Nicolas Lafontaine: Actuaries and Hockey Both Require Discipline

 
Nicolas Lafontaine

By Judith Lefebvre

Hockey is a family affair in the Lafontaine household: Nicolas’ brother is an excellent player, as were his uncles and father in their day. A remarkable athlete, Nicolas just missed being drafted by the National Hockey League. The budding actuary combined sports with studies as early as high school, when he played for the Gatineau Intrépide, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, and the Chicoutimi Saguénéens of the Québec major junior hockey league. He then headed to Montréal to study actuarial mathematics at Concordia University, where he continued to develop his hockey game on the school team. On the ice, he suits up as a power forward, a position combining toughness and scoring. “In my day,” he recalls, “it was a bit rougher. Head shots were allowed back then. Being the size I am, I had to drop the gloves a few times. If one of my teammates was being roughed up, I had to protect him.” 

An Athlete’s Discipline
To the uninitiated, hockey and actuarial work may seem polar opposites. But do the two activities have anything in common? According to Nicolas, the perseverance and discipline he learned from hockey played a crucial role in his becoming an actuary. “Athletes are constantly trying to go the extra mile,” he explains. “I never got discouraged. I always wanted to push beyond my limits.” This is evidenced by the 3,000-odd hours of studies that he completed.

“University was really intense,” he allows. “The heavy travel, the constant hockey practices, the actuarial exams, and my bachelor’s degree.”

During his bachelor’s program in actuarial mathematics at Concordia, he had internships at Normandin Beaudry, a major consulting firm in Québec. He turned down a job there to play hockey professionally in France. “Like a true actuary, I calculated the risks!” he jokes. He and his spouse headed for the French Alps, where he continued to study for his actuarial exams. After a year of professional hockey, the couple moved back to his hometown of Gatineau, and Nicolas accepted a position with Mercer in Ottawa. He has been there for seven years, and has practised in the pension plan field for the past five years. He became a Fellow in 2016.

How Hockey Influences the Actuary, and Vice-Versa
Hockey has had a decisive influence on Nicolas as an actuary. “I was pretty shy,” he relates. “Hockey was a way for me to interact with people and come out of my shell.” Hockey also helped him avoid student debt: “I was a good student, so I received scholarships, along with support from my professors.” And how did Nicolas the actuary influence Nicolas the hockey player? “Once, during the playoffs,” he recalls, “I won a hockey pool organized by some fellow actuaries at Mercer. Over 75 percent of my predictions came true!” All kidding aside, though, he says he’s still searching for the ever-elusive “perfect algorithm” to win every pool he enters. According to him, it’s a waste of time to comb through hockey statistics. “It’s not like baseball. Hockey is a game of mistakes. It’s an unpredictable sport.”

Looking ahead, Nicolas plans to continue playing hockey for the fun of it and acting as a pension plan and investment adviser. Management also interests him, as evidenced by his new job: he’s a volunteer coach for a team of five-year-olds, including his son. “I think I’m a good coach,” he says. “I’ve received so much feedback from playing hockey. I think I’m ready to give some of it back now.”

Judith Lefebvre is a French Editor at the Head Office of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries.

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