Actuarial Interview Series – Mary Pat Campbell

Actuarial Interview Series - Mary Pat Campbell


Mary Pat Campbell


Insurance Industry Researcher (at Conning in Hartford) and Instructor (with The Infinite Actuary)




Hartford, CT and online (mainly work from my house in NY)


Life, Investments, ERM


Why did you choose the actuarial profession?

I had just decided that an academic math career was not in the works for me, and I realized that the money I was making teaching math would not keep me in the lifestyle which I preferred. So I cast about for a numbers-related profession where I could make a comfortable salary. I also tried to break into other areas of finance, but my timing was very poor – I started looking in 2002, when NYC and the economy in general were in the doldrums.

What misconceptions did you have about the actuarial profession before you started your first full-time job?

One misconception had to do with the availability of jobs. Much of the marketing of the profession had been put out well before the 2001 recession (and frankly, the societies have kept it up even though entry-level positions had greatly tightened). I also didn’t realize how geographically concentrated the profession was, but to a large extent that was irrelevant to me as I wanted to stay in the NYC metro area.

What do you wish you had known about the profession when you were just writing your actuarial exams?

Pay more attention to regulations (and how they developed). It wasn’t until I finished exams that I really perked up to the impact of regulation on the industry.

How is what you studied (college and actuarial exams) relevant at your job?

There has been a couple very specific skill sets I picked up over the years that was helpful: problem-solving techniques in general have stood me in good stead, especially testing limits of a problem (as well as concentrating on what the real goal is, and not getting lost in the details).

As for the actuarial exams, some key ones were Life Contingencies and the Investment-related exams — I built a variety of Excel calculators while studying for the old Course 3 (life contingencies, primarily), which I got to use in multiple purposes at various jobs (and donated one version to the SOA) — for actual calculations for specific customers, for general illustrations for marketing use, for testing the pricing of some annuities.

The Investments exams started me off in directions where I got more into thinking about asset-liability modelling, and troubles that can arise in that sphere. My readings on these topics definitely didn’t stop with the prescribed syllabuses, as there’s always more to learn.

What class do you wish you had taken in college?

I wish I could’ve gotten into the sensory psychology course. It was over-subscribed, and the psych majors got first stab at it.

What’s your best time-saving trick?

Saying “no”.

What apps/software/tools you can’t live without?

I’d say my Macbook Pro. I use it to produce my TIA videos and other materials, but I also use it to use such tools as R and certain Excel plugins that I can’t convince IT at my day job to let me install.

What do you like the most/least about your job.

For both of my jobs I get to talk and write a lot. I love that. In particular, I love sucking in information, digesting it, and then putting it in a form useful for other people.

For my research job, my main peeve is talking with reporters who don’t do their homework (or expect me to write their articles with absolutely no credit).

For the TIA job, I get really annoyed by massive or surprise changes in the exams by the SOA.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager or how do you stay on top of projects?

Sticky notes on my monitor (short-term to do) + lists on my whiteboard (long-term to do)

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

The Keurig machine at the day job.

What’s your workspace like?

Piles of books and papers. And lots of tea mugs. My office is at the end of a hall, tucked in the corner, and I call it my hobbit hole.

Mary Pat Campbell Actuarial Workspace 

What’s your office schedule like?

For TIA, I’m mainly writing my material at night, and recording my videos from about 3am – 6am

At Conning, I have regular office hours. There’s not a standard schedule – other than a weekly team meeting. I’m generally reading material throughout the day – I have several automated news feeds on the insurance/finance biz that I’m looking at, and I have longer term deadlines for studies, articles, etc. When I’m in writing mode, I generally sit in my hobbit hole for a couple hours at a time and just bang away, popping out occasionally to refresh the tea mug.

If you were to host “What Really Grinds My Gears” show related to your work, what would be the subject that you would dedicate most of airtime to?

Crashing Excel…

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“Be a good animal” – my dad

Do you travel much for work and if yes where?

Not currently

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Having absurd conversations with my children and amusing ones with my husband, and then posting them on Facebook.

One online/offline publication you can’t go without reading is?

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter

Star Wars or Star Trek?

Red Dwarf


Extra stuff:

My piece of advice to those into a business career (whether actuarial or otherwise) is to improve communication skills by using them: join Toastmasters, take opportunities to speak publicly or to write in professional publications… and if you’re interested in writing about actuarial-related stuff I can hook you up with some appropriate SOA publications. One doesn’t need to be a member of the SOA to do that.


Mary Pat can be found on LinkedIn  as well as on Actuarial Outpost.

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