students. Three key areas for improvement are awareness, personal connection and financial. In terms of awareness, there is an opportunity to partner with experienced professionals and educate them on the value the organization can provide to them throughout various points in their career. For instance, the IABA network can potentially provide a forum for these professionals to discuss non-proprietary current industry issues. A lack of personal connection to the organization can inhibit prospective partnerships and it is incumbent on the organization to educate the actuarial community on its symbiotic nature. Finally, financial support will be instrumental to enable IABA to carry out its core mission through its formal channels as it continues to expand. 

DF: One of the things we do well is creating a connection with our students. We interact with them at multiple touch points, whether it be over e-mail, through LinkedIn, at industry conferences, at diversity events, and even just catching up over lunch or coffee locally. We get to know them well and what their needs are. This is also helping us in creating ways to help our students in the future based on their actual needs, not what we perceive them to be.

I think that we could be doing better at trying to offload some of the work that we are doing to members who may not necessarily be members of the Board of Directors. At times, we take a step back and realize that we have done a lot so far, and that only gives us the momentum to do even more. Sometimes it takes a village – and taking advantage of that village helps us avoid burning out.

 

What are the biggest challenges that you & your base are facing right now? What are you doing, and what can actuaries outside your organization do, to help overcome those challenges?

BH: First, the organization has grown tremendously over time. To put things into perspective, four hundred people are expected to attend this year’s annual meeting compared to eighty at the inaugural meeting. That said, expanding our membership has been challenging and will be instrumental to achieving the organization’s mission. The corporate advisory council includes employers who provide in-kind donations and partner closely with IABA to achieve the organization’s mission and vision. In particular, there is an urgent need for more Property & Casualty representation on the council. Challenges are being addressed through the affiliate channels, general marketing at professional events (such as the CAS Annual Meeting where IABA formally presented and also hosted a joint happy hour with OLA) and membership outreach efforts (such as proactively targeting high performing high school math students).

DF: I think some of the biggest challenges that we have had so far have been based on infrastructure. For example, it took a while to create a website, which has limited our ability to disseminate information to a wider audience. Not having a structured internal database has restricted the efficiency of tracking our students. Still being in the process of becoming a 501(c)3 organization has made fundraising more difficult, but not impossible. These are the issues that can plague young and small organizations at the outset, but we are slowly overcoming these challenges one by one.

 

How can actuaries outside your organization help your base?

BH: Involvement is not limited to persons of color. Outside of the formally established relationships, there are other opportunities for involvement including coaching and mentoring. The key takeaway is that anyone who is committed to supporting the mission is welcome to join us in its pursuit. To get involved, you can email us at iaba@blackactuaries.org or call 860-906-1286.

DF: Actuaries outside of OLA can help our base by mentoring our students, considering them for any open positions that they know of, encouraging their organizations to support OLA financially, and helping us spread the word about OLA. Since we are a young organization, some students have not found us yet, even though we have been trying to find them. To get involved, you can e-mail us at LatinoActuaries@gmail.com.

 

To learn more about these organizations, you can visit their websites: https://www.blackactuaries.org/ and http://latinoactuaries.org/.

 

A condensed version of this article was printed in the September 2018 edition of Future Fellows.

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