Amelia Burns, FCIA(2019)

This article originally appeared in the CIA (e)Bulletin.

1. Who/what inspired you to pursue a career as an actuary?

When I graduated Queen’s University with my BS in math, I still had yet to hear the word actuary. I was first introduced to actuarial science by a peer in my graduating class. His uncle was an actuary and my friend had started taking the preliminary exams. My friend said that I might find them interesting and suggested that I give them a try. He explained the process and generously lent me his manuals and study notes for the first few exams. I was excited by the idea that I could actually “do math” as a career in a way that was mechanical but that also required more judgment and discernment than the number-crunching careers I had been considering.

2. What was the exam process like? Did you experience any particular challenges?

The exam process felt long. When people asked how I stayed the course I jokingly compared myself to a mountain goat, putting one foot in front of the other, keeping my head down so as to not get discouraged by the remaining mountain to climb. Some exams were more interesting than others. I really enjoyed the first few preliminary exams; they were more like puzzles than exams. Completing the Fellowship exams was frustrating at times since there is no focus directly related to my chosen field, actuarial evidence. Although plenty of the skills honed through my Fellowship exams will come in handy in my career, little of the knowledge will come up in my day-to-day work. I’m happy to be done the exams and am very grateful for the support of my friends and family throughout!

3. What is your current professional role? Can you describe the type of work you’re doing?

I work in actuarial evidence. I am a partner at GML Actuarial Services, an actuarial firm in Ottawa, which prepares reports to serve as evidence in civil litigation and family law proceedings. I produce reports that quantify financial loss arising out of such events as personal injury, wrongful dismissal, and fatality. Examples of financial losses that we often value for civil litigation files are loss of employment income and/or pension, cost of future care, and loss of collateral benefits. AE actuaries also act as expert witnesses in court should the case proceed to trial. Given that I only obtained my Fellowship recently I have yet to testify but I may be called soon!

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

There are many things I enjoy about my job. When it comes to the content of my work, I enjoy the balance between prescribed assumptions and professional judgment. There are many components to our reports that are prescribed (e.g., discount rates, calculation method, etc.) and so the rules stay consistent from report to report. On the other hand, the situation of each individual is entirely unique (e.g., occupation, employment history, health status, age, ambitions, etc.) making it such that even though the rules stay the same, a critical eye must be taken to each report to ensure that our non-prescribed assumptions and approaches are appropriate. Each new file gives you the opportunity to learn something new and to exercise your judgment and problem-solving skills. I also enjoy the communication aspect of my work content. Our reports should accurately quantify the financial loss at hand, but they should not be overly complicated. They should be easily digested by non-actuaries, lawyers, judges, and jury members. This encourages us to calculate and communicate concisely. The ability to make my own schedule and to work remotely doesn’t hurt either!

5. What are your short-term career ambitions?

Upon obtaining my Fellowship I was made partner at my firm. With that change in title came new responsibilities including business management and expansion. In the short term I plan on developing the skills required of this new role. Moreover, we have an opening for an actuarial assistant position that we’d like to fill for the new year. I am eager to welcome a new member to our team and to impart the knowledge I’ve acquired over my years working in actuarial evidence. I’m looking forward to new time management, communication, and mentorship challenges.

6. What has been your involvement with the CIA since obtaining your FCIA designation?

I have volunteered to help organize the annual actuarial evidence seminar for 2020. I’ve been attending the seminar since 2014 and am looking forward to pitching in and getting a behind-the-scenes look at how it’s put together. I know that it will also give me the opportunity to connect with some wonderful people along the way. I’ve also volunteered my services to the task force in charge of promoting and expanding the AE field, and so you may see me pop up in a webcast or presentation in the near future. Prior to obtaining my FCIA I gave presentations at the annual AE seminar on multiple occasions and helped compile, order, and post custom tabulations from Statistics Canada surveys for and on the CIA’s website.

7. What are your hobbies?

I don’t think it counts as a hobby, but most of all I enjoy spending time with my friends and family. I think that may be in part a result of the years of limited time through the exam process. I love listening to live music, finding new and interesting events around town, and travelling. I’m also really enjoying reading and learning about spirituality as well as love and relationships.

8. Where is your dream vacation destination?

While answering these questions I’m actually working remotely from Bermuda for two weeks, so thinking about my dream vacation destination right now seems a bit greedy! I am very grateful to be able to work remotely, and Bermuda is an incredibly beautiful place. Earlier this year I also worked remotely from Costa Rica! Two places that I’ve always wanted to travel to but haven’t yet are Brazil and India.

9. What is your motto?

Try everything at least once.

10. What advice do you have for aspiring actuaries?

I would advise them not to give up. The freedom that your professional destination will give you will be well worth the long slog through the exams. Also, do some research into non-traditional fields of actuarial science. There may be something in there that you haven’t come across yet and that really piques your interest. Lastly, zoom out. As actuaries we tend to be very detail-oriented people. Make sure that you’re taking the time to zoom out and look at the whole picture whether that be in a calculation, a report, your job, or your life.

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