An actuary evaluates the probability of events occurring and helps his or her employer minimize their cost. He or she uses database software, statistical analysis and modeling software. Most actuaries work for insurance companies, helping them design policies and set premiums. Others help pension funds determine whether they will be able to meet their obligations to their beneficiaries.
There were close to 22,000 actuaries employed in 2010. Most worked in the insurance industry for carriers, agencies and brokerages. Consulting firms employed some. A few were self employed.
Most jobs in this field are full time positions. Actuaries usually work in offices. Those who work for consulting firms spend time traveling to meet with clients.
To work as an actuary one needs a bachelor's degree in mathematics, statistics, actuarial science or business. Typical coursework includes economics, applied statistics, finance, accounting, calculus and computer science.
To work as an actuary you must earn an actuarial designation from the Society of Actuaries (SOA) or the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS). To do this you must pass a series of exams, fulfill certain education requirements and take mandatory online courses including a seminar on professionalism.
The SOA certifies actuaries who work in the areas of health and life insurance, finance, retirement benefits and investments while the CAS certifies those who are employed in the property and casualty insurance field. The first four tests in the series of exams are common to both organizations although they go by different titles. Together they are known as preliminary exams. The SOA requires passing two additional exams while CAS candidates must pass three more tests. It can take between six and ten years to pass all the exams but one can work as an actuarial assistant after passing only the first two (Fast Facts About Actuaries). Many begin taking exams while they are still in school. Upon fulfilling all the requirements one becomes an associate of either the SOA or CAS. After achieving associate status, once can go on to achieve fellow status by fulfilling requirements in a specialty area.
Those who aspire to this career must have a variety of skills in addition to what they learn in the classroom. Actuaries rely on strong analytical, math and computer skills in order to analyze data, quantify risk and perform other aspects of their jobs. In order to identify risks and help businesses manage them, they must be good problem solvers. Good interpersonal skills help them function as members or leaders of teams. Strong speaking skills and writing skills are also required.
Individuals are promoted as they pass exams. Those who have achieved fellowship status in either the ASA or CAS, may be promoted to supervisory positions. Actuaries who perform their jobs well and can demonstrate a broad knowledge of the insurance, pension, investment or employee benefits fields may move on to executive positions such as Chief Risk Officer or Chief Financial Officer.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an excellent job outlook for actuaries. Employment will grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2020 with demand for actuaries who specialize in health and in property and casualty insurance expected to be the highest. Those who specialize in life insurance will not fare as well. In spite of the strong employment outlook, actuaries will face significant competition for jobs.
Actuaries earned a median annual salary of $91,060 and median hourly wages of $43.78 in 2011 (US).
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A Day in an Actuary's Life:
On a typical day an actuary's tasks might include:
- analyzing statistical information to determine risks of certain events occurring
- determining company policies to minimize costs of risks
- calculating insurance premium rates
- helping financial firms manage risks and maximize returns
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Actuaries, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/actuaries.htm (visited February 27, 2013).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Actuaries, on the Internet at http://www.onetonline.org/link/details/15-2011.00 (visited February 27, 2013).