CCA Member Spotlight: Joan Boughton

“The Happy Accidental Profession”

Joan Boughton’s secret to success in her life and career: a little bit of luck, a lot of hard work, life balance, grace and gratitude. She values people and relationships, which is evident through her commitment to her family, career and volunteerism. Joan’s positive energy is contagious and fuels her sense of adventure and humor. She’s wise, yet humble; a life-long learner and a collaborator. Take a moment to get to know Joan Boughton, CCA member and Board of Directors volunteer.

Name: Joan Boughton / Location: Chicago, IL / Previous Employer: Aon / Title: Retired / Area of Practice: Retirement


It was such a happy accident! I didn’t even know I was looking for a profession; it found me, and – as the saying goes – “it was meant to be!”  I had majored in Math but hadn’t pondered for one second what I would do after graduation. Desperate for a job, I sent out roughly 100 resumes, all with separately typed cover letters (yes, on an old IBM Selectric typewriter). Fortune smiled on me when I was hired as a Mathematical Trainee at CNA Insurance, where I assisted an actuary with experience analysis studies in the Life Reinsurance Department. I was surrounded by actuaries who were pursuing exams, getting raises, and gaining credentials, all in this actuarial profession that seemed so suited to me.  As I hadn’t come from an undergraduate actuarial program, CNA required me to pass the first exam on my own before they would include me in their actuarial program. With only three weeks to study and paying the late exam registration fee, I passed with a score of nine. That got both CNA’s attention and mine! They invited me into the program, reimbursed all my exam fees, and gave me a 25percent raise to $18,100 a year.  I was hooked. Suddenly, I had an exam under my belt, a profession to call my own, and a career that was off to the races!

The people. The members, volunteers, and staff of CCA are fun and inspiring, and the experience working on the Board has been wonderful.

People might find one of my “exam rituals” to be a little unusual. (I assume most will relate to the idea of what I call “exam rituals,” or those little things a student might do to mentally prepare for a successful exam sitting. Such as eating the same breakfast before every exam. Guilty: two poached eggs, English muffin with butter, glass of milk.) On the later exams, I used to wear wild outfits. For example, one time I wore velvet red and black leopard-print pants and my lucky purple Chuck Taylor high-tops. Those sneakers delivered me a passing score the first time I wore them and I subsequently wore them to every exam after that. My goal was to psyche out all the other exam takers in the room by confidently strolling in wearing a flashy outfit and calmly reading the newspaper while waiting for the exam to begin – in stark contrast to the many unshowered, dirty-haired, sweatpant-clad sitters flipping furiously through their notecards. Of course, I did look exactly like those people the day before, but certainly not on exam day!  

I love The Wall Street Journal.  I loved it even before CCA offered it as part of our membership. I started reading it because most of my clients read it, and I also wanted to follow business coverage of my clients. But I kept reading it because I enjoyed it. I like everything – business, politics, opinion, puzzles, book reviews, what’s your workout, arts, design, recipes, travel – it’s a good all-around newspaper. I also love both non-fiction and fiction books, and in the latter, I am picky and won’t excuse bad writing covered up with a good plot. 

Balancing an intense, demanding career with raising and nurturing a marriage and family. I view both intensely and very importantly, and when my daughters were very young, I did have worries about going off to work.  And like many normal, healthy kids, they were skilled at pushing my guilt button:  “Mom, why do you have to go on a business trip?” or “Are you going to miss another field hockey game?” But I knew I would be a better mother if I was doing what I loved, even if that meant I wouldn’t be home with them. When they were older and beginning to envision what their futures might look like, they told me they were very proud of me, which of course meant a lot. Now that they are in their late 20s and pursuing their own demanding careers in medicine and data analytics, it has dawned on them just how challenging it must have been to juggle everything. Many times it seemed less than perfectly balanced, but somehow we made it all work and did it with love and a sense of humor.  Adventurous traveling as a family didn’t hurt either. It’s something I feel great about and am also grateful for.

I really love the Board experience. Everyone on the Board brings something special to the table and we have such a wonderful mix of people.  We represent many different geographies, firms, practice areas, age groups, types of clients, and career experiences. The exchange of ideas we have is candid and often spans a wide range of questions, opinions and views. Everyone is super nice, fun, interesting, smart, respectful and engaging.  It’s a great group and we get a lot done. I really enjoy that. Anyone who has even an inkling of interest in being on the Board, I encourage you to raise your hand. You’ll be happy you did! 

I went to Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Not everyone has heard of it, but that’s where Lin-Manuel Miranda went (everyone knows who he is). I studied Liberal Arts, but I was a Math major, and I was a tad snooty about the fact that Math majors didn’t need calculators.  What a nerd I was! 

Number one: get your credentials. Number two: get your credentials. Number three: look around at the many different roles actuaries can play. Don’t just fall into or stay in whatever you first saw. Learn about some of the less-traditional roles that actuaries can play, such as in-house corporate risk roles or stress testing for banks and consider those as potential career directions. And don’t let inertia keep you in a single actuarial role or area. Be sure you look around and go after what you want. 

I’m a little bit worried about the future of the profession. I heard recently that enrollment for the first actuarial exam has fallen for the first time ever.  I worry others will become leaders in data analytics before actuaries do – we’ll get left out or be behind. I worry that good talent that previously may have been attracted to the profession may be attracted to other technical fields because there are so many available now without the same professional hurdles as the actuarial profession (i.e., exams). I think the profession needs to be proactive about ensuring that actuaries are unique in bringing value to the world without being eclipsed by – or without losing talent to – other fields. Despite all these worries, I am continually impressed by the intelligence and drive of the people in our profession, and I have faith that newer generations of actuaries will step up to this challenge.

I’m going to answer this more like ‘what does it mean to be a consulting actuary?’ I consider any actuary to be a consulting actuary to the extent they are developing results/solutions/answers that others may use to solve a problem, price a product, or make a decision. That covers just about any working actuary. 

Yes, I do.  One doesn’t need one to study theoretical math, but for all other things an HP 12C with Reverse Polish Notation is the one for me!  Once a wonderful colleague gave me his old Platinum version of the HP 12C. I hadn’t known it came in Platinum and it’s beautiful.

There are many, but three key learnings from my entire career (not just the last five years) are:

You can learn from anyone at any age. At any age, you can learn something from another person no matter how old or young they are. The world is evolving and changing more rapidly than ever, requiring all actuarial practitioners – from highly experienced professionals to those earlier in their careers – to constantly adapt and learn new things as quickly as possible. Younger colleagues have opened my eyes to new perspectives, helped me adapt to new technologies and media, and respectfully challenged whether there aren’t better ways to do things.  I enjoyed learning from them. 

There is no substitute for experience. Even with a constantly leveled playing field, more years of experience means more years of experiences to draw on when navigating situations, particularly challenging or tricky ones that may require judgement.

Don’t try to figure out everything by yourself. The benefits of collaboration are often heralded, and for good reason.  More heads are better than one when crafting a solution to a gnarly problem (although be careful of too many cooks). Bringing ranges of skills and areas of expertise to a matter can result in more innovative or efficient answers. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Trying to solve a substantive client relationship problem by yourself, for example, is risky and dumb.  A smarter move is to enlist a wise, more experienced colleague (or peer if you are more senior) as you work through the issue. First, it is probably a policy to do so at firms of a certain size.  Even if not, it will generate more ideas overall, provide you with a sounding board for your ideas, and if things sour, these internal advisors will appreciate the difficulties of the situation and be in a position to vouch for your efforts.

I love to travel internationally. In fact, on March 15, 2020, my husband and I barely made it back into the newly quarantined US after a trip to Myanmar and Bali. I am so grateful we went because we’d never get to Myanmar in our lifetime now (with the military seizing power recently).  We were also lucky to visit Nepal before the earthquake tumbled beautiful 11th and 12th century structures where we had just taken family trip photos. Now that I’m retired, it’s a race to see countries and World Heritage Sites before military conflicts or Mother Nature or my own aging do more damage. I also love SCUBA diving with my family, CrossFit to stay strong, cooking, sewing my own clothes, and tennis (a brand new pursuit!). Last but actually first, I adore my two standard schnauzers, pepper-&-salt Trixie and black Max. They are silly woofers.

Three fun facts related to my wonderful husband:  I went to my high school junior prom with him.  When we tied the knot a few years after college, we eloped.  We celebrate the anniversary of our first date, not our wedding anniversary, and we just notched our 45th.

I’m retired now and thus not needing the professional support, but when I did need it, CCA best met what wanted from an actuarial organization.  The technical education is top-notch, of course, but more importantly, the friendships, meetings, and non-technical learnings have all been deep and meaningful. I now have many good friends I never would have met without CCA.  Lastly, my experience is that CCA is the actuarial organization that really reaches out to the member as opposed to the member having to go to the organization and figure out what it’s all about.