Interview with the ASNA Founders

By August 19, 2021 No Comments

With André Choquet and Dominic Déry

1.   Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your school and career paths?

André: I was born in Montreal to a French Canadian father and an Austrian mother. Math was always a joy and easy for me. I liked the order. My secondary 4 math teacher told me about the actuarial profession and I was attracted to it from her rendition. I went to Concordia University because of the ActSci program, the COOP program and the opportunity to improve my English. After graduating I worked in Toronto for Mercer. After 4 years seeking new challenges, I jumped on an opportunity to move to the Caribbean – first in Trinidad & Tobago (2 years) and then Jamaica (3 years). I was a volunteer adult literacy teacher in T&T and part of a guitar duo performing in local jazz clubs. I took the opportunity to finish my actuarial exams in 1995. In Jamaica I worked for the first female Caribbean actuary (Daisy McFarlane-Coke) in her consulting firm in Kingston. We went through the Jamaican financial crisis in 1997 which gave me practice for future financial crises of 2000 and 2008.

Attracted by the fields of Financial Economics and Enterprise Risk Management in 2006 I moved on to larger employers: Watson Wyatt, RBC, Aon and OPTrust. I am now Director, Client Portfolio Management at Russell Investments helping clients develop investment strategies for their multi-million pension plan, endowment or foundations. Dominic: I graduated in 1990 from the actuarial school of Laval University. I was then hired by René Beaudry to work at Martineau Provencher, a Quebec firm that was later bought by Aon. After 4 years, my desire for entrepreneurship pushed me to join René who had just created Normandin Beaudry. It was the beginning of the great adventure of Normandin Beaudry. At that time, we could count on one hand only the number of employees we had. Over 25 years later, I am now a senior partner and owner of a firm with more than 250 employ ees in three locations in Canada. Normandin Beaudry is one of the largest private consulting actuarial firms in the country. My expertise began in the field of pension consulting, both in administration and in investment consulting. Now I’ve established myself in all aspects of management and overall compensation.

2.   What inspired you to start a non-profit organization like ASNA?

André: I am a social person who believes that one individual is never stronger than the group to which he/she belongs. The key is to harness the strength of the collective for the ben efit of each individual. The biggest challenge for an actuarial student is that the exam process is long, arduous and basically a lonesome endeavour. An association like ASNA makes the pilgrimage more successful by bringing people together.

Dominic: We were having a discussion with friends about what we were most concerned about; exams to become a Fellow. I’m sure this is still a reality for you! At the time, the CIA and SOA were in the process of rethinking the exam structure. We felt excluded from the process so I was challenged to create a voice for the students to participate in these discussions. Our idea was to create a student association, but unlike the ones you would find at a university. We wanted to create an interuniversity association. So we created ASNA, an asso- ciation by students for students.

3.   What were your expectations towards ASNA when you first started it?

André: The first expectations were to hold annual meetings and get actuarial students to exchange experiences and study tips. Along with that, we wanted to create opportunities for mentoring. We wanted to bring experienced actuaries to the annual meetings and have them talk with students so that they know what to expect before getting into the industry.

Dominic: Have the recognition of our respective professional corporations, starting with the CIA. One of the big goals was to have a national coverage, which we managed to achieve in the early years. Also, I wanted to make sure the association continues to grow when I leave – it was one of my biggest goals.

4.   What were the challenges that you had to face in the first years of ASNA?

André: In the summer of 1989, I had a summer work term at MLH&A, an actuarial consulting firm in Montreal that eventually became Aon. When I first approached the office managing director for funding, his first reaction was: “is ASNA going to be a sort of union for actuarial students?” I had to reassure him that it was not the case at all. Another challenge is that I did not know much about forming an association and creating by-laws, so we were flying by the seat of our pants! Dominic Déry, the first ASNA president was a driving force to help us go through these challenges. Also, in 1989, the Internet, cell phones and Email did not exist so exchanging between executive committee members was a challenge. We were using fax machines to communicate between each other on a real time basis! Dominic: We had to create the organization, find and bring interested people together from multiple universities in order to realize this idea of a national association. Our timing for the creation of the ASNA was very good. We discovered after our initial conversation with the CIA that they were looking for a way to speak with students to get their perspective on the exam reform. In this context, it was easier to convince the CIA of the seriousness of our project and the organization. Another big challenge was to find funding. We did our first ASNA magazine and then went to actuarial consulting firms and insurance companies to sell advertisements in our magazine. Additionally, with a financial plan, we obtained a grant from Laval University and a sponsorship from the CIA.

5.  Was it hard to let go of it and delegate to the executives and the conven tion committee?

André: Not really; when I graduated, I moved to Toronto in February 1990 and I got busy quickly with my first job at Mercer and other volunteer tasks. I had to pass it on to others and that was understood. A particularity of the actuarial profession is that it thrives on the efforts of hundreds of volunteers. I do not know of any other profession that has so many professionals volunteering their time to mark exams and create new exam questions. Also, some ASNA past executives went on and became mentors to other students joining as well.

Dominic: For the organization to remain active for a long time, it must not depend on those who created it, so it was not difficult to leave the association, because I knew it was for the best. In addition, when I left ASNA I had just started my new job with new challenges. At the start of the association’s creation, we also made sure that we had representatives from all years so that not everyone would graduate at the same time. I still kept in touch with them at the beginning to help them in case there had any problems.

6.  ASNA has now become impressive with 17 member universities, and more than 30 companies and 600 students that attend the annual convention each year. What are your thoughts on this?

André: It is fantastic! In any industry, conferences attracting 600 attendees are impres sive. It is beyond our original expectations! Also, the fact that ASNA lasted for 30 years is amaz ing. The link between the industry and the students is really strong and helpful for students for them to understand what happens after they graduate.

Dominic: I felt a mixture of pride and nostalgia! I am really surprised to see that there are 17 Canadian member universities! I also noticed that the convention attracts more than 600 students per year, which proves that it is in good health.

7.   What are the qualities that future actuaries should have to succeed?

André: First curiosity is a big one. Do not think that your current field of expertise is what you are going to be dealing with forever. Always be curious about other fields where actuarial practice can be applied. For example I am currently vice-chair of the CIA Climate Change and Sustainability Committee to seek to apply actuarial practice in measuring and managing the risks associated with climate change. Also, despite challenges, always persevere! I had to write the same exam P460 5 times before finally succeeding. I remember complaining about it to my older brother Pierre. I asked him after failure #4 “what should I do?” He told me “just keep on doing it! If that is what you want, just keep going!” . Another thing is to always give 100% of yourself. You cannot go to work and only half be present; you have to give your best, every- day. Last one is flexibility – because of Artificial Intelligence (AI), our work will certainly change in the future so be flexible toward change and see it as a way to improve and work better! Beside your degree and qualifications, employers are looking for solid technical skills, a cando mentality and a creative way to face adversity.

Dominic: I encourage actuaries to be entrepreneurs. We have a particular expertise in actuarial science which can be useful for important social and environmental debates in society. Don’t be afraid to use your expertise to help meet the challenges of tomorrow.