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Daniel Wolak


B.S. Mathematics 1975, M.S. Statistics 1977

Senior Vice President, General Re Life Corporation

Dan Wolak was made aware of the actuarial profession by a Professor at Purdue during his junior year of an undergraduate degree in mathematics. "What I really remember, at that time when I was a junior, was that the actuarial field would require me to take a series of 10 exams, most after graduating college," he recalled. "My thought at that time was that I wanted to work just 40 hours a week, and make a lot of money!! So I decided to go and complete my MS." Wolak obtained his Master of Science in Statistics in 1977.

"By the time I completed my MS," he said, "I 'reluctantly' conceded that I would need to work more than 40 hours on work/study!" After graduation Wolak started his first job in the Group Insurance Division of an insurance company and successfully completed in 4½ years the rigorous exam certification process, which normally takes four to eight years to complete.

"The actuarial field is unique in that actuaries must be certified through an exam process to achieve the highest professional designations," explained Wolak. "For the actuary that pursues the U.S. life insurance direction, the exam series continues to evolve, but generally involves 7 to 8 exams/courses and a professional development component. The initial exams test proficiency in calculus and statistics and the later exams test knowledge of insurance products and principles." Wolak credits his Purdue education for allowing him to pass the initial exams with high marks.

"Naturally the down side of the profession is that it takes a number of years of studying and test taking after graduating college to achieve the highest designation, Fellow, Society of Actuaries," Wolak said. "The upside is that companies provide an environment to encourage exam passing; actuarial students working at companies receive salary increases related to passing exams, and the exams are an objective way that each student can increase his/her value in the marketplace."

Wolak certainly thinks the effort is worth it. He said, "The actuarial profession has actually been ranked as the number one job in the U.S. by several job magazines." Today Wolak is a Senior Vice President at General Re Life Corporation in Stamford, CT and manages its Group Life & Health Division.

Wolak’s company works with other insurance companies to reinsure either a proportion of their insurance risk or the amount that claims exceed a particular large dollar threshold. As the Senior Vice President, Wolak said, "I have responsibility for the prices we charge, the underwriting of risk decisions, the marketing direction, and the financial results." About a third of his day is spent outside the office with clients or at industry meetings. Another third, he said, "is spent at meetings in the office, either 1-on-1 with my staff, departmental meetings, or corporate level meetings. The other third of my time at this stage is spent on project activity or day-to-day e-mail requests." Although Wolak did not study actuarial science at Purdue (the program did not develop until the 1980s), he said that his statistics background is valuable in analyzing insurance claims. "It is basically the Bayesian estimation techniques at work," Wolak explained. "For insurance purchased by groups, the size of the group determines the rating method used. For small groups (5 to 50 employees), generally a ‘manual’ rate is developed from the demographics of the group. For large groups, over 300 employees for health and 2,000 lives for life insurance, a manual rate is not used. Rather the group’s prior years’ claim experience is used, projected into the coming year. The statistical principle is how and when to rely on the experience of a group, and when to rely more on the manual rate, and when to rely on a blend of each."

Today Purdue has an active Actuary Club, and Wolak spoke with its members several times when he worked in Indianapolis. "I was impressed by the students who were active in the club," he said. "I suggest that current students use it as a way to learn more about the profession and begin to familiarize themselves with the exam series." However, he added that becoming an actuary is only one career path for statistics. To current students, he advised, "There are many different ways to use your statistics background. I would encourage you to explore those different areas before you begin your job search to better position yourself."

"The Purdue education, especially working through the Masters program, provided indirect benefits to me of expanding my technical base and developing my willingness to work hard, since a Masters in Statistics is not easy to achieve!" Along those lines, Wolak advised current students, "Work hard, or continue to work hard. Developing good work habits now are as important, or in some cases more important, than your GPA."

For more information on the actuarial profession, Wolak recommends and

For more information on the world of reinsurance, see

Daniel Wolak received the Actuarial Science Outstanding Alumni Award from Purdue University, Department of Statistics and Department of Mathematics in 2007.

To read more Alumni Profiles, please visit our Alumni Profiles archive.

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