Professor Jae Kyung Woo is paving the way for more female representation in actuarial and risk management careers. She shares her journey and why female-identifying students should consider Risk and Actuarial Studies. 

The term ‘Risk and Actuarial Studies’ and its role in society isn’t as well understood as other business degrees. For a long time, Professor Jae Kyung Woo also didn’t understand what it meant. Now, she’s dedicated to helping UNSW Business School students grasp its concepts and its impact on business and the wider community – and understand where a career in the field may lead.

However, studying and teaching Risk and Actuarial Studies wasn’t always part of her plan.

With a background in statistics and business administration, Professor Woo was building her career in Korea in the information technology and strategic planning field. But she wasn’t happy. So with courage, she embarked on a career change and moved to Canada to study a Master of Actuarial Science at the University of Waterloo.

“I struggled compared to other students as I couldn’t speak English well and slow in solving problems. But I enjoyed the subjects very much. The maths and statistics theory I learnt in my undergraduate degree helped me to understand the concepts and solve problems that businesses encounter frequently,” Professor Woo reflects.

It’s the ability to apply a structured approach to solve complex problems that she believes is useful for female-identifying students who desire a career in business.

“With the data analysis and predictive modelling taught in Risk and Actuarial Studies, it helps to plan, manage risks and make strategic decisions,” she adds. These are skills that help students make valuable contributions to their future careers.

Putting theories to work

The value of the actuarial approach came to life for Professor Woo during her PhD studies, which focused on ruin theory in insurance. Her work helped insurers understand how much capital to set up as reserves to avoid going out of business while also meeting regulatory requirements.

Together with dependence modelling – identifying dependencies between events and variable factors – the project’s insights have helped businesses find financial stability and create safety nets against risks such as natural disasters.

Seeing the impact of this work, Professor Woo believes the interdisciplinary nature of Risk and Actuarial Studies can give students a unique edge in the business world.

“It helps you develop critical thinking and analytical skills that are valuable across industries. It also offers excellent career opportunities,” she shares.

This belief powers Professor Woo’s passion to help the next generation understand and apply complex theory in practice. And so she landed in academia. Researching and teaching stints in Canada, the United States and Hong Kong eventually led her to Australia, joining UNSW Business School as a Nominated Accreditation Actuary in the School of Risk and Actuarial Studies.

“I was drawn to UNSW’s consistent #1 ranking worldwide,” says Professor Woo, referring to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Global Research Rankings of Actuarial Science and Risk Management and Insurance.

Unlike the previous institutions she’d taught at where Actuarial Science sat in the science faculty, she noticed Risk and Actuarial Studies was situated in the Business School.

“It’s different here. Rather than just focusing on theoretical knowledge, the education is more balanced and introduces a variety of skill sets to solve real-world problems,” she adds.

Clarity, confidence and connections

It’s been seven years since Professor Woo joined UNSW and it’s the university’s support for diversity that fuels her loyalty.

“UNSW is doing a lot to support diversity among students, including improving female representation in business degrees and bridging the gap between high school and university,” Professor Woo observes.

After working in a male-dominated environment for years, she’s all the more eager to encourage young women to consider a career in Actuarial Studies. And being a part of the Girls in Business Camp is one of the many ways she’s done this.

As a member of the UNSW Business School EDI Committee, working to cultivate a culture that embraces equity and supports a diverse and inclusive community, Professor Woo was involved in the Girls in Business Camp when it launched in 2019.

The camp initially focused on increasing female representation in the two most underrepresented disciplines at the time – Risk and Actuarial Studies and Information Systems and Technology Management, and has since grown to incorporate Banking and Finance as well as Economics.

“The first question high school students ask me is: what is Actuarial Studies?” Professor Woo shares.“The second is: is it difficult?”

To help answer these questions and more, the Girls in Business Camp is designed for female-identifying students in years 10, 11 or 12 who want to explore their future in business.

Students get insider knowledge on what it’s like to study and work in the Business School’s disciplines through practical workshops and listening to industry alumni panel discussions. 

By hearing about others’ career journeys, including the highs and lows, these students gain exposure to different perspectives and what’s possible. Through designing and delivering the camp’s actuarial workshop, Professor Woo has witnessed the impact the Girls in Business Camp has on high schoolers.

“The energy at the first camp in 2019 was unforgettable. Seeing the enthusiasm and growth of the participants has been incredibly rewarding. It reinforces my commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment in the actuarial community.”

Using data to solve real-world problems

Exposure to industry and practical learning doesn’t stop at the Girls in Business Camp. Delivered in collaboration with industry, government, university and community partners in Australia globally, UNSW Business School degrees provide a diverse curriculum – Risk and Actuarial Studies included.

“If we teach dry maths problems, students lose interest. Instead, I incorporate real-world problems that are impacting industries today in my teaching materials and design relevant assessments to grab their attention and help them succeed beyond university,” Professor Woo explains.  

One such example is her collaboration with a UNSW graduate from an analytics and actuarial consulting firm, Taylor Fry. The two work on designing assignments on actuarial techniques to use in risk management and decision-making skillsets, where students are required to model an artificial government social benefit program.

This hands-on learning experience is not only engaging but also appeals to students’ interests to work in a profession that is having a positive impact on society. From helping policymakers allocate resources better to ensuring retirees’ future financial security, actuaries enhance our collective resilience.

Numbers have no gender

In our data-driven world, there’s a growing need for actuaries who can apply a combination of financial, economic, and data science approaches to solve business and societal problems. Especially female-identifying actuaries who bring a different perspective to a male-dominated profession.

“After hearing experiences from industry professionals at the camp, students realise that being a woman in this field is a powerful asset to any business. I believe that diverse perspectives and backgrounds significantly contribute to more innovative solutions to business challenges,” says Professor Woo.

Within the School of Risk and Actuarial Studies, students learn rigorous and relevant skills from academics like Professor Woo to lead others through tomorrow’s challenges.

“Our degrees are more data-focused and advanced than other courses out there. We included and adapted to subjects like data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence before other universities did.”

Developing these diverse skills allows students to embark on a more varied career than has been traditionally possible with Risk and Actuarial Studies. From insurance and consulting firms to analytics within retail companies or even government pension schemes, there are many options at hand for any graduate wishing to pursue a career in this industry. 

Want to explore your future in business?

Learn from inspiring leaders like Professor Woo at the UNSW Girls in Business Camp. The Camp is open to any year 10, 11 or 12 female-identifying high school students in New South Wales who have a genuine interest in studying Banking and Finance, Economics, Information Systems and Technology Management, Risk and Actuarial Studies at UNSW Business School.

Learn more about the UNSW Girls in Business Camp

Learn more about Risk and Actuarial Studies at UNSW

Find out more about the UNSW Business School