Grace Feng Wu Works Behind the Scenes on Affordable Care
Grace Feng Wu wanted to become a healthcare actuary. Due to her family’s personal experience with medical debt, she developed a passion for connecting needy individuals with the affordable care that they deserve.
But back when she was studying math as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, it took a while for her to discover her path. “I knew a little bit about the field of actuarial science,” she told Columbia, “but in my senior year, everything just came together.”
She felt drawn to this multidisciplinary career: “I think of actuarial science as a perfect mix of statistics, business and economics, and programming.” And Columbia’s M.S. in Actuarial Science program in particular offered Wu not only qualitative training but also honed her business skills to propel her career forward. She chose to enroll in the program full-time – though a part-time option is also available – and interned at AXA, Delta Dental, and Deloitte. Having graduated in 2013, she landed a full-time job later that year as a health actuary at Deloitte.
At her company’s Rockefeller Center location in New York City, she spoke with us about the uniqueness of the program, her work at Deloitte, and her mission to make affordable healthcare a reality.
What drew you to the Actuarial Science program?
It was always my dream to get an advanced degree. The master’s in Actuarial Science made a lot of sense in terms of my passion and what I wanted to do, which was to become a health actuary. That’s what I do now, and I enjoy my job.
I’m the only person from my family who graduated with a college degree, let alone an advanced degree. That’s partly due to my family’s experience with healthcare back in China. My dad got sick there, and the system was different back then; if you didn’t have enough money, you couldn’t go see a doctor. So he did see a doctor, but he incurred a large amount of debt. My other siblings couldn’t go to college because they had to work and pay the bills.
I was interested in helping people gain better access to health services. Healthcare is very personal. If you don’t have money to pay for your medical bills or if the system is not set up properly, it could affect your work life and your personal life.
What drew you to Columbia specifically?
When I was applying for schools, I did a lot of research. A lot of other actuarial programs, they focused on developing technical skills. Columbia not only focused on the quantitative aspect but also had a strong focus on leadership development and communication skills.
Another huge aspect that drew me to Columbia was our choice of special electives. Actuarial science is very different depending on which industry you go into. You could specialize in P&C (property and casualty), pensions, life insurance, health insurance – each role is distinct. The program gave me the opportunity to explore all of these options to see which one I was most interested in. Not a lot of actuarial programs have this option.
Can you explain what you do here at Deloitte?
My company is very different from other actuarial firms. We do management consulting and actuarial consulting combined, so we do a lot of nontraditional projects.
Personally, I specialize in healthcare. One example of that is my work with Obamacare. States have the option to build their own healthcare exchange online tools. I was working with one state to help build their website. I helped them prepare for 2015 so that people can enroll more easily online and make sure they get their benefits. That in itself will affect all the low-income individuals who really need insurance.
Even though I work behind the scenes, I feel like I’m making a huge difference.
Do you continue to be involved with the Actuarial Science program as an alum?
Yes, I lead Deloitte’s Actuarial Science recruiting at Columbia. A group of us presented to the students, gave advice on interviews, and mentored some students one-on-one over the phone or in person.
Students also might not have firm-specific questions, which is fine. For instance, "I’m not sure which track I want to pursue. Do you have any advice?" It’s important to help students navigate those decisions.
Is there anything else you wanted to mention about Columbia or your career or Deloitte?
You had asked how the program at Columbia offered value. Well, in some other programs, actuaries are trained to sit behind a desk, work on a spreadsheet, and get lost in numbers. But this program, because of the unique way it’s structured, it forced me to take a step back. It helped me see the big picture and ask the right questions. Because of my education at Columbia, I’ve been trained to be a leader.