Naomi Cooney, FIA, is a Financial Sector Specialist, Disaster Risk Financing and Insurance Program at the World Bank Group in Washington, D.C.

Q: When did you first decide to become an actuary?

During my final year of school my business teacher mentioned actuary as a career for those interested in mathematics and business. My best subjects in school were mathematics and accountancy and I was torn between applying for actuarial or accountancy courses in college. To be honest, I didn’t know a whole lot about actuaries, other than you needed to be good with numbers and that it offered good career prospects. In the end, I applied for courses in financial and actuarial mathematics and ultimately began the journey of becoming an actuary as soon as I joined university.

Q: Who or what influenced your decision?

My mum was my biggest influence, providing both guidance and encouragement from school, right through qualifying as an actuary. She instilled a dedicated work ethic and a motivation to achieve results in both myself and my five siblings. She did a lot of research on university options, arranged for me to talk to an actuary before applying for university courses, and encouraged me throughout my actuarial journey.

Q: What is your educational background? Where did you attend college, and what was your major? Did you have any internships during college?

I attended Dublin City University, studying Financial and Actuarial Mathematics. The course offered us an 8 month actuarial work placement during our third year which proved to be invaluable and set many people up for their future careers.

Q: What classes did you take in college that helped prepare you for the career? What class was most helpful? What non-quantitative classes were helpful?

College seems like a long time ago! Many of my college classes were in actuarial mathematics which set me up nicely for taking the actuarial professional exams when I started work. In hindsight, I often wished that my college course covered more general topics like classes in MS Excel and VBA, which would come in useful in most jobs! I also wished I paid more attention in my first year economics classes – as somehow I’ve ended up in a job surrounded by economists!

Q: What was your first job in the profession? How did you get the job? Did you start as an intern or in an actuarial training program? What type of work did you perform in you first actuarial job?

My first job was in Dublin as a trainee actuary in the actuarial operations department of Irish Life Assurance, now part of the Great West Life Company of Canada. I started in the role as an intern during my third year college work placement and returned after final year (after a few summer months travelling around the US!).

Q: When did you take your first exam? How long did it take for you to get through the exam process? Did you find studying for exams to be very helpful for your work?

I joined the UK Institute and Faculty of Actuaries when I started in my first job. Lucky for me, I was awarded exemptions for the first part of the IFOA actuarial exams through my college course results. My first job provided great study support and it was definitely helpful to work in an environment with many other trainee actuaries. It took me 3 years to finish the IFOA exams from when I started my first job. Working in a life insurance company I took the life insurance specialism and it was great to take the exams at the same time as working; work complimented study and vice versa.

Q: What was your career path from your first job to your current position?

I worked in a life insurance company for five years in both an actuarial operations department and an actuarial valuations department. From there I moved to the actuarial practice of KPMG and gained exposure to numerous insurance and reinsurance companies in life, non-life and pensions areas. I spent six years in KPMG and the varied nature of the work really appealed to me. Then I fell in love with a boy and followed him to the US! This brought me to my current position in the World Bank Group in Washington D.C.

Q: What type of work do you do on a day-to-day basis in your current position?

I work in the area of disaster risk financing and insurance, supporting governments of low and middle income countries to increase their financial resilience against natural disasters. In this position I support governments with evaluating their financial exposure to natural disasters, and in designing and evaluating financial instruments to manage this exposure. I lead a program called disaster risk finance analytics which focuses on developing analytics tools and information to support financial protection decision making. Over the last three years the work has brought me to the Philippines, Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar, Kenya, and Serbia, and I’ve provided actuarial support to projects in numerous other countries. For those interested, more information on the program I lead can be found here.

Q: How long have you been in the profession?

I’ve been in the profession 13 years.

Q: What do you like best about your job?

Being a part of a team that is helping to increase the financial resilience of countries around the world means the work has real meaning and purpose. Working in the World Bank provides the opportunity to work with numerous different professionals and cultures from around the world, and to work on a variety of topics including amongst others, sovereign budget protection, agriculture insurance and scalable social protection.

Q: What advice would you give to students who are interested in becoming an actuary?

The exams are tough but they are worth the effort in the long run! Opportunities are endless and the actuarial profession is highly regarded around the world. Talk to as many people as you can to learn about all the different roles that exist in both traditional and non-traditional areas. Don’t feel you as though you have to settle in one area of work once you’ve accepted that first job. I, and many others, have successfully moved on from our initial practice areas. Network, network, network!