Brian Komen ’21 was browsing through news on his laptop, catching up on the events that would lead to the 2007 financial crisis. He happened upon a Financial Times article titled “The formula that felled Wall St.” The article explored the mathematical relationships between life, death, and love. He learned about the work of actuaries, people who use statistical models to predict the aggregate life expectancy of a population. The year was 2006. He was intrigued.
After a while, it drifted to the back of his mind. He forgot about it.
Fast forward over a decade: at Hamilton, Komen decided to pursue a double major in math and economics. At the end of his sophomore year, though, he decided he wanted to seriously explore business risk, so he dropped his math major to focus on economics. He had a conversation with Mathematics Professor Sally Cockburn about life moving forward. She mentioned that students in the past had pursued actuarial exams.
“As soon as she told me about that, I remembered, ‘Hey, some time ago, I really loved that feeling.’”
Hometown: Nairobi, Kenya
Come late July, Komen will begin working as an actuarial technical analyst at Allianz in Chicago, building models that the company uses to quantify risk. He wrote about the Financial Times article he had read 15 years ago, full of terms he had yet to comprehend, but feeling drawn to it nonetheless. As he wrote in his cover letter to Allianz, “The idea that a phenomenon as intimate as a broken heart could be input into a mathematical model dazzled me.
“I’m really interested in the idea of being able to use literal information to quantify risk and then use that knowledge of the risk to make better choices, better decisions in the future,” Komen said.
At Hamilton, he took Data Analytics on Machine Learning, where he learned language R and many machine-building concepts related to the actuarial world.
Last summer, Komen participated in a summer program with the Casualty Actuarial Society. There, he was able to interact with actuaries from different firms and learn how to price policies. He also participated in a data analytics internship with KPMG.
“The most important thing I got from that was how to communicate with clients and how to present your findings,” Komen said. “During the interview process [for Allianz], the interviewer was very impressed by that because part of being an actuary is being able to communicate your findings. Most of the people [you would interact with] are not actuaries, and they may not understand what you are saying in terms of models, so you have to know how to explain and sell your idea to them.”
Actuaries have to go through a rigorous evaluation process, passing 10 exams. Komen has passed two so far, and is committed to passing two every year.
“Some firms don’t really give their workers the time to study for these exams, so I really wanted a firm that understands the importance of these exams and gives the support to study for them,” Komen said. “Allianz, each year, gives you a full week to study for each exam. They also pay for your exams once you’ve passed, and give you raises, which helps a lot and motivates you to study.”
Allianz has a presence in more than 20 countries, and Komen will be liaising between the U.S. and Munich, Germany branches.
“I’m excited to be able to engage with colleagues from all these different countries and get their perspectives on different issues,” Komen said. “I look forward to meeting people and learning how they do things in their countries.”
Komen, originally from Nairobi, Kenya, worked at the library of the University of U.S. in Kenya during high school.
“One day, a gentleman came in and we started talking randomly,” Komen said. “He said he went to this college in upstate New York, and at the time, I didn’t think I would be applying to a college in the U.S.”
Cut to six months later: “I thought, ‘Hey, why not, I’ll apply to a college in the US,’” Komen said. “And Hamilton College was the first thing that came to mind.”
Through Hamilton’s open curriculum, Komen has been able to take courses in a variety of departments. In his job interview with Allianz, they were discussing the obstruction of the Suez Canal in March of this year.
“One of the ships was issued by Allianz, so we talked about that,” Komen said. “I had taken a course in politics and government and was able to talk about the security aspects. Being able to talk about politics and also math at the same time was impressive to those folks, they really loved it because I had knowledge of what was going on in that region. So, knowing things from different areas of study is something I have gained at Hamilton.”
Reflecting on the past few years, Komen attributes much of his learning to his career advisor, Lisa Baker.
“From my sophomore year, she pushed me to do things like LinkedIn, polish my resume,” Komen said. “She made sure that I applied to jobs and attended events in the career center, so I really want to thank her.”