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Washington and Lee University

Washington and Lee University
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Colin Bracis ('03)

Colin is an actuarial consultant for Mercer, Inc.

Colin graduated from W&L in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science in mathematics. He settled in the Washington D.C. area with his college sweetheart, and they recently took on the adventure of homeownership in DC suburb Arlington, Virginia. Since graduation, he has worked at Mercer as an actuarial consultant for corporate benefits and has returned to W&L annually to recruit students to help fill Mercer's ranks, bringing on seven W&L students and graduates to internship and full-time positions over the past five years.

The actuarial profession offers Colin the opportunity to apply his interests in mathematics and economics to real world problems, solutions to which add value to his client's organizations. At Mercer, Colin works in the retirement division and helps employers manage their pension obligations-promises to workers to provide a scheduled benefit in retirement-in order to meet their commitments without adversely affecting the finances of the company. Far from being simply an academic pursuit, Colin uses math in his career on a daily basis. One specific application is the calculation of a present value dollar cost or liability for a pension obligation; this is done by synthesizing the employee data, retirement plan provisions, and demographic and economic assumptions through an actuarial model. This process requires the calculation of costs of specific events (e.g., how much would the plan have to pay an employee who worked for 20 years, then retired and collected a pension for 15 years before dying) as well as the approximation of probabilities these events will take place. Products of costs and associated probabilities are then summed across all possible event scenarios for each plan participant, with economic-assumptions also factored in, to obtain a present-value cost estimate.

Colin's area of specialization within the retirement business lies in the recently created Financial Strategy Group (FSG). The purpose of this group is to focus on the concept of managing retirement plans in a holistic way, by looking at the plan's assets and liabilities in conjunction rather than treating each component as a silo within the plan's financial management. Although this might sound reasonable, intuitive, or even obvious, it is a departure from the traditional way of measuring plan performance. Looking at plans this way yields opportunities for solutions, which both maximize returns while minimizing risk, that would be impossible to develop with a traditional approach. With the FSG, Colin has helped develop tools that assist Mercer in bringing this message to the market. He currently manages a team of analysts who develop "client facing" reports that illustrate these concepts, and participates in meetings with clients and prospects to guide them through the decision-making process.

One of the great things about the actuarial career is that you can get started on it while you are still at school. In order to become a fully accredited actuary, a person needs to complete a series of professional examinations in order to demonstrate competence in the area in which he or she practices. This process is a great way to distinguish professionals who are dedicated to excellence and personal development from those who are just looking for a means to earn a living. Success on the exams leads to compensation increases, and opportunities for increased responsibility. Since the first two exams are mostly based on material that can be found in the curriculum of any high quality undergraduate institution, there is no reason a prospective actuary can't get a head start on the exam process while still a student. Before graduating from W&L, Colin had completed his first 2 actuarial exams, and has since completed several more in order to earn his ASA (Associate in the Society of Actuaries) and MAAA (membership into the American Academy of Actuaries).