The industry needs to be more intentional if the actuarial field is to become more diverse.
Today there are more than 27,500 actuaries in the U.S1, yet the Society of Actuaries estimates that less than three percent of its U.S members are Black2. In the interview below, Stafford Thompson, Jr., senior vice president of Life and Executive Benefits Business Management for Lincoln Financial Group, shares his thoughts on diversifying the actuarial profession. Stafford is a fellow of the Society of Actuaries and a member of the American Academy of Actuaries, a founding member and former president of the International Association of Black Actuaries and has been named one of the most influential Black executives in Corporate America by Savoy Magazine.
What are some of the biggest barriers to Black students looking to enter the actuarial profession?
The biggest barrier continues to be awareness of the profession in a timeframe that allows them to develop a resume in-line with what employers are looking for. Actuarial job descriptions are very specific and tend to be tailored to those who found out about the profession early, went through predefined actuarial programs and graduated with two or three actuarial exams already passed. That’s not the path of many minority actuarial students – they often find out about the profession in college, in which case they may have fewer exams passed when they finish school.
In the case of those who don’t find out about the profession until later in college, they also have the challenge of gaining access to the same opportunities and preparations that those who knew about the profession before college or in their freshman year have.
What should Black students know about the profession?
First, know that this is an exciting profession. Many students who are good at math ask, “what will I do with this skill?” They often look to careers such as teaching, engineering or accounting – but don’t consider actuarial science.
Actuarial science combines math and business into one, opening up a lot of different career paths. There’s the traditional career path within the various insurance industries, modeling and analyzing risk. Those can even lead to executive-level positions. At Lincoln, our incoming CEO, Ellen Cooper, and our CFO, Randy Freitag are both actuaries.
Many actuaries also find themselves taking consultant roles, where they get to apply their skills on behalf of different companies, focusing on different topics.
Today, we’re even seeing the actuarial profession open up to different industries. Global tech companies and startups are hiring actuaries to help solve traditional problems in non-traditional ways.
For those pursuing an actuarial career, they should also know that advancement early-on is largely based on exam performance and the ability to do a good job in your role. In many ways, the profession is a meritocracy in the early stages.
How can our industry help diversify the actuarial field so it more closely reflects society as a whole?
It won’t happen by accident or happenstance. The industry needs to be more intentional if the actuarial field is to become more diverse. Robert Randall became the first fully certified Black actuary in 1952. It took 40 years to grow the number of certified Black actuaries to 25 by the time the International Association of Black Actuaries (IABA) formed in 1992. Since then, we’ve seen exponential growth thanks to the efforts of IABA and other organizations. Now there are more than 225 fully certified Black actuaries in the country. But if we’re to grow that number to 1,000 in the next 5-10 years, we need more hands on-deck – companies, industry bodies, universities.
Look for part two of this interview with Stafford next Monday, Dec. 13, when Stafford will share his thoughts on the progress being made and what companies can do to further the efforts. Stafford will also provide career advice for Black actuaries – from those who are still students to established professionals.
1.Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Actuaries
2. Society of Actuaries, SOA Diversity Report, December 2020
Lincoln Financial Group is the marketing name for Lincoln National Corporation and its affiliates.