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This week’s Share your Story is the second part of a three-part series featuring Frank Huang, FCAS, MAAA and Managing Director & Consulting Actuary at Merlinos & Associates. In today’s article we discuss Frank’s path to consulting, along with some reflections on challenges the industry is facing and how the industry has evolved.

In Part III, we will take a deeper dive into the specifics of consulting and Frank’s passion for his role at Merlinos. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Part I, where we discuss the beginnings of Frank’s actuarial career and his relatable journey to his Fellowship.

Q: How did you become interested in consulting?

A: I had a great experience at Oliver Wyman as a foray into consulting. I think, as I went to AIG and ADP, I had always wanted to come back and end my career in consulting. But I’m still young, right? I’m not ending anytime soon. With consulting, it was mainly a combination of two things, and I’ll just be honest, the money and the pace of work. Coming out of college the job offers for consulting firms were better than insurance broadly. As I’ve personally experienced, I think consulting generally does pay better than insurance even at the more senior levels. Then the other thing was that the pace was more to my liking. I like a fast-paced environment. I like deadlines and being challenged and put on the spot by stakeholders or clients or whomever I’m serving. Especially with consulting, maybe more so here at Merlinos & Associates than other consulting firms, but we have many different types of clients, and they all have different needs.

So, it’s exciting and challenging all at the same time. It’s a daily challenge to myself to see how I can best support all of them.

Q: Is there anything that’s come up in the last couple of years that was surprising to you that you hadn’t had to face with consulting?

A: Oh, gosh. There’s always plenty of stories to share. I think the nice thing about being here at Merlinos & Associates is that there is a wide variety of work, it’s not just doing the same template over and over again, because of the aforementioned wide variety of clients. But even within that vertical of clients, all of their needs are very different. There’re often things that I’m asked by a client that I know how to do, but I’ll need to collaborate with someone else who has more insight into that. And it just makes it fun, for lack of a better word.

Most of my more interesting stories come around M&A transactions. M&A tends to take it up a level, because you have tight turnarounds, you have deadlines that are impacting, you know, 10s, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars. So, stress levels can be high for all parties involved. I’ve been in transactions where people have said not so nice words to me. They didn’t really mean it. I know they’re under a lot of stress. But those are the ones that I remember the most. And the happy ending here with almost all of those is that even though there might have been a heated moment, we were able to resolve it and reconcile and even lead to good client relationships in the future.

Q: How would you say that the collaborative aspect plays into your current role? And what are your feelings on the power of collaboration within actuarial science?

A: I think it doesn’t get enough credit and or use in the profession. Actuaries typically have the stereotype of being introverted and wanting to just sit down and crunch the numbers themselves in front of their computer. But I’ve seen that not be the case in insurance and in consulting.

I think the best firms are going to be able to collaborate, pass information and not be siloed. I’ve definitely seen the bad situations where people are not exchanging information on best practices because it either isn’t part of the culture or it doesn’t benefit them financially. If a client is asking a question or having a need, you really end up just being met by the ability and or experience of one or two people. That’s definitely not how it should be and it’s definitely not the case with us.

One of the things that really drew me to Merlinos & Associates is that the best person to service the client will be the person who does it and there’s no P&L impact, there’s no separation. If I’m not the best person, I will find that person and/or work with that person directly. It’s an alignment of the way that we financially compensate people. It’s an alignment in our culture that we always do what is best for the client. That is something that I think people, if it’s not already part of their daily culture or daily environment, should talk to their leadership to try to make that happen. If it is, then that’s great and continue to enjoy it because not only is it good for the client but it also just makes life more fun. Right? No one wants to just sit and work by themselves out there.

Q: What is the biggest challenge the actuarial industry is facing right now?

A: The thing that stands out is probably staying relevant and the diversity initiatives. I’m just kind of regurgitating the same things that people have been talking about for the last decade within the field. But in terms of relevance, the community needs to continue to learn and grow with the changing needs of our clients and our stakeholders. People generally look at actuaries as number crunchers, they look at our services as a commodity. And if that’s the case, then we’ve done something wrong. We’ve done a disservice either in how we’re presenting our work or how we’re presenting ourselves.

I think we need to be seen as consultants, as trusted advisors, and show that we help not just do people’s math homework but we’re solving real world problems. Whether we work in a consulting firm, a regulatory agency, an insurer, or reinsurer whatever the case. That’s a big part, just continuing to stay relevant and show that we’re more than just a super accountant. (No offense to my accountant friends). In terms of the diversity initiatives, obviously they’ve been huge in the media and within our kind of national fabric over the last several years. The diversity/equity/inclusion has just been so essential from my perspective.

Actuaries like to think they’re unique and distinct from all other professions and in many ways we are. But I think we’re still very similar in that the makeup of our leadership and prominent members are still older Caucasian males. I go back to recent CAS data showing that female representation has stalled over the last two decades. Black and Latino members are still in the low single digits. I mean, that’s really kind of crazy when you think about it. And then myself being Asian American, and now the head of a consulting firm, it’s a privilege for me to serve those in my company but also to represent for my fellow minorities and those who are supportive of these DEI initiatives.


Article written by Marilyn Simpson; transcribed & edited by Cynthia Perez.

Be sure to keep your eye for Part III of Frank Huang’s Share your Story!

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