Business Schools

Risks and Rewards at Ernst & Young


This Wisconsin grad found work as an actuarial analyst, quantifying risk in various business scenarios

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business, I was looking for a career in a challenging, fast-paced environment -- one that would get me excited about coming to work every day. Now that I've completed my first six months with Ernst & Young's Insurance & Actuarial Advisory Services (IAAS) practice in the New York headquarters, I'm confident I have found my niche.

Typically, after I tell people what I do for a living, I have to actually explain my job as an actuarial analyst. Actuaries are experts in quantifying risk in different business situations. They solve problems and answer questions, such as "How much should Insurance Company X charge for a specific policy?" In my division at Ernst & Young, I use business, communication, and technical skills, as well as my knowledge of the insurance marketplace, to offer solutions to clients to help them manage various types of risk.

There's never a dull moment in a consulting setting, as you will see from my typical day:

6:30 a.m. -- I stop at a coffee stand on Wall Street before I squeeze onto a full train headed uptown. I eat a croissant and get my daily dose of caffeine on the train. Ernst & Young’s Manhattan office is in the middle of Times Square. Luckily, I arrive early enough, so the tourists aren't yet outside.

7:00 a.m. -- As I get off the elevator, I pass Alex, one of my co-workers. Without stopping, he says, "We've got work to do, conference call with the CFO of our client at 10 a.m." I grab my laptop and files and hustle down the hallway to the conference room that we have been working out of for the past several days.

7:45 a.m. -- While I scan our analysis spreadsheets and make notes to myself for the upcoming call, I glance at my e-mail every few minutes and watch as messages come in from all around the country. In our group, work moves seamlessly from managers in L.A. to analysts in Atlanta. In total, Ernst & Young employs more than 100,000 people in 140 countries.

9:30 a.m. -- Alex and I sit side by side with our laptops, reconciling all interconnected analysis files and printing off papers. We make sure all documents are peer-reviewed by other colleagues and, after a few last-minute adjustments, hit the send button and e-mail the package to the client.

10:00 a.m. -- We dial in to the conference call. The objective of this project is to estimate the amount of money that a large corporation will need to keep in reserve for workers' compensation claims that have occurred but haven't yet been settled. The client is pleased with our work after a round of questions.

11:00 a.m. -- I spend the rest of the morning answering voice mails and returning e-mails that I received during the morning. Instant messages also pop up on my screen every few minutes from co-workers around the globe.

Noon -- Navid, the manager of the New York office for my team, drops by and asks if I'm up for lunch. I send off the e-mail I'm writing and head down to the cafeteria.

12:45 p.m. -- I return to my desk to find my phone blinking red, and I see that I missed a call from Bermuda. We're doing insurance-pricing work for a client there. The seller of an insurance policy doesn't know how much the claims are going to cost him until many years after the initial transaction. Determining an appropriate price requires a blend of probability, statistics, and economics.

1:30 p.m. -- After reviewing work for the Bermuda client (and getting sidetracked briefly by several other requests), I call the client back to discuss questions.

3:00 p.m. -- It's study time. As an actuary, I must pass a series of several professional exams. The entire accreditation process can take between five and 10 years to complete.

5:00 p.m. -- I forward a report to a co-worker for review, respond to an e-mail from a student from UW-Madison who recently interviewed with Ernst & Young, and check the Internet for breaking financial news.

6:15 p.m. -- I take five minutes at the end of each day to make notes to myself on the current status of each of the jobs I'm working on. Now it's time to go.

7:30 p.m. -- One of the benefits of living in Manhattan is that people are always visiting. Tonight, I'm grabbing a bite to eat with someone who went to college with me.

10:00 p.m. -- On the subway ride home, I flick through the next day's schedule in my head. No two days are the same. Tomorrow, there's a recruiting event, a planning meeting for a new project, and a team-building dinner.

ALWAYS HIRING.

On any given day, the skills I developed as an undergrad at Wisconsin are essential to my success. Not only does my work require strong technical knowledge, but the constant interaction with co-workers and clients tells me the lessons I picked up in my communication, marketing, and management courses are equally critical.

Ernst & Young is continually hiring from the best business schools across the country, for IAAS and many other groups. I was fortunate to have a connection with a recent alum who was working at the company, but any student with a strong academic record and a demonstrated foresight in his or her career planning has a good shot at getting an interview. Internships and involvement on campus are always a big advantage, as well.

If I could go back to my undergraduate program again, there isn't much I would have done differently. My best advice to anyone is to find something that you're interested in and learn about what you need to do to make a career of it. For me, this meant picking up three majors in the business school -- actuarial science; risk management and insurance; and finance, investment, and banking -- and taking an active role in my university's student organizations. And spending many late nights in the library.

Justin can be reached via e-mail at: justin.brenden@gmail.com

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