Actuary Jobs and Actuarial Careers

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What do Actuaries do?

If you are interested in and have a strong aptitude for mathematics and statistics, a career as an actuary might suit you.

Actuaries use analysis and business knowledge to calculate levels of risk - i.e. the possibility that an undesirable event will occur.

Actuaries spend their working time calculating the likelihood of events happening in the future, creating ways to reduce that possibility and to decrease the impact if they do occur.

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Most actuaries (around 60%) work in the insurance industry, where their input is central to the creation of insurance policies and the setting of premium rates. Others are employed in the pensions, banking and investments industries, as well as healthcare. Many qualifications are globally recognised and are held in similar regard to medicine and law. The training and level of expertise required is demanding.

Will An Actuarial Career Suit You?

Clearly, a passion for mathematics is a prerequisite for this area of work. You need to be an analytical thinker and problem solver, easily able to understand the complexities of social and economic systems. You need to understand how businesses operate and how legislation impacts on their interests. To be successful in this field, you need to apply statistical data to reach meaningful evaluations in the world of finance.

Not only this, but you need to be able to apply your knowledge to some heavyweight study and examinations to gain your qualifications. In return, salaries and benefits packages are generous from the outset. This is one of the highest paid professions, with worldwide numerous international opportunities.

There are considerable rewards if you do join the profession. Actuaries play a key role in the work of major corporations and governmental bodies, informing high level strategic decision-making. You can find employment in the specialist areas of pensions, insurance, healthcare, investments and banking, or for any organisation where risk management is central to the products or services. Consultancy is another option.

Actuarial Jobs: Consultancies

In the UK, the majority of actuaries work for consultancies, with advice relating to occupational pension schemes the biggest area of focus. Required by law to appoint an actuary, pension providers seek consultation when developing a new pension scheme, assessing premium levels for existing plans, or reaching evaluations in the event of take-overs.

Others advise in the financial sector, being concerned with issues including acquisition and mergers, as well as the financing of capital projects. Consultancies frequently provide a range of services that complement each other from various specialists in the firm.

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Actuarial Jobs: Investment

Actuaries have long been involved in investment management, with respect to trading, analysis of investments and portfolio management. The finance sector employs them to solve problems and advise on investment decisions, thereby minimising risk. The actuaries' understanding of insurance and pensions is also used to manage the pension fund assets that are associated with the investments.

Corporate finance also draws on the actuary's skills, alongside those of the investment banker. When it comes to the financial viability of a major new capital project, risk management is greatly enhanced by the actuary's skills in forecasting and assessing risks. Those behind the strategic decisions, and therefore the employers, include government departments, management consultancies and specialist property companies.

High street banks are using the services of actuaries to add longer term stability and value to their activities, while investment banks are using actuaries to advise on hedge products. Meanwhile, insurance companies' activities are starting to move closer to those of investment bankers, meaning this area of employment is growing larger year on year.

Actuarial Jobs: General Insurance

General insurance is another fast growing area, in insurance companies and consultancies. These organisations need actuarial research and analyses, using statistical models, performed on huge amounts of data to inform creation of policies, terms and conditions.

This covers personal insurance, home and motor insurance, and commercial insurance policies for single projects. There is so much variability in the type and number of claims that a general insurer may need to pay out - think of any significant natural disaster and the huge payouts that must follow - that actuaries have a major role to play in financial management.

Other areas include Lloyd's syndicates, The Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), broking operations and reinsurance companies.

Actuarial Jobs: Life Insurance and Pensions

UK law stipulates that every life insurance office should appoint at least one actuary to ensure sound financial management and strategising. Many products come under life insurance companies' remit: life insurance, income protection, financial services and pensions. Actuaries contribute to all stages of the policies' development, with their involvement extending to risk assessment, pricing and marketing.

Additionally, the actuaries' work leads to informed investment of the policyholders' money. As well as advising on the companies' ability to pay out on claims, the actuaries work to ensure a good return on policyholders' invested monies. Companies that have with-profits business must by law employ a with-profits actuaries, to ensure policyholders receive fair bonus payments based on sensible investments.

Private healthcare provision is increasingly a concern of insurance companies, with more medical, critical illness and disability insurance policies available.

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Training as an Actuary

The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries outlines the following career route for becoming a qualified actuary.

At 16-18 years, an essential examination to take is the A-Level or higher in Mathematics. You won't become an actuary without having this under your belt.

You'll need to gain a good degree next. Employers usually require a 2.1 result or a First. You can choose any subject, but for the best opportunities, you should take a numerate degree: i.e. maths, statistics, economics, engineering, chemistry or physics. If you can gain a place on an actuarial science degree, so much the better.

You can next secure a trainee position with an actuarial firm. Work experience counts for a considerable amount and will give you invaluable experience. The website offers a list of actuarial employers who provide such positions.

While continuing to learn on the job, you can register as a student member with the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. This means studying, by distance learning if you wish, over 3-6 years for further examinations on areas including statistical modelling, economics and financial actuarial maths. If you pass the examinations and are assessed successfully on your workplace skills, you can become an Associate. Many employers will be supportive if you wish to study while working.

You can become an Actuary at any age, changing from another profession if that's what you wish. If your current or previous job has been giving you related experience, then you'll find the transition easier. The Institute suggests that you independently take a couple of the examinations before taking any permanent steps, so that you can assess your own skills first.

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