Down to a Science

Math alum Gershon Firestone’s actuarial path to a career in finance

June 03, 2013

What is actuarial science, you ask? In the simplest terms, it’s the application of concrete mathematical formula to insurance risk-assessment. But Firestone can explain the method—and his own path from analyst with no specific occupation in mind to employee at the New York office of preeminent life insurance company Axa Equitable—most instructively.

To that end, we spoke with the ASNY-approved actuary and Touro alum about calculating risk and trusting one’s instincts.


Touro: What is actuarial science all about?

Gershon Firestone: The goals are to bring a heavy mathematical background to the insurance industry, and help the insurance and pension industries understand the risks that they’re taking and help them make decisions about how to manage their business and which business they want to pursue.

Touro: When did you realize actuarial science could be a career?

GF: I knew I wanted to pursue math, but I was a little unsure as to the career path. So I was looking into different options, and in my last year in college, a new professor came—Professor Moshe Snow —and he encouraged me to become an actuary. It requires both communication and very heavy analytical skills, so it really seemed like a good career choice.

Touro: Did the math bug in general grab you early on in life?

GF: I think I was always good at math. There’s a professor in [Touro] who really got me excited. His name is Professor Nouri Levy.In my first semester, I was considering going for political science or math. I could see myself with math as a career more than whatever political science could lead to, maybe being a lawyer. So I followed that route, and I guess I never looked back.

Touro: No regrets?

GF: No regrets.

Touro: Is there an example of how actuarial approach directly applies to your work at Axa?

GF: What I’m working on now is analyzing mortality experience, and to do that, we use certain mathematical measures to measure if the data is credible or not. And if the date isn’t credible using those statistical measures, we’ll add more conservatism in to our numbers.

Touro: Do you have a long-term vision of how to keep exploring actuarial work?

GF: I’d like to climb the ranks at my company, and right now I’m thinking I’d want to focus on pricing life-insurance products.

Touro: And when you’re assessing risk, do you consider the customer as well as the insurer?

GF: It’s a mixture of what the market wants and what we feel comfortable with, but I guess that’s more of a micro-economics kind of thing. I don’t think we price to what we consider fair. I think we price to what we think we can sell and return an acceptable profit. You’re operating in a competitive market, and you have to watch what your consumer wants and what your competitor is offering.