New Electives in M.S. in Actuarial Science Reflect Industry Needs

The Master of Science in Actuarial Science program at Columbia University continually strives to stay ahead of the curve in determining what courses would best serve their students and industry.

Program Director Noor Rajah says, “We want our graduates to be able to hit the ground running,” meaning they will be able to execute strategies that most junior level actuaries don’t have access to or don’t get involved with until a few years into the profession. We also want to strike a balance between purely technical skills and the ability to communicate effectively and manage relationships.”

It is a given that students need to pass a certain number of actuarial examinations before they become credentialed. The M.S. program prepares students for these tests, but offers much more. “You don’t need to come to Columbia to learn how to pass a multiple choice test, you want to come to Columbia to advance your career,” says Rajah.

The M.S. program is grounded in essential core courses, but new electives are continually created to keep the program relevant. Here are the three newest piloted electives introduced in the M.S. program in the spring semester because of their practical application for actuaries:

Investment and Asset Liability Modeling (ALM) for Actuaries
This course develops an understanding of the fundamental concepts of Investment and ALM for actuaries. A basic knowledge of financial mathematics is assumed. The course is an elective, providing students with the knowledge to apply in a practical sense, the theoretical framework that they learned from the foundational actuarial examinations.

At the end of the course, students are able to:

  • Follow the investment management process primarily for insurance companies, and to a lesser extent for pension funds or other financial intermediaries.
  • Understand the variety of financial instruments available to managed portfolios.
  • Understand the importance of the techniques and theory behind portfolio asset allocation.
  • Understand the specific considerations relative to managing a fixed income portfolio within an asset allocation framework.
  • Understand and apply portfolio management quantitative techniques.
  • Understand the purposes and methods of portfolio performance measurement.
  • Understand the behavior characteristics of individuals and firms, and be able to identify and apply concepts of behavioral finance.

Health Insurance
This course develops an understanding of the fundamental concepts of health care design and management in the United States, as well as an overview of the environment of health care and health care plans; it then covers health plan designs and cost-control techniques. Michael L. Frank, President & Actuary of Aquarius Capital teaches this course, A Global Perspective on the Health Insurance Market, focusing on different aspects of the healthcare insurance industry including products available, delivery systems (U.S. vs. International), healthcare reform, finance, reinsurance and capital markets.

The course is of particular relevance to students who have an interest in practicing as health care actuaries, or are interested in practicing in the health care management industry.

Life & Annuity Accounting
The first part of this course develops an understanding of the fundamental concepts of Life Insurance and Annuity valuation, as well as reserving with emphasis on statutory and GAAP valuations. In addition, it provides an overview of accounting and regulations as they relate to life insurance in the United States. The second part of the course covers product design and pricing of life insurance and annuity products, with emphasis on setting appropriate actuarial assumptions and various profitability measures.

According to Rajah, “We are innovating – constantly trying to improve our graduates’ employability, and staying aware of the pulse of the marketplace. We have been attracting brilliant people who want to teach in our program.”

Instructors include:

Michael Frank is the founder and president of Aquarius Capital. He is a Life and Health actuary with 24 years of experience, including executive management with insurance, reinsurance, employee benefits consulting and managed care entities. He is a very active member of the actuarial community, serving as the 2011 President of the Actuarial Society of Greater New York (AINY). Frank is also involved in various actuarial committees on healthcare reform (AAA and CCA), and in the Society of Actuaries LEARN program, teaching reinsurance to insurance regulators.

B. Roger Natarajan was a Chief Actuary at Ameriprise Financial (formerly known as IDS Life), and GE Financial Assurance. Roger has more than two decades of experience in statutory, GAAP, and tax accounting for all life insurance products. He has guided design and development of products for domestic and international markets (Asia and Latin America) across the entire spectrum of life and health insurance (Traditional, Universal, and Variable Universal), for close to 20 years. Natarajan has a Ph.D. in Mathematics, and is a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries and a Member of the American Academy of Actuaries.

Basil Rabinowitz has been teaching courses at the college level for more than 30 years. He developed the Actuarial program for Touro College, and has taught actuarial courses for Touro for over 2 decades. Most recently, he held the position of Senior Vice President at Assurant, Inc., where he was responsible for Enterprise Risk Management. Rabinowitz has extensive experience with asset management for insurance companies and Asset Liability Management (ALM). He has presented numerous papers at Society of Actuaries’ meetings, and was featured in the SOA Actuaries in Action video series. In 2010, he served as a member of the first Risk Committee of the Society of Actuaries. In addition, he was a member of the Advisory Council for the Risk Integration Strategy Council of the Corporate Executive Board for 2010.