Student Essay Contest

Nora Moushey: Chief Actuary and Lifelong Learner

2014 AWM Essay Contest: Undergraduate First Place

By: Tory Fields, Ball State University

Nora Moushey is a remarkable woman. In my own pursuit of becoming an actuary, I had the pleasure of meeting her a year ago in Cincinnati, Ohio at Western & Southern Financial Group where she operates as Chief Actuary. Actuaries, mathematicians who manage risk for insurance companies, have one of the top-ranked professions in the United States, but not everyone realizes the dedication it takes to become one. To become an actuarial fellow, one must pass a series of very difficult exams. The exam process takes years and to complete it is an impressive feat. To become the head of the actuarial department at a company, or a chief actuary, is even more so.
However, Nora talks very candidly and modestly about her success. I called her during a typical Wednesday morning to ask her some questions about her career. She studied at Miami University of Ohio, where she originally planned to get her PhD in mathematics and teach at the collegiate level. “As I progressed through my undergraduate work, academia became less interesting” she admits. She noticed that there was only one female math professor in the department, and that she taught the lowest level courses. It seemed sexist and political to Nora, so she chose to look into actuarial science. Her father was an actuary and encouraged her to pursue the career. While still in school, she wrote her first exam and passed. She liked that with an actuarial career the exams offered an outside measure of her skill, and no bias could figure into her success. After graduation, Nora began working for Columbus Mutual, a small insurance company. When the company demutualized in 1982, it was acquired by Western and Southern, a larger insurance group, and Nora moved to Cincinnati. Nora says that the jobs were different in nature. At Columbus Mutual, insurance was sold regionally and the company would focus on the agents who sold the policies. At Western and Southern, Nora began working with several different companies, distributions, and target markets. She says she enjoyed different aspects of both jobs. Around 1984, she ascended to the position of chief actuary, becoming a woman with authority in an office that was mostly comprised of men.
When I asked Nora how it feels to be a woman with authority, she laughed and responded with “It feels good!” When she originally joined the Society of Actuaries, she was curious as to how many of the members were women; she discovered that less than 5% of the Society was female. I wondered about her perspective on being a woman actuary, and she said that when she started her career, being a woman could be used to her advantage. When she was the only female in the room, it made her memorable. However, there were also drawbacks. She explained, “If someone had a project, there was a chance they wouldn’t even think to ask you”. This pushed her to work hard and be noticed, and the work paid off. I inquired about her favorite part of her job, and she identified two aspects of her job that she particularly loves. Nora said that over the years “the company had grown and prospered and I feel like I have contributed to that”. Being part of the big picture and noticing her success has made her rightfully proud, but she also enjoys noticing the success in others. She loves seeing young people learn and pass exams, advancing their own careers as actuaries.
Hoping to be a successful actuary myself one day, I asked her what advice she might give to young women in the field today. “Some of it is advice I would give to anyone” she explains. She advises young actuaries to do whatever it takes to pass exams. In her experience, she has noticed that the longer it takes for someone to get through the exam process, the less likely it is that he or she will finish. She also believes in lifelong learning. Once someone achieves an FSA, that is the beginning, she says, not the end.
I believe Nora offers a great deal of wisdom. Her success is something to be admired and emulated. I plan to take her advice as I advance in my own career, remembering that I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to become an actuary and to have the support of professionals like Nora along the way.
About the Student:
I am a Junior at Ball State University studying Actuarial Science with minors in Spanish and Foundations of Business. My goal is to become an actuarial analyst. During the summer of 2013, I interned with Great American Insurance Company as an actuarial intern and learned about annuities and financial planning. I will be interning with Nationwide Insurance in their Life/Health division this coming summer. I have written and passed two actuarial exams, P and FM. Along with my interest in actuarial science, I am also president of Omicron Delta Kappa, a leadership fraternity, and currently involved with planning our 2014 All-Campus Leadership Conference.