Albert Betancourt, Catastrophe Management Analyst

Albert Betancourt, Catastrophe Management Analyst

Please describe your educational background and what sparked your interest in atmospheric or related sciences.

Ever since I was young, I have always been fascinated with Earth-related science. At that time, all aspects of the field were of great interest to me, from digging in the dirt to gawking at the stars and sky. However, in high school, I was convinced I would become a medical doctor, like my father. It was not until my sophomore year of college that I made the big decision to switch majors and transfer down south (from rural central Michigan) to Florida International University (Miami, Florida). It was a major transition for me, but I still managed to persevere! In 2014, I graduated with a B.S. in geoscience (focused on atmospheric science). Despite my overwhelming joy and satisfaction, I was actually feeling quite discouraged, lost, and confused. What was next? Numerous internship experiences had me feeling unsure about what my next professional.

What was your first job in the field and how did you end up in the job you are in now?

Previously mentioned, internship experience was the how I ended up in my current role. It took six internship experiences to hone in on precisely what I wanted to do with my geoscience degree. During my MPS program at the University of Miami, an internship was part of the graduation requirements. Being it was the first time this program was offered, there was no repository of past organizations that have supported students. Therefore, it took a lot of work to locate an internship opportunity, but my hard work paid off once I secured my internship at one of the largest reinsurers in the world--Munich Reinsurance. The experience gained through all of my internship experiences helped me secure my current role as a Catastrophe Management Analyst. I applied for this role with American Family Insurance during my time at Munich Reinsurance. Fortunately, I was offered the position prior to my graduation!

What opportunities did you pursue that you knew would be beneficial to securing a job in the profession?

I think I have said this enough, but internship experience! Outside of the useful knowledge and skills developed in a college/university, interning allows you to apply your expertise in a real-world setting. On top of gaining practical and professional work experience, you also have the opportunity to develop professional contacts. Networking is as important as the skills you have in your utility. Internships allow for all of these opportunities, which will only increase your marketability in the job hunt!

What other courses/skills beyond the required math and science courses do you think would be the most helpful to individuals wanting a career in your profession?

Our field of geoscience / meteorology / atmospheric science are extremely analytical in nature. Fulfilling the 'quantitative' requirements for my line of work is of no concern. However, this profession involves a lot of communication with all sorts of re/insurance professionals. The ability (skill) to clearly and effectively distill complicated scientific concepts in a manner that the typical business professional can comprehend is vital. It is also important to identify how the science connects to the business. Know your customer's wants/needs. How could they benefit from the information you are providing them? Problem solving is crucial, as there are often times no quick Google look-up that can address your immediate needs. From a technical perspective, knowing how to use SQL or any database query language is a very useful skill and will often be required. Experience programming in R / Python is also very sought after. Fluency in Microsoft Office products is also critically important. A big benefit for me, personally, is my Geographic Information System (GIS) expertise. A lot of insurance is data that can benefit from spatial analysis and visualization. It would also be beneficial to take a business, finance, or risk management course(s). I did not take any of these, but I can see now after 3 years in the industry how it would have benefited me. Regardless of sought after skills, it is important that you never stop learning. Always try to increase your knowledge/ expertise/ technology arsenal.

What is your typical day on the job like?

Work-wise, my typical day is typically atypical. I am serious when I say that no two days are the same. While this lack of consistency may not be desirable for some, I find it to be a benefit as it keeps work-life interesting. While I am typically working on various projects throughout the week, random and ad hoc-type work requests come in weekly. On a quarterly and annual basis, we run our entire book of business (millions of policies) through our licensed catastrophe models. The output of this modeling work is used to help with portfolio management, which includes exposure and capacity management. Essentially, what areas are we most concerned about, and what can we do/recommend in to help alleviate these higher-risk areas? There is a substantial amount of work that goes into this effort that involves other re/insurance professionals, such as actuaries and underwriters. In addition to our primary modeling responsibilities, our department is seen as a sort of a consultant group, where we are able to opine into various projects ongoing through the enterprise. On a daily basis, we put out an enterprise-wide weather report, monitor/respond to catastrophe events, and aid in moratorium implementations. With American Family Insurance's biggest natural peril risk being severe weather (hail specifically) there is many opportunities for me as a meteorologist.

What do you like most about your job? What is the most challenging thing about your job?

I cannot properly express how much I love my job. To me, it is such an overlooked and interesting application of Earth science. Aside from the nature of my actual role, it does offer a decent amount of work-related travel opportunities (conferences, workshops, etc.). In my circumstances, I also have an outstanding team to work with high-caliber management and leadership. Therefore, not only do I love my actual job, but also the environment that I work in is very positive and supportive. The most challenging part of my job is knowing when to stop for the day--true statement. With my genuine interest with my role, I find it challenging to just stop my work and go home. I like the unique challenges and opportunities I have with this role. Otherwise, perhaps the most frustrating challenge with this role is acquiring data needed for my projects, as there are numerous vintages, locations, and formats in which it is stored.

Does your job allow for a good work/life balance? If not, why?

Despite my desire to keep working, yes, my job allows for optimal work/life balance. At American Family Insurance, we get what are known as "flex days." The two options are that you get every other Friday off, or every Friday is a half-day. In addition to remote-work opportunities, there is a lot of flexibility with how you work. I was told when starting here that we are not paid by the hour, we are paid to produce results. Therefore, as long as you are carrying your weight and delivering on work-related promises, there should be no issues. There is an expected level of maturity and trust (at least where am), therefore it facilitates a happy / productive work-environment--in my opinion.

Over the course of your career what is the most exciting thing that has happened to you?

I started at American Family Insurance in January of 2017. During the course of my (first) career, the most exciting part of my job as been my recent (10/2019) nomination for one of the highest company-offered awards. Known as the AmFam All4One award, the award recognizes championship employee performance across our enterprise of nearly 14k employees. Of those who are nominated, only 100 are chosen and treated to an all-expenses paid vacation to a (rotating) resort location in January. Certainly a nice treat and an opportunity to escape the cold winters in Madison, WI! I was among one of the 100 fortunate award winners!

Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career?

I believe that all (good or bad) happen for a reason. While I have never looked back along the path I have carved to my current role, there are certain things I would have done differently. Having more proficiency with programming (R/Python/SQL) would have made me more marketable and allow me to hit the ground running (faster) than when I first started. While I would not claim to be an expert or proficient in any of those languages, having more prior experience would have made things even easier. In addition to technical skills, having more orientation to the business world would have also been beneficial. Regardless, nothing I have stated was a "make it or break it" scenario when it came to getting my job. The majority of what you will need to success can be learned on the job--at least in my experience.

What are some "must haves" on a resume if a person wants to gain employment in your field?

Relevant experience and skills that I have mentioned in answers above, but to recap:

-Experience with SQL / Python / R / Tableau / GIS / Public speaking & presentation / business-related skills / problem-solving skills / writing skills / honesty & integrity / etc.

Nothing too surprising or vastly different from other professional roles in our field, but what is important is being able to connect the science to the business and to know your customer. You can have a substantial amount of research expertise or knowledge of a particular topic, but if you can communicate that information/insight into a usable format, it is not usable. Thinking outside the box is required to solve some of the many problems in this field. It is important that you be able to take what you know and construct a solution to meet your customers business needs.