Actulab: a Joint Venture Between Academics and Actuarial Practitioners


by Marie-Eve Bourgault 

The academic field can seem a strange place for an actuary, being a non-traditional area of practice. And yet, it is important to forge links between students and professionals in the labour market. With that in mind, Frédérick Guillot, manager, research and analytics, P&C business intelligence (Canada) at Co-operators, founded the Actulab event. I had the chance to talk with Mr. Guillot, who spoke enthusiastically about this ambitious project.

1. What is Actulab?

Actulab is an event that provides students, professors, and professionals the opportunity to team up, regardless of their field of expertise, in order to solve practical problems raised by the event’s partners from a variety of industries. The objective is to bring actuarial studies and actuarial practice closer together and to combine research with practice. While Actulab is a problem-solving competition, Mr. Guillot hopes that it becomes a not-for-profit organization someday. This day-long event takes place at a host university. In the morning, one of the industry partners presents the group with the problem. There is a workshop in the afternoon, and students submit their results online at a later date. According to Mr. Guillot, this is a great way to encourage interaction with partners and potential employers. There is also a monetary prize for the winner. The atmosphere is ripe for experimentation. Actulab can even be considered as a course, since the student participants receive university credit for their work.

2. Where has Actulab been active recently?

The Actulab event was created only in March 2014, but already has succeeded in bringing the Université Laval, the University of Waterloo, and the Université du Québec à Montréal on board. Organizers are currently seeking partners for the 2016 edition.

3. What do you hope to accomplish with this event? Will it have spin-offs? If so, what will they be?

Mr. Guillot’s vision for Actulab is to see the event adopted on a Canada-wide basis. In that vein, he would like to encourage universities to organize an event themselves in order to better connect actuarial partners, employers, and students.

4. How has Actulab developed since its creation? Are you satisfied with how the event has grown?

Mr. Guillot is very satisfied with how Actulab has grown. He wants the focus to remain on the students and to get them more involved. He is also pleased to be receiving so much support from universities. He has, in fact, been approached by several companies wishing to submit problems to the students.

5. What, if any, challenges has the organization faced? How have you overcome them?

The challenges faced by Actulab had to do with the event’s rapid pace of development and the low industry participation in the past. Mr. Guillot has managed to overcome these challenges by expanding the event network, making presentations at suitable opportunities, and encouraging students not only to propose a solution, but to interact with future employers. Mr. Guillot wants Actulab to become a sort of springboard for students transitioning to the labour market. The challenges he is currently tackling are in the areas of recruitment and networking in order to attract more participants. A longer-term objective will be to manage issues involving intellectual property and define who holds it. The employers? Actulab? The students? The answer has yet to be determined.

6. How is Actulab making a difference? What type of feedback have you received from those who have benefited from the event? What has been said by the actuaries who participated with the students or who made presentations?

Actulab stands apart for the way it encourages students to find new means of solving problems. Mr. Guillot is open to innovative ideas and to sharing them. When he met some of the participants, they told him that they had found jobs thanks to Actulab. And indeed, this experience looks really good on a résumé, he adds. In fact, that is how certain potential employers first learned of Actulab.

7. What do you think of the CIA’s University Accreditation Program (UAP), specifically regarding strengthening the ties among actuaries, students, and universities?

Mr. Guillot is a big supporter of the UAP, since it trusts universities through CIA accredited courses. Mr. Guillot had the idea of linking the UAP with Actulab if and when the latter is run on a Canada-wide basis. And who knows, maybe incorporate Actulab into the CIA at some point down the road?

8. What are your plans for the future?

The short-term objective is to increase traffic to the Actulab website. It is mostly Mr. Guillot who administers the website, and he wants to further develop the virtual interaction between students and employers. The event could even be held entirely online! In fact, there was a trial run during the summer, with a test problem. The winner was invited to a golf tournament with the partners that suggested the topic. The end goal is to attune actuaries to the idea that they don't have to work in traditional fields of the actuarial practice.

In the longer term, and in the event that Actulab becomes Canada-wide, Mr. Guillot would like the event to become a national competition that encourages cooperation between students and employers. And still further down the road, he would like to see the winners get hired so they can deepen their research on the problem they were working on during the event and apply their solution in actuarial practice.

9. Do you have anything to add? 

Mr. Guillot would like to thank the CIA for its terrific financial support of Actulab. If you wish to take part in the upcoming Actulab competition or become a partner, feel free to contact him at frederick.guillot@cooperators.ca. Please visit the Actulab website at http://www.actulab.ca/ to learn more about the event.

Marie-Eve Bourgault is the French editor at the CIA Head Office.

Canadian Institute of Actuaries/Institut canadien des actuaires
http://www.cia-ica.ca/