How to Become an Actuary
Actuaries need a bachelor’s degree and must pass a series of exams to become certified professionals.
Actuaries need a bachelor’s degree and must pass a series of exams to become certified professionals. Students must complete coursework in economics, applied statistics, and corporate finance, all which are required for professional certification.
Actuaries must have a strong background in mathematics, statistics, and business. Typically, an actuary has an undergraduate degree in mathematics, statistics, business, or actuarial science.
To become certified professionals, students must complete coursework in economics, applied statistics, and corporate finance. Coursework in calculus and business, such as accounting and management, are essential for students as well.
Students should also take classes outside of mathematics and business to prepare them for a career as an actuary. Coursework in computer science, especially programming languages and the ability to use and develop spreadsheets, databases, and statistical analysis tools, is valuable. Classes in writing and public speaking will improve students’ ability to communicate in the business world.
Many students take internships, which are a valuable way to gain experience outside of the classroom while they are still in school. Many employers offer their interns permanent jobs after they graduate.
An increasing number of employers expect students to have passed at least one of the initial actuary exams needed for professional certification (as described in the certification section) before graduation.
Two professional societies—the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) and the Society of Actuaries (SOA)—sponsor programs leading to full professional status. The CAS and SOA offer two levels of certification: associate and fellowship.
The CAS certifies actuaries who work in the property and casualty field, which includes automobile, homeowners’, medical malpractice, and workers’ compensation insurance.
The SOA certifies actuaries who work in life insurance, health insurance, retirement benefits, investments, and finance. Most actuaries in the United States are certified by the SOA.
The main requirement for associate certification in each society is the successful completion of exams. The SOA requires that candidates pass five exams for associate (ASA) certification. The CAS requires that candidates pass seven exams for associate (ACAS) certification. In addition, both CAS and SOA require that candidates take seminars on professionalism. Both societies have mandatory e-learning courses for candidates.
It typically takes 4 to 6 years for an actuary to get an ACAS or an ASA certification because each exam requires hundreds of hours of study and months of preparation.
After becoming associates, it typically takes actuaries another 2 to 3 years to earn fellowship status.
The SOA offers fellowship certification in five separate tracks: life and annuities, group and health benefits, retirement benefits, investments, and finance/enterprise risk management. Unlike the SOA, the CAS does not offer specialized study tracks for fellowship certification.
Both the CAS and the SOA have continuing education requirements. Most actuaries meet this requirement by attending training seminars that are sponsored by their employers or the societies.
Analytical skills. Actuaries use analytical skills to identify patterns and trends in complex sets of data to determine the factors that have an effect on certain types of events.
Computer skills. Actuaries must know programming languages and be able to use and develop spreadsheets, databases, and statistical analysis tools.
Interpersonal skills. Actuaries serve as leaders and members of teams, so they must be able to listen to other people’s opinions and suggestions before reaching a conclusion.
Math skills. Actuaries quantify risk by using the principles of calculus, statistics, and probability.
Problem-solving skills. Actuaries identify risks and develop ways for businesses to manage those risks.
Speaking skills. Actuaries must be able to explain complex technical matters to those who lack an actuarial background in a way that helps them understand the subject.
Writing skills. Actuaries must be able to communicate clearly through the reports and memos that describe their work and recommendations.
Most entry-level actuaries start out as trainees. They are typically on teams with more experienced actuaries who serve as mentors. At first they perform basic tasks such as compiling data, but as they gain more experience, they may conduct research and write reports. Beginning actuaries may spend time working in other departments, such as marketing, underwriting, and product development, to learn all aspects of the company’s work and how actuarial work applies to them.
Most employers support their actuaries throughout the certification process. For example, employers typically pay the cost of exams and study materials. Many firms provide paid time to study and encourage their employees to set up study groups. Employees usually receive raises or bonuses for each exam that they pass.
Pension actuaries must be enrolled by the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Joint Board for the Enrollment of Actuaries. Applicants must meet certain experience requirements and pass two exams administered through the SOA to qualify for enrollment.
Advancement depends largely on job performance and the number of actuarial exams passed. For example, actuaries who achieve fellowship status often supervise the work of other actuaries and provide advice to senior management. Actuaries with a broad knowledge of risk management and how it applies to business can rise to executive positions in their companies, such as chief risk officer or chief financial officer.