Share your Story – Carol Thomas

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This week’s share your story features Carol Thomas, an actuarial student who is currently pursuing her ASA designation and working at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi.


What is your current role and what are some of your responsibilities?


I work as an Actuarial Analyst on the Large Group Pricing team at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi (BCBSMS). In addition to setting premium rates, I produce new group quotes, analyze rate re-evaluation requests, update actuarial models, and streamline business processes by redesigning spreadsheets and coding macros in VBA.


How/ When did you find out about Actuarial Science?


I started as a business major at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, GA. When my academic advisor found out I was taking calculus classes for fun, she encouraged me to consider careers in STEM. As part of my career exploration, I took a personality assessment that recommended actuarial science due to my detail-oriented nature and love of learning. After researching the career online, I told everyone in my social network that I wanted to become an actuary. People connected me with actuaries they knew, and I started having “informational interviews” with them to get insider perspectives on the career. One of the first actuaries I met was my dentist’s son-in-law, and seeing his enthusiasm for his career confirmed my decision to pursue actuarial science. I eventually changed my major to Mathematics-Economics and started taking actuarial exams.


Why did you want to be an actuary?


From a young age, I had a business mindset. This was fostered by my parents who owned a tutoring business when I was a kid. After school, I helped compile test prep packets and passed out marketing flyers to local businesses. Seeing their efforts pay off and their business grow was exciting. When I was in middle school, I began pet-sitting and dog-walking, and soon I was handing out flyers for my own business: Carol Cares: Canine and Cat Sitting Services. My earnings were more than double what my friends made in minimum wage jobs. In college, the actuarial career excited me because it combines my knack for business with my love of math. Also, given the inflation of higher education, it appealed to me that I could start working with just an undergraduate degree, and my employer would pay the cost of the actuarial exams.


How did you get started with actuarial science? Did you major in actuarial science or a related field? What was your first actuarial job or internship?


Once I decided to be an actuary and changed my major to Mathematics-Economics, I started searching for internships. I interned at Epic Insurance Brokers and Consultants during my junior year during which I assisted employers with IBNR reporting and self-insured feasibility analysis. I also started studying for exam FM through an online study guide. When I failed my first two attempts, I knew I needed to try a different approach. My university, Agnes Scott College, did not offer actuarial science, but Georgia State University (GSU), a nearby university, did. I enrolled part-time as a GSU student and took semester long courses designed to prepare students for exams FM and P. I passed both exams by the end of the semester. Failing an actuarial exam is a humbling experience, but it taught me how many hours I need to study for these exams to succeed. Since college, I have passed exams SRM and PA using online study guides.


What made you decide to pursue actuarial science within the health industry (vs. life, pension or P&C)?


I took a health economics course in college that sparked my interest in health insurance. Financing health care is a complex problem that is approached differently around the globe. Even within the United States, there is variation in healthcare funding arrangements. There is always more to learn, and I enjoy researching how emerging financing methods such as self-insurance and value-based care impact the supply and demand of healthcare and patient outcomes. It’s also fun to brainstorm with colleagues on how to make the current system better.


What has been your personal experience with exams thus far?


I have passed exams FM, P, SRM, and PA. I recently found out that I did not pass my first attempt at ATPA. Failing an exam is always disappointing, but it’s also an opportunity to reflect on what study techniques I can alter to pass my next attempt. I’ve found that resiliency and adaptability are important traits for actuaries. The exams are difficult not only because they involve high-level math, but they also require creative problem solving. Every question approaches a topic from a different angle, so the student must adapt their approach. Often, there is more than one way to arrive at the correct answer.


Do you have any advice you’d like to share with other actuaries currently pursuing an ASA designation?


With regards to exams, always ask for advice from someone who has passed. They may provide insider tips that are hard to find online. At work, actuarial analysts sometimes find themselves in positions where they’re asked to perform tasks they don’t fully understand. For instance, I’ve been asked to troubleshoot code in a coding language I haven’t mastered. When a task feels impossible, break it into small chunks. Ask yourself, what DO I know and what DON’T I know? For the things I don’t know, how could I find out? I recommend typing your thoughts into a Word document. Once you’ve done everything you know how to do by yourself and you’re spinning your wheels, reach out for help, and tell your colleague what you’ve done so far. Not only will this improve your problem-solving skills, but it will make your colleague more willing to help because they understand what you’ve attempted so far.


As we know, the workforce had a widespread shift to Remote work due to the pandemic. More recently, we are starting to see companies promote and/or require a return to the office.


What is your current work arrangement? (In-office, Hybrid, Remote)


The actuarial team at BCBSMS is very collaborative, and we come into the office five days a week. Working from home is optional with pre-approval from a manager.


Do you enjoy your current arrangement? What do you feel are some of the biggest benefits and what aspects do you enjoy most?


Working from home can be comforting and convenient sometimes. Given that I’m relatively new to the field, going into the office most days is better for my career development. I find it easier to communicate when I can see people’s faces. During coffee and lunch breaks, I get to know my colleagues on a personal level, and sometimes we discuss recent health care trends and regulations. There is a high level of camaraderie among our team, partially because many of us play ultimate frisbee together twice a week on the company soccer field. Getting to know my colleagues on a personal level makes the workday more meaningful and enjoyable, and I feel that I’m a part of team rather than an independent contributor.


Blog written & edited by Marilyn Simpson & Aisha Ali.

Be sure to keep your eye out for our next Share your Story series topics, featuring some very special guests!

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