Daniel McFadden '12
Actuarial Analyst, Canal Insurance
How did you find your way to where you are today? Share a little about your professional journey.
Coming from Daytona Beach, Florida, I was recruited to play football at Furman. I knew I was strong in math, but by the end of my junior year, I had no clue what I wanted to do once I graduated.
I debated majoring in accounting, computer sciences or mathematics, but eventually ended up as a double math-economics major.
Mentioning this dilemma to my academic advisor, he suggested that I consider a career as an actuary. He told me how actuaries use mathematics and business skills to measure and manage risk and uncertainty.
The summer after my junior year, I began seeking actuary internships, but had no luck, so I took a position at Northwestern Mutual. After realizing I wanted more, I began searching again for actuary internships and landed at Canal Insurance as a product analyst in 2012.
It wasn’t where I wanted to be, but it was a push in the right direction. In January 2013, that transitioned into a full-time position and now four years and six actuary exams later, I am still at Canal as an actuarial analyst.Was there a catalyzing experience be that critical meeting, research or discovery, being recruited, failing, starting over, or major event, that shaped your career? What advice would you offer someone in the same situation?
With no exams passed when I transitioned to my full-time position—which is uncommon today with a requirement of at least two exams—I sat for the first exam in November 2012.
Not understanding the difficulty of the exam, I ended up failing not one, not two, not three, not four, but five times. Each time I failed, I debated changing careers or if the time wasted studying was worth it, but I continued to believe in myself, stayed the course, and eventually passed.
Since that time, I've passed five additional exams on the first try. For anyone who may be struggling to overcome a hurdle or bump in the road, continue to believe in yourself and know that the hurdle only wins if you stop trying to jump it. Don't let failures define you and make your failures a testimony.
When providing advice for professional development, what are some tools or resources one should consider?
I highly recommend anyone pursuing the actuarial field to find ways to improve their communication and presentation skills, and learn to manage their time.
Being able to communicate and present mathematics in a convincing, understandable way is a major skill that distinguishes the good from the great. Your ability to communicate effectively and help people understand your “why” is better than someone who can only give you the right answer, but no reasoning behind it.
Managing your time is essential in keeping a balance between your professional and social life. The rigors of the exam process will cause you to miss out on many social events, but if you manage your time wisely, you will be able to balance them both. I recommend going to your college resource office or career services office to learn practice interview and resume skills.
In the actuarial field, analyzing big data sets is an everyday task. Joining community data roundtables to learn about new software and statistical programs can give you a great advantage amongst the competition.How would you recommend someone interested in the same career/vocation pursue a similar path?
I would first see what it takes to get to the top. By visiting beanactuary.com, you will find information about the exam process, blogs of other actuary students, and different actuary organizations and resources.
To get an entry-level job, you will most likely need to have passed at least two exams, show the ability to communicate and be open to other positions in the company. I've seen plenty of times within my company where someone started in a different position and ended up in the position they wanted in the long run.
How is success defined in your career field? (How did Furman prepare you to be successful?)
Success is defined by not just meeting the minimum requirement, but by going over and beyond what's asked of you. Furman prepared me in that aspect because daily you're surrounded by individuals who are just as intelligent and passionate as you to learn and grow, so they push you to be better than average. When I'm able to go over and beyond my daily tasks, I'm able to give more or give back to what was given to me.
What do you wish you would have known getting started in your field?
I wish I would have known about actuaries before my senior year. That way I would have taken at least two or three exams while still in undergrad. The first four exams are preliminary exams consisting of probability, financial mathematics, financial economics and statistics.What additional education or certification is required/recommended?
would recommend taking a computer science course to learn computer coding and computer languages. Your ability to gather, scrub and reconcile data is a major skill that can come to your advantage when you are asked to prepare ad-hoc reports.
I would also recommend you learn either SAS, R, other statistical programs. More insurance companies are looking for entry-level actuaries who are proficient with data analytics.
How has your liberal arts background shaped your career path or supported your success?
Liberal arts helped give me a diverse view of life and culture. Exposure to a wide array of subjects made me a more valuable employee.
Liberal arts help develop critical thinking skills that can help you overcome challenges and struggles faced on the job and in life. It also expanded my capacity of lifelong learning.What extracurricular activities helped you develop professionally?
I was on scholarship to play football while at Furman. The most profound skill I built that has transitioned over to the workforce is time management. To balance work deadlines, study hours for exam preparation, and social/family life, time management is a must.
Were there particular courses within the economics department that were especially useful in helping you identify your career or that ended up helping you to be successful in your career (maybe unexpectedly)?
One course was Empirical Methods in Economics with Dr. Peterson. I mentioned earlier that I did not have any exams under my belt when I started full-time at Canal, which is uncommon because most entry-level actuary positions require at least two exams.
Learning liner regression, modeling and data statistics in the Empirical Methods course helped me stand out and assist the lead actuary during my internship.
Were there particular projects or activities from any of your economics courses that were especially useful?
My linear regression modeling and skills learned while completing the data project in my Empirical Methods course helped me while I interned at Canal. I was able to use the same process and a similar software tool to assist the lead actuary in her year-end project of identifying a new predictive variable.
Were there particular “engaged learning” experiences (e.g. internships, study away, research opportunities) that were especially useful?
My internship at Canal working in the actuarial department help confirm what I wanted to pursue in life. It further identified my strengths and my weaknesses.Any other "highlights" from your experience in economics?
Even though I didn't do as well as I should have in some economic courses, I still appreciate the rigorous schoolwork. I now see why Furman is distinguished as a prestigious academic school. The level of work given can easily transition over to the real world.