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Justin Pursaga

Director & Program Lead
Wawanesa Mutual Insurance
Justin Pursaga
Justin Pursaga
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Justin Pursaga is the Director & Program Lead of Wawanesa Mutual Insurance.

About me

I was born/grew up in: Winnipeg, MB

I now live in: Winnipeg, MB

I completed my training/education at: I completed a BSc (Hon’s) at the University of Manitoba with a major in actuarial mathematics and a minor in business.

I’m a Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society and of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries. I have completed professional education courses and received certifications from both organizations.  I have ongoing professional development requirements annually to maintain my professional credentials. I meet those requirements through ongoing education to keep up with new technology and changes in the industry.

What I do at work

An actuary is a person who applies broad problem solving skills to analyze and project financial outcomes. Actuaries use mathematics, statistics, and financial theory to analyze the past and present with a focus on predicting future events. My work at Wawanesa Insurance has covered many parts of the insurance business. These include such things as how insurance is priced, the design of customer service systems, and the storage and usage of data. I have also worked on enterprise risk management and corporate financial planning. Most recently, I have focused on our corporate strategy. This includes such things as interpreting and explaining financial results, as well as forecasting trends for the future. I help business leaders understand trends that are emerging and how those trends can impact the business.

The skillset of an actuary is useful in many types of work and roles. My work at Wawanesa focuses on the Property and Casualty insurance business. This type of insurance protects against the risk of loss to property and possessions. People purchase insurance to help protect some of their greatest investments, such as a house or car, and an actuary helps guide decisions about the type of insurance available, as well as the risks and costs associated with them. There are many industries and companies who employ actuaries.

Most of my work takes place at a computer using specialized software. I work with others on my team and with other teams across the organization. Early in my career, I used my technical training to produce projections and forecasts directly. Gradually, more and more of my time is spent coaching and reviewing the work of others.

My career path is

As it turns out, this is exactly what I planned to do when I was in high school. In grade 10, I took a program called career choices. It included a variety of tests that identified the types of jobs that aligned with my personality, strengths and goals. Actuarial science came out top of the list! 

In my grade 12 year, my guidance counsellor advised me of a job posting with a local insurance broker. I applied and was offered the job. I started immediately after I graduated high school. While I was working this job, I began my actuarial science studies at the University of Manitoba. When I was in my third year, I took a job as an actuarial intern for a pension consulting firm in Chicago. It was very exciting to be in a big city! It was a great position, a great company, and I learned a lot. I received an offer to stay there but I declined as I also had a job offer in my hometown of Winnipeg. Check my LinkedIn profile for more information.

I am motivated by

I think it’s amazing how mathematics and statistics can apply to what we see in everyday life. When we share how predictable every day occurrences are, people are generally surprised. For example, when it comes to automobile accidents, there are many independent events occurring all the time. A car crash at one intersection is usually unrelated to an accident in a different town or city. Most people will understand that the denser the traffic, the more accidents there will likely be. Based on the fact that traffic density is closely related to the number of car accidents, we can predict how many accidents are likely to occur over a given timeframe in a given area. When the environment changes, like a pandemic reducing traffic over a period, we use this new information to update our forecasts. Leveraging this new information increases the accuracy of our predictions. When you look at just one event, such as not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign or skidding on ice, it can be hard to see how an actuary analyzing data can predict how many of these events will occur. When you step back and look at all of these random events in a larger set of data, it is amazing at how well they can be predicted.

Another thing that motivates me is the fact that I work for a mutual company. Our policyholders literally own the business. Since there are no shareholders, any money that remains after we pay out all insurance claims goes back into the business. We leverage these cost savings to increase the value we provide to our policyholders. Wawanesa is committed to giving back to the communities where our policyholders and employees live and work. We donate to initiatives that make our communities a better place to live because our purpose is to look after one another.

How I affect peoples’ lives

Insurance is an enabler. When people are able to purchase affordable insurance, they are willing to take risks. This enables individuals to do many things that they may consider too risky to do without insurance. These risky things can be as commonplace as renting an apartment, buying a house, or going on vacation. It also includes things such as driving a car or starting a business. All of these are made less risky by the availability of insurance. By allowing people to take reasonable, predictable risks, we help the economy to thrive. You don’t see many people starting businesses if they don’t have insurance. Without insurance, an accident or health concerns can greatly affect an individual’s ability to support themselves. With insurance, we protect our policyholders’ finances against some of the troubles they may encounter in the future. My work supports the objective of helping protect the financial wellbeing of our customers.

Outside of work I

In high school I loved basketball and I still do! I played in high school and continued to play in our local senior men’s league. Since I was 14 years old, I also extended my love of basketball to officiating. Today, I continue to referee at the university level. I’m a member of the Canada West Officials panel. Being a referee is a unique experience. Nobody is a fan of what you do; no one pulls for you. You have to be objective in a game where many calls have a lot of grey and everyone is a critic. It takes patience and thick skin to ignore the boos when you need to make an unpopular call and to shrug it off. But I love it! I spend as much time as I can staying involved in the game.

I’m also a member of the Actuarial Advisory Board of the actuarial science program at the University of Manitoba. In this role I can share my experience to shape what students are taught based on changes in the industry. I enjoy helping students prepare for career success and maximize their potential. 

My advice to others

Think about what makes you happy. If you enjoy finding solutions to complex problems this is a great career! If you like math, researching information, working with unknowns and open-ended problem solving, actuarial science could be for you. Being an actuary is a great job as the industry is always changing. The foundational skill set you use will be the same regardless of what new issues come about in the future. It’s rewarding work that is important in society.

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • History
  • Math
  • Physical Education/Health
  • Science
  • Technology
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Liked helping people
  • Played on a sports team
  • Was motivated by success
  • Was really creative
  • Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades
  • Always knew what I wanted to do
  • Liked to design or build things

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