Being an actuary and designing pension plans is what Mark Fishman does. But his love of sports and The Beatles makes him one fascinating guy.
What does a bobblehead collection, baseball, The Beatles, sports cars and Bugs Bunny all have in common? E. Mark Fishman. He can be categorized as the type of man who makes his life happen. He is a driving force in his company and his family. Fearless, happy and funny is not what the average person thinks of when you picture an actuary in your head. But when you picture this actuary in your head, you can’t help but think about how happy and fun he is.
Listen to Mark’s story here.
Click here for transcript
Unknown Speaker 0:00
From Los Angeles, this is the Echelon Radio Network.
Jerri Hemsworth 0:14
This is Jerri Hemsworth of the Echelon Radio Podcast. And I’m sitting here with Mark Fishman. How you doing?
Mark Fishman 0:22
Great. Jerry. How are you?
Jerri Hemsworth 0:23
I’m doing okay. Hey, it’s Wednesday.
Mark Fishman 0:26
Can’t get through the week fast enough.
Jerri Hemsworth 0:28
Oh, come on. Friday.
Mark Fishman 0:31
Hurry up. Giddy up.
Jerri Hemsworth 0:33
Yeah. Hey Mark, you’re an actuary.
Mark Fishman 0:38
An exciting actuary.
Jerri Hemsworth 0:41
Yeah, not a boring one. What is an actuary? We hear that term, and I just don’t know what it is.
Mark Fishman 0:48
Well, there are different types of actuaries. There are four categories, and they’re all insurance related. Okay, so you have the health insurance, life insurance, casualty and property risk, and then you have pensions. So all the big insurance companies that you know of, you know, the the New York Life and all the big insurance companies. Most of them are based out of and headquartered back east. They will try and pull kids out of college who have actual degrees to train them and groom them to become actuaries in these insurance companies. So what the actuary does is they look at risk, reserves, cash reserves, and they help determine based on experience that certain areas and industries are experiencing, how much is at risk for the insurance company in terms of what they’re gonna have to pay out? What are the odds that they’re going to have to have claims? How much money do they need to have in reserves, so they have enough money in case there’s a big catastrophe, they can’t pay it out. So the actuaries are determining and what premiums need to be paid. So there’s enough money coming in versus what’s being paid out. So the actuaries are actually mathematically modeling the different kinds of risks, liabilities, and cash reserves that are needed. That’s not what I do. So those are the insurance company actuaries.
Jerri Hemsworth 2:04
Mark Fishman 2:05
I’m in a consulting world where we design retirement plans to determine how much is needed at retirement, for companies and their employees to figure out what they need to contribute and put into these plans every year. So they’re funding the plans properly based on how many employees there are, what are the liabilities? What are they gonna have to pay out at retirement, okay, but the real bottom line is, that’s the theoretical idea of what a pension actuary does. But what I really do is I help clients determine how to get the biggest deduction, because what goes into these plans is deductible as a business expense. So I do a reverse engineering to figure out how much they’ll need to have at retirement, how much they’ll have to pay out in order for them to contribute a certain amount that they want to use as a deduction every year. So
Jerri Hemsworth 2:52
So you work basically with the business owner, and or partners. You’re up there at that level.
Mark Fishman 3:01
Yeah. Or their financial advisors or their accountants because the accountants know what their tax situation is and how much they need to deduct and write off to save in taxes.
Jerri Hemsworth 3:09
Wow. And your firm is Actuaries, Unlimited, and you’re based in Encino, correct? About how many clients or accounts are you managing corporate wide?
Mark Fishman 3:22
Yeah, so we have the number of plans on the books about 23-2400 plans on the books. And so that’s why we have about 44 employees. There’s three partners. There’s seven licensed actuaries because one of the types of plans we work on are called defined benefit plans or cash balance plans. And those plans require an actuary to certify and sign off on what’s been contributed to these plans every year by an actuary. So because we have about 900 to 1000 of those plans, we need to have lots of licensed actuaries on staff. That’s why we have seven of us out of the 44 people.
Jerri Hemsworth 4:01
Oh, my gosh. So what type of actuary makes a good actuary? Versus a not very good actuary? I mean, like, what are the traits of a good actuary?
Mark Fishman 4:21
That’s actually a really good question. It’s interesting because we all follow the same laws and the same rules. You know, the government passes laws that the actuaries have to follow. Just like if you think of accountants. They all have the same laws and the same rules they have to follow. But of course, some of these laws and rules are gray, it’s subject to interpretation. It’s how comfortable an actuary is, and they feel that if they ever get audited by the IRS, they could support an argue their position. Experience from dealing with the IRS and audits to know what is acceptable by IRS even if it’s a gray area in the law and what is not acceptable. What you can push through If you get audited and what you can’t, so I think a good actuary is someone who understands and has the experience in dealing with IRS knows how to push the envelope and where the line is, how far the line can go, that you have too aggressive actuaries, too many conservative actuaries, you have to find the one that knows how to push the envelope far enough, but not increase the risk of getting audited and getting into trouble for a client. So that’s one thing. The other important aspect of a good actuary versus not such a good actuary is service. Key. A lot of actuaries in firms that have actuaries do not provide great service. If you could think about it, these are numbers people, these aren’t the most social people or the business related people. They’re like engineers, you know, they’re very methodical, very numerical. And they don’t understand what service means. They maybe are great with the numbers are reading the law, but they don’t know how to service or work with clients or other professionals. So in our practice, we really push for top service, we push our employees that you have to respond quickly. You have to you have to give them good advice. Explain things in detail, but not too much detail. That’s one of the problems of actuaries is they will explain things in too much detail and go over the head of clients and even CPAs and attorneys.
Jerri Hemsworth 6:19
The eyes start to glaze over.
Mark Fishman 6:21
And they lose them! So we try hard not to do that. So we have to find that middle ground of where you can relate to a client, explain it well enough but not lose him.
Jerri Hemsworth 6:31
So I kind of think of you as a unicorn actuary, because you are—
Mark Fishman 6:39
Let me move the horn in the middle of my head so it doesn’t get in the way the microphone.
Jerri Hemsworth 6:43
So, you are so personable and so social and not what you just described as that numbers person that wants to be left alone. So how did you get into becoming an actuary?
Mark Fishman 6:59
It wasn’t my primary desire in life. I admit I was actually an electrical engineer when I graduated from UCLA, way, way back. And I worked in the aerospace industry, which really didn’t hit my fancy and I got bored and I just didn’t enjoy it. I needed something that was more business related, that I can understand, rather than guidance systems and missiles, just couldn’t relate. So I heard about this term actuary. I didn’t even know what it was. I had no clue whatsoever. Way back then there was no Google. So I looked up in the Yellow Pages “actuaries” and there were five actuaries listed on pacbell. And there were five firms listed and Actuaries Unlimited was the first one because it was alphabetical. I made a cold call, spoke to one of the partners. Luckily, I got through to a partner, who spent about 20 minutes on the phone just telling me what an actuary does. By the end of the conversation, he said, “You seem like a nice, intelligent young man, we have an entry level position. How’d you like to come and work here? “All I was calling was to find out what an actuary does. I don’t even know what they did. So I thought about it and said I wasn’t sure. And he said “What have you got to lose? Come in anyway. ” So that was a Friday afternoon. I went in on Monday, I met him. After the interview, he asked me to come back to meet the other partner who wasn’t there that Monday. I went back and met the other partner, still didn’t know if I wanted to do this. And they made me an offer. And I said, I need to make a change in my life. And I went for it.
Jerri Hemsworth 8:37
How old were you?
Mark Fishman 8:39
- And I went for it. And I started at the bottom, I learned the business. I actually left there after four years, because it was a really small firm. And there was really no growth potential there for me. And after four years, I left and I went to some other firms. And then I studied and became a licensed actuary along that way. I was gone for seven years. I stayed in touch with them. We’re still friends. And after seven years being gone, he called me back and said, Hey, check to come work for us again. And I actually said No, thank you. I’m not looking for a job. I’m happy where I am. I’m good. Unless you offer me something more than an employee. I threw that out. I figured he’d shoot me down faster than anything. And he said, “Let’s talk.” So we spent a few weeks, cut a deal. I came back seven years later as a partner and never left
Jerri Hemsworth 9:27
Early 30s, you’re a partner.
Mark Fishman 9:29
Yeah. And that was in ’93. And I’m still here and now we’ve grown the firm from about nine or 10 people to 44 people. Quite large, have all these actuaries and it’s been a very fun, interesting and great learning journey for me.
Jerri Hemsworth 9:45
That’s fantastic. Yeah, that’s really cool. When when you’re not playing at the office and playing unicorn actuary. What do you like to do?
Mark Fishman 10:01
Well, I’ve got a few few fun hobbies and passions. So one of my passions is my partner Carrie and I, we love to travel. So prior to COVID, we, every year, we made a commitment, but 11 years ago in 2010, that we didn’t want to wait until we’re older to start traveling. Want to see the world. So we committed to making one big trip a year starting in 2010. And we’ve been all over. We’ve been to Israel, Turkey, France, Germany, Poland, gosh, whre else, Italy, and Italy turns out to be one of our most favorite places to go. Love Italy, especially Tuscany. So traveling up until COVID has been a real passion of ours. And we decided two years ago, we would up the game instead of going once a year, we would take two trips a year, because age is creeping up. We were running out.
Jerri Hemsworth 10:52
Yeah, that happens.
Mark Fishman 10:53
Jerri Hemsworth 10:55
Or not so funny!
Mark Fishman 10:55
So we did two trips right before in the year of ’19. Before COVID. Last year, of course nothing. We have a big trip planned prior to COVID. We were going to go to Africa for a big African safari, three and a half week trip. Had to cancel it, reschedule it. We pushed it off from last May to this coming October, and now we’ve had to push that off. So now we’re hoping to do it next April, May. So we’re rescheduling it. So travel is a big one. Yeah. I would say also when we do travel, especially when we’re in Italy, we love the Italian wines. So we are somewhat collectors of Italian wines. And we just love going to certain kinds of wineries and drinking their brunellos and just that’s my favorite. And so I just love the Italian wines. So we do a little bit of collecting of those. Sports. It’s a big passion of mine. I grew up playing baseball, basketball, football. Played it my whole life. So I’m a huge Dodgers and a huge Lakers fan. Always been since I was a little kid. Season tickets. So many Lakers games and Dodger games, and unfortunately last year was a real bittersweet year. Dodgers and Lakers won the championship in the same year and it was the one year I couldn’t go to either one, either one. And I’ve been going to all these games I went to the Dodgers when they lost.
Jerri Hemsworth 12:19
I think I saw your cardboard cutout. I swear to God, it was you.
Mark Fishman 12:23
It wasn’t me! I never did that. Should of. I kind of wish I did. But no. So I love going to the games. That’s a real passion. Summer Nights at the Hollywood Bowl. My partner and I at work we share box seats over at the Hollywood Bowl, so we love going to those events. Summer evening in LA is absolutely fantastic. Love that. And also my other passion, which you know about Jerry, is good old Beatles. I’m a Beatles fanatic. Is that a nice way to say it?
Jerri Hemsworth 12:54
Sure. You can say you’re a fanatic.
Mark Fishman 12:55
Groupie, fanatic. Whatever you want to call it. Nuts over them. Love the Beatles.
Jerri Hemsworth 13:00
But what’s your favorite? What’s your all time favorite song? Can you nail it down to one?
Mark Fishman 13:05
I can. Of course, it’s really hard because I love so many of them. And they’re all up there. But if I had to pick one and you put a gun to my head, it would be “A Day in the Life.” My most favorite number one song and I’ve been listening to them ever since I was a kid. In fact, I’ll even mention way back when I was 13 years old in 1970. I had my bar mitzvah and two of the prizes that I gave away at my bar mitzvah were two Beatle albums. It was Let It Be an Abbey Road. Because those were the most current albums at the time. And so I bought those albums and gave them away at my bar mitzvah.
Jerri Hemsworth 13:41
Did you cry as you gave them away?
Mark Fishman 13:44
No. I already had them. These were extras I bought just for the bar mitzvah. So you know, even back then when I was 13, I was a big Beatles fan.
Jerri Hemsworth 13:52
Were your friends also?
Mark Fishman 13:53
No, not as much. A little bit, but not as much as me. So my kids, I have two boys. And so when they were little, of course, I was playing Beatles all the time with them in the car, at home. So they’ve really learned all about the Beatles. They know most of the songs, especially my younger son who’s 31 now, he knows all the words and he’s a big Beatles fan. He listens to them when he works out, he listens to him in the car. So he’s a real he’s turning his friends on to the Beatles, because a lot of them don’t have a clue.
Jerri Hemsworth 14:20
Yes, we have a fair amount of Beatle albums and we had vinyls and then of course, you know, CDs. I don’t know if we still have the vinyls. We do have the CDs. I just saw them this morning. And we introduced our daughter when she was very little. And now she too loves it and she’s playing the guitar and she’s always plinking out something and there’s always a Beatle tune in there.
Mark Fishman 14:52
That’s wonderful. Good for her.
Jerri Hemsworth 14:53
Yeah, so she’s very up on it. I grew up with the Beatles. Brian did too.
Mark Fishman 14:58
And Carrie, my partner at home, she’s a huge, huge Rolling Stones fan. So that’s like, that’s a real battle at the house. So she thinks the Beatles are very good. But the stones rule for her. So she knows that I think the Beatles rule and I’m a stones fan too, trust me, but we are opposites. So we have these sStones/Beatles, you know, issues at home.
Jerri Hemsworth 15:28
I understand, I completely understand. So, I have been to your office. I have seen the toys and the memorabilia. So sports and Beatles, what is what is your favorite Beatle memorabilia piece that you have? And what is your favorite sports piece that you have?
Mark Fishman 15:53
That’s a great question. I would say from the sports side, I have a lot of bobbleheads that I’ve you know, collected from when I go to Dodger games and I have a lot of bobbleheads. I would say probably my favorite are two bobbleheads. Well one is a bobble head, Sandy Kofuax. Who I remember as a kid listening to him pitch back in the 60s when I was on a transistor radio in elementary school. So koufax is near and dear to my heart. And so I have a bobble head of him. And the other is I have a little, it’s not a bobble head but it’s sort of like a little statue of Vin Scully statue that I have also. It’s not him. It’s a microphone. It’s in honor of him. It was handed out at one of the Dodger games that I went to, and it’s just like, memorabilia for Vin Scully when you know, he retired. And it’s just commemorating Vin Scully. So he’s also one of my all time greats growing up, listening to him as a kid in the World Series games, the Dodger playoff games. Crowding around little groups in elementary school during recess with a transistor radio, listening to Vin Scully call the game. A lot of fun. A lot of fun memories. The other the other on my walls in my office: Beatle posters. So what would be some of the ones that mean the most to me? Hmm. There’s one poster I have that has all the words. It has a picture of john lennon, it’s “In My Life.” Which the words mean a lot to me. And so having that poster with all the words, written on the poster really speaks to me and I see it every day. That’s probably one of my most favorite ones. Yeah. So, you know, go in my office every day. And I see Beatle pictures, and I see john Lennon’s “In My Life.” And I know, The Beatles bobbleheads, it’s not a bad place to look at. I like it.
Jerri Hemsworth 17:51
You have something else in your in your office and it inspired some conversation, and that is a baseball bat. And from what I understand, there’s a small college in Kentucky. And they have something called the fish room. What the hell is the fish room?
Mark Fishman 18:14
Well, I can’t tell you what it really is or I’ll have to kill you. Honestly, it is the college my younger son went to. He played baseball there, a Division III school. Andd that college really spoke to my heart. And I’ve really been quite involved with that college ever since he’s been there. They really promoted him and did some great things for him. He became a starting catcher at the school when he was a freshman. He learned how to grow up there. They really pushed him hard. The professors are really dedicated to the undergrad students there. I got to know the president of the school and it just became a place that I really appreciated and saw the growth that they pushed my son, and he really learned a lot. And so after he graduated, I stayed in touch with the school quite a bit. And I’ve really been involved with the school and so I made a donation to help them build a indoor batting cage because they didn’t have one out in Kentucky it gets pretty cold. in the winter. Yeah, those poor kids would wear ski masks, gloves when they were practicing. You know, before the season started, batting was impossible, it was outdoors, God, you know, in 20 degree, single digit weather in the snow. And I thought, you know, the opportunity came up and they asked me would I want to be a contributor for this indoor batting cage that they were building and I said I’m in even though my son was no longer there, and he had graduated, I knew what he went through and how horrible it was for them to practice out in the cold. So I donated and they named the Fishman Center for the indoor batting facility after me. Yeah. At first it was very strange, but it it ended up being pretty cool. I have to say.
Jerri Hemsworth 20:01
And the nickname for it is the fish room?
Mark Fishman 20:02
Yeah, the Fish Center. They say, let’s go batting at the fish. Which was by the way, my son’s nickname growing up and mine growing up as well. Fish.
Jerri Hemsworth 20:14
So we can just start calling you fish.
Mark Fishman 20:17
Either I or my son will turn around to look. One of us will look.
Jerri Hemsworth 20:23
Two very quick questions. Top of Mind. Your favorite car?
Mark Fishman 20:34
Probably has to be the one I’m driving now, which is a 2009 550 Sl. And I’m not a sports guy, a sports car guy. I am not. And I was convinced to get that car. And even though at my age, it’s getting a little hard getting in and out of that car now, But I really love it. It is pretty awesome to drive in to maneuver on the freeway and go around people. It’s it’s pretty special car. Yeah.
Jerri Hemsworth 21:02
Favorite cartoon when you were a kid?
Mark Fishman 21:08
Hands down without a doubt, it’s the Looney Tunes cartoons. Bugs Bunny, Road Runner. Oh, yeah, all those, I just love those. To me, even as a kid, they were so advanced and they were so funny yet adults can really enjoy them because of a lot of adult hidden messages and lingo in there. I just think it’s hysterical. And I could watch them to this day. In fact I do. I watch it. The Looney Tunes. You know the Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn.
Jerri Hemsworth 21:44
You wouldn’t be wanting to to write the insurance for the old Roadrunner and coyote.
Mark Fishman 21:52
No, that’s Acme. that’s way too high risk. I wouldn’t, no. But if they want to set up a pension plan they can give me a call. Actually to this day if I ever see Acme or a company name Acme, right away think of the Looney Toons. Always. So those are for sure myy favorite. I could watch them to this day.
Jerri Hemsworth 22:18
Mark Fishman, Thank you,
Mark Fishman 22:19
Jerry. This is a pleasure. I really had a good time. Thank you so much.
Unknown Speaker 22:31
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Transcribed by https://otter.ai