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Published May 05, 2013, 11:30 PM

It's My Job: Actuary helps keep the Blues out of the red

FARGO – Brad Bartle’s favorite actuary joke goes a little like this: “What’s the difference between an introvert actuary and an extrovert actuary? The introvert looks at his shoes while he’s talking and the extrovert looks at the other person’s shoes.”

By: Angie Wieck, INFORUM

FARGO – Brad Bartle’s favorite actuary joke goes a little like this: “What’s the difference between an introvert actuary and an extrovert actuary? The introvert looks at his shoes while he’s talking and the extrovert looks at the other person’s shoes.”

The joke may not be funny to most because they do not know what an actuary does, but readers should take note. CareerCast, a website that annually ranks the best and worst jobs in the U.S., recently named actuary as the best job of 2013.

Bartle, vice president of actuarial and membership services at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, recently explained what an actuary does and what makes the job so attractive.

What exactly does an actuary do?

Actuaries use math and statistical skills or models to analyze business unknowns for the future.

Here, we make sure premiums are adequate to cover people’s claims and we make sure that the company is holding enough assets to cover future obligations.

In simpler terms, I would say if you think of an insurance company as a bucket of water, there is always water pouring in the top, and that is premium money. There is always money leaking out the bottom, and that is claims and things like rent and electric bills. An actuary makes sure that the water level never gets too high (charging too much in premiums) and never gets too low (running out of money).

How will the Affordable Care Act affect your job?

We call it “the health actuary full employment act.” It’s complicated. No company has been in this environment, at least in the United States, so we need to figure out how to position our products and charge the right premiums. We need to analyze what the government subsidies will be and analyze various risk elements. Those are all big, complicated problems.

What types of things do you analyze?

To determine adequate premiums, we look at past claims. We look at a recent set of people and how many and what kinds of claims they’ve generated. We look at the recent past, combine that with what we know about the present, and what we think we know about the near future.

Insurance is complicated. We need to monitor changes in regulations and an evolving medical field. A lot of things thought to be good practices turn out to be not so good. Sometimes new technology replaces old technology or practices.

Some of the work is very detailed. Some actuaries are very knowledgeable about prescription drugs. They know what is coming off patent and what has recently been approved by the FDA. They try to consider what might have wide application in the next year.

What makes the job so attractive?

What is usually noted is good pay, good opportunity and relatively low stress. I think stress can depend on the person and the situation. What I tell students who ask about the profession is that it is a good career in that if you can pass the exams and if you can do the job, you pretty well have a clear path to promotion. … As you pass exams, your market value increases. Either your current employer, or some other employer, will recognize that.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501

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