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Join the Actuarial Pool

Robin Harbage sets his sights on spreadsheets — not just to crunch numbers — but to help establish Progressive Insurance’s strategic direction.

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A lot of people cringe when they hear the word “actuary.” Boring insurance guy. Numbers geek.

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“I often get the, ‘Gee, you don’t seem like an actuary,’ sort of response when I tell people what I do,” laughs Robin Harbage, product development manager for Progressive Insurance, which insures more than 12 million car drivers.

Harbage’s job title is a clue that actuarial skills don’t limit people to building spreadsheets. He insists that actuarial work is just an extension of traditional business training. In fact, Harbage, 51, was originally recruited into the field out of business school because of his background in programming.

“Twenty-plus years ago, I was hired to take actuarial models that at the time were calculated by hand, and calculator, and automate them on a computer,” he recalls.

Now that all the number crunching can be done using computers, actuaries can get on with the more attractive part of the job: thinking.

As a marketing manager, Harbage, 51, uses his analytical skills to segment markets so he can target customers with new products. His group has helped develop the TripSensor, a device connected to a car that collects data on the time of day people drive, and just how far and how fast. That information is then used to calculate insurance rates. Harbage also strives to improve the company’s online quote system by trying to reduce the number of questions and time it takes to arrive at an answer.

“People view this as a line of work that can be drudgery and isolating,” he says. “But I’m a strategic partner in planning the direction of this company.”

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One thing that shouldn’t be overlooked about being an actuary is that since the skills are in high demand, the compensation is among the highest in the 25 top jobs. “‘Unemployed actuary’ is an oxymoron,” says Harbage.

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