Actuary Career Information
“An actuary is basically supposed to predict the future, estimating future risks and costs,” wrote Bette Wiebke (for a CNN Money article entitled “4 degrees with 0% unemployment”). “Being able to do that well is so valuable to a company.” Even as a kid, Wiebke’s parents knew she would become an actuary because of her exemplary math skills. Although Wiebke is not sure that the unemployment is exactly 0% for actuarial science grads, she says that she had a job lined up even before she graduated from Drake University and most of her classmates were also successful at finding employment.
Among CareerCast.com’s Ranking of 200 jobs for 2012, actuary was rated as the second best job in the United States! CareerCast.com ranked the professions based on research they conducted in five areas: work environment, stress (higher ranking jobs would generally have less work-related stress), physical demands, job outlook and salary.
An actuary career is a fulfilling one for the right candidate—someone with top quantitative skills and an excellent work ethic, who is analytical and able to work strategically well with colleagues, such as accountants, financial analysts and managers.
Although working as an actuary (a position high in demand with a lucrative salary) provides great job satisfaction, it can be a challenging to complete all the steps to become a fully designated actuary. However, for those called to fulfill an actuary job description, hard work and determination will lead to successful entry into this rewarding career.
Actuary Job Description
“We [actuaries] manage risk,” states BeAnActuary.org. “…Actuaries are experts in evaluating the likelihood of future events—using numbers, not crystal balls; designing creative ways to reduce the likelihood of undesirable events; and, decreasing the impact of undesirable events that do occur.”
The types of risks that actuaries assess range from natural disasters to illness. Actuaries may do this working for insurance companies (such as health, property, casualty and life insurance companies), consulting firms, pension and retirement plan companies, government agencies, labor unions, private companies, banks and universities, among others.
Some tasks that characterize an actuary job description include:
• Estimating the probability of a risk occurring and its associated economic cost, based on analyzing all relevant data.
• Helping create policies and strategies to reduce the chance of risk and to increase the potential for profit on behalf of their employer or client.
• Producing reports and visuals explaining their findings/recommendations and presenting and explaining these to their clients or employer’s executive team and any other relevant parties.
• Working with a team of financial staff, such as underwriters, accountants, financial analysts and others.
• In some cases, traveling to various destinations to meet with clients (particularly as a consulting actuary).
Just SOME specific examples of the type of work an actuary may do (depending on who they are working for) include:
• Figuring out how much a company should charge for automobile insurance after analyzing data related to gender, age, driver history, car model, etc.
• Helping private companies develop cost-effective and yet competitive retirement plans, ensuring they can actually make payments in the future.
• Assisting with developing life insurance policies; this involves conducting analysis on data such as age, family history, gender, alcohol consumption and smoking, to estimate life expectancy.
Those considering an actuary career would be wise to take a degree in actuarial science, mathematics, finance bachelor’s degree, economics, statistics, computer science, management information systems, physics or another related discipline. BeAnActuary.Org also recommends that students complete one or more internships to gain real-world experience, to find out which actuarial concentration they are most interested in (i.e. life/health versus property/casualty), and to make connections for future employment. Often university programs or services will offer internship opportunities. You can also take action and contact companies that hire actuaries to find out if you can volunteer as an intern.
Often someone striving to become an actuary will first work as actuarial analyst (assisting actuaries), according to California Polytechnic State University’s Statistics Department. John Hsieh, an actuarial analyst (profiled in “Early Career Profiles” from the University of California, Berkeley Mathematics Department) said that at the same time as working at Watson Wyatt Worldwide, he was studying for his SOA exams. “It really takes determination and hard work to complete all of the exams and become an actuary,” said Hsieh. “The payoff in the end is quite great though: due to high demand for actuaries, this career has been consistently ranked in the top five jobs in the nation.” Note that a number of employers will allocate time to their entry-level actuarial personnel to prepare for their SOA or CAS exams and may even pay for exam fees.
Working Towards Professional Designation
“To become an ‘Actuary’, you must become an Associate, and ultimately a Fellow, of one of the professional societies by passing a series of examinations administered by them,” states Purdue University’s Mathematics Department. Becoming recognized by these professional societies—the SOA or the CAS–involves a rigorous process of writing exams and continuing education. For more information, visit our Designation and Credential Requirements for Actuaries page.
Actuary Salary & Job Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the salary and job outlook for actuaries are:
Median Salary (2010): $87,650/year
(The top 10%, according to the BLS made over $160,00/year in 2010. BeAnActuary.org adds that experienced actuaries with “Fellow” designations can even make $250,000/year.)
Job Outlook: 27% increase in jobs from 2010 to 2020
(This outlook is considered “faster than average” according to the BLS.)