Blog Post

Having Celebrated 10 Great Years, Pinnacle University Starts a New Decade

5 minutes

We are very pleased that topics and students have been selected and that Pinnacle University is happening again this spring. This year will represent a new decade for this very special program, which had a relatively modest origin.

Just over 10 years ago, the director of the actuarial science program at Illinois State University (ISU) and a few team members at Pinnacle had an enlightening conversation. 

We asked: “What if we took some of Pinnacle’s young actuarial talent, paired them up with university students and empowered them to present on a topic of actuarial interest to a room full of actuaries and insurance professionals?”

From Pinnacle’s point of view, such a program would offer public speaking and professional development experiences to young employees, and advance one of Pinnacle’s core values to deliver Superior Communications. For university students, such a program would offer an opportunity to practice professional public speaking and get real-world, in-depth experience researching a topic of interest to the insurance industry.  It was our privilege to design, from scratch, a program where every participant could become more learned in key actuarial topics and face the specter of public speaking head-on.

With that conversation, Pinnacle University, or “Pinnacle U,” was born.

The first Pinnacle U event in 2013 consisted of 12, 20-minute presentations with topics including “Autonomous Cars: Actuarial Basis,” “Prescription Drugs and Workers Compensation” and “Loss Development Tail Factor Estimation Methodologies.”  Each presentation was followed by 10 minutes of discussion from the audience.

One of those first student presenters is currently a consulting actuary with Pinnacle. Others have become prominent members of the actuarial profession, including one participant who is a chief actuary for in the insurance market in Asia.

That first Pinnacle U taught us a lot, and there were key takeaways and modifications that enabled the long-term success of our program. Some of the changes were tactical and some were strategic. Subsequent Pinnacle U events were moved, for example, to spring to accommodate student schedules and to ease the burden on professionals studying for and taking actuarial exams. 

Another improvement was the creation of an expert panel of local (now national and virtual) actuaries to provide feedback, questions, discussion and critiques of each presentation.

It has been 10 exciting and eventful years. Pinnacle U has welcomed countless talented students and provided a great foundation for a number of burgeoning actuarial careers. It is a program that, year after year, broadens its scope, increases its footprint and expands its impact. Some notable recent facts about Pinnacle U include:

  • Pinnacle U has expanded well beyond its first partner ISU, to include students from 10 universities from Wisconsin to Texas now having participated in the program.
  • A graduate of the Casualty Actuarial Society’s summer program participated in Pinnacle U 2022 and changed careers to the actuarial field.
  • Students participating in the program have come from five continents.
  • The hot industry topics of cyber risk and usage-based insurance have been subjects of Pinnacle U researchers and presenters the past several years.
  • Several leading-edge presentations included building predictive models that analyze unique areas such as:
    • Parametric travel insurance
    • Sabermetrics
    • Graduation rates and starting salaries

Student participants in the program have gone on to have careers in the insurance industry across the globe. Several Pinnacle consultants successfully completed the program. A member of our current Pinnacle U planning team, Joey Sveda, discusses his experience in Pinnacle U and the value it had for his development below.

The difference between a good and a great consulting actuary rarely falls within the realm of traditional actuarial skills. Actuarial skills are simply a prerequisite to successful consulting. The difference between a good or a great consulting actuary isn’t the novel or clever application of actuarial skills, either.

Rather, the difference between a good and a great consulting actuary is communication. Can you, as the actuary, tell a client what they should do and why they should do it in their language. That is, a client who may not care about or understand the difference between the appropriateness of the chain ladder and the Bornhuetter-Ferguson method or isn’t particularly concerned about the justification for a Berquist-Sherman adjustment. Without meaningful communication, numbers on a page are just that—and never become actionable. With that in mind, it is not a coincidence that one of Pinnacle’s pillars is Superior Communication.

One of the beneficial aspects of Pinnacle U is that it gives young professionals an opportunity to get up on a podium early in their actuarial career--sometimes even within the first few months of working at Pinnacle—to start developing a presentation style.

I know I appreciated the opportunity to receive constructive feedback and get meaningful presentation experience in a low-pressure and highly supportive environment. The experiences I had presenting to my co-workers and the expert panel at Pinnacle U have served as the foundation for the presentations I deliver to peers in the industry. It made me a better communicator and gave me the ability to deliver my points with more confidence and clarity.

While presenting may be scary to young professionals (and sometimes to seasoned consultants, too), it doesn’t become any less scary until the fear of public speaking is faced head on. Pinnacle U provides that invaluable opportunity. Pinnacle U is a fertile training ground for the development of university students and analysts, helping them become well-spoken, well-rounded actuaries able to represent the profession for years to come.

Our teams are busily finalizing their presentations and preparing to deliver their work in front of our panel and we’re looking forward to an exciting event. With our increasing use of virtual participation in Pinnacle U and the inclusion of new universities in new geographies it will be a bright future, a great year and new decade for Pinnacle U. 

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