Lynn Miller, BS’63

Throughout the University of Utah’s remarkable 169-year history, there have been many outstanding alumni who have made a significant impact in Utah, the country, and the world.

College of Science alumnus Lynn C. Miller, BS’ 63 in Mathematics, is an excellent example. As the Chief Actuary at E.F. Hutton Life, in 1978, he was instrumental in the development of a revolutionary form of life insurance known as Universal Life.

Lynn grew up in Salt Lake City near the University of Utah campus. His father, Clyde Miller, BA’34 in Business, spent the majority of his career in Utah politics. Clyde ascended the legislative ranks and eventually served as the Secretary of State and Lieutenant Governor for the State of Utah from 1965-1977. Although Lynn did not follow in his father’s footsteps in the political forum, Lynn’s mastery of diplomacy would become a great asset to complement his mathematics skills.

Lynn was a fervent University of Utah basketball fan and he attended many games at the Einar Nielsen Field House. His enthusiasm for basketball would fuel his passion for mathematics and statistics. For example, he used probability modeling to create a dice game that could statistically simulate a basketball game. His interest in mathematical analysis and statistics would eventually lead to a career in mathematics and actuarial science.

However, when Lynn enrolled at the U as a student, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. “I lacked the focus and confidence to initially thrive,” says Miller. “In fact, due to my early academic struggles, I was placed on academic probation!”

During his junior year, Lynn found the confidence and commitment to academics, due to the kindness and encouragement of Mathematics Professor J.D. Smith. Professor Smith took a special interest in Lynn’s success and encouraged him to realize his true potential.

“I credit the University for supporting me. In addition to my degree, I also received valuable life lessons of hard work, dedication, and perseverance,” says Miller.

After graduating from the U, Lynn began his professional career at the Hercules Powder Company in Magna, Utah. His job allowed him to apply his mathematical skills to analyze test firings for quality control.

While at Hercules, one of his colleagues witnessed Lynn’s mathematical brilliance and mentioned that he should look into becoming an actuary, a specialized math discipline based on the measurement and management of risk and uncertainty.

Lynn seized upon an opportunity at Surety Life Insurance in Salt Lake City and began his career as an actuary. For eight years Lynn juggled his advanced actuary classes and exams, worked long hours, and along with his wife, helped to raise his young family. Ultimately, due to the job at Surety Life, Lynn found himself leveraging his mathematics and actuary skills to the pathway of disrupting the life insurance industry.

In 1972, Lynn discovered that E.F. Hutton had an opening for a Senior Vice President and Chief Actuary position. Observing the grand opportunity that presented itself, Lynn interviewed and, eventually, won the position. During his time at E.F. Hutton, Lynn became one of the key individuals to reinvent the life insurance industry. Lynn shared that a big part of his career growth was due to his awareness of opportunities and faith in his abilities to succeed.

In the late 1970s, traditional whole life insurance came under heavy criticism from the investment community. Policy cash values were being credited with very low interest rates in the 2-3% range, while external new money rates exceeded 10%. In addition, the rigid nature of a typical contract made it difficult to adapt to changing needs of the client. This created the ideal environment for the creation of the universal life product that offered the following:

  • An open, fully disclosed architecture that allows flexibility in the amount and timing of premium payments and in the balance between the savings (cash value) and pure insurance elements.
  • An earnings rate on cash values that reflected the high investment yields available at that time. This provided a significant advantage over established companies who were burdened with investment portfolios earning well under new money rates.

It’s not surprising that universal life created significant controversy, turmoil, and resistance from established insurance companies.

In fact, Mass Mutual and other large mutual companies launched expensive ad campaigns that tried to disparage and rebuke the new product. Lynn met with many groups and key individuals including the IRS, U.S. Treasury, federal and state legislators, tax attorneys, and even fellow industry antagonists to convince them of the attributes and legitimacy of universal life.

In 1981, the IRS provided a Private Letter Ruling, which held that universal life was a legitimate insurance product. The ruling was challenged in 1984. This led to an effort to permanently enact into law what constitutes a legitimate life insurance product. Lynn was extensively involved in this effort and was one of the original authors of the federal income tax definition of what constitutes life insurance for policyholder and company tax purposes, enacted in the DEFRA Tax Act of 1984.

Universal life has since become the dominant form of life insurance for the past quarter century. Last year it represented more than 60% of permanent cash value type life insurance sales.

In 1999, Lynn moved to Pacific Life Insurance Company and became the Chief Actuary for the Life Insurance Division. In 2002, he was promoted to Executive Vice President and Head of the Life Insurance Division. He retired in 2012.

His stellar career positively impacted millions of life insurance customers, and their families, who have benefited from universal life insurance.

Lynn and his wife, Sue, reside in San Diego, CA, and are strong supporters of Utah athletics. They have season football tickets and attend many home games in Rice-Eccles stadium.