Essential Career Information
- Actuarial Associate
- Actuarial Mathematician
- Health Actuary
- Insurance Actuary
- Pricing Actuary
- Product Development Actuary
What Is an Actuary?
An actuary is primarily responsible for assessing financial risks. Critical to the insurance industry, actuaries advise clients and companies on reducing the financial risks of events such as accidents, illnesses, and natural disasters while maximizing profitability. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 20% job growth for actuaries through 2028. This guide covers actuary careers, including common duties, degree options, and career advancement opportunities.
Frequently Asked Questions
What exactly do actuaries do?
Most actuaries work for insurance companies, using math, statistics, and financial theory to determine the probability and risk of potential events.
How do you become an actuary?
Actuaries need at least a bachelor's degree in actuarial science, statistics, math, or a closely related field. They also need professional certification to practice.
How long does it take to become an actuary?
While most bachelor's degrees take four years to complete, aspiring actuaries typically need 4-7 years to earn the entry-level associate certification needed to practice.
How much do actuaries earn?
Actuaries earned an annual average salary of $102,880 in 2018, making the career among the highest-paid mathematical science occupations.
What Does an Actuary Do?
Actuaries are experts in theoretical and statistical planning, helping clients minimize risk and maximize profit potential. These professionals routinely gather data using specialized database, statistics, and modeling software and present their findings to clients and shareholders using charts and graphs.
Common actuary duties include:
- Compiling statistical data
- Estimating the probability of events, including deaths, illnesses, natural disasters, and accidents
- Drafting and implementing risk-minimizing strategies through documents like insurance policies, pension plans, and investments
- Reporting statistical data findings to clients
Actuaries often work closely with other financial professionals, such as accountants and underwriters. Successful actuaries possess advanced computer, mathematical, analytical, and problem-solving skills. Most actuaries work in insurance. They can specialize in areas, such as life insurance, pension and retirement, or enterprise risk.
Actuary vs. Accountant
An actuary relies on advanced mathematical and statistical skills to determine risk probability, while an accountant focuses primarily on ensuring clients comply with financial regulations, operate within a budget, and pay taxes correctly and on time. Accountants generally need a broader skill set than actuaries, though some accountants specialize in risk management.
Both careers feature similar education and experience requirements for entry-level positions, including a bachelor's degree and professional certification, though accountants typically have lower salaries than actuaries, earning $70,500 per year, on average.
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Actuary vs. Data Scientist
Actuaries assess and employ risk-management techniques on behalf of clients, while data scientists develop algorithms and computing technology strategies that improve hardware and software systems. Data scientists help to develop the computerized big-data management software that actuaries use to compile data.
Comparable in terms of pay and job outlook, data scientists narrowly out-earn actuaries, with an annual salary of $118,370. While candidates with a bachelor's degree in data science or a related field may qualify for some entry-level jobs, most data scientists need at least a master's degree and professional experience.
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Become an Actuary
Actuaries need a bachelor's degree and professional certification to practice. Aspiring actuaries can pursue a bachelor's degree in actuary science, statistics, mathematics, or a related field. Entry-level actuary certification requires students to complete actuary coursework as part of their degree and pass seven exams.
Bachelor's Degree Programs
A bachelor's degree is the minimum education requirement for an actuary career. Aspiring actuaries can pursue degrees in actuarial science or a related field, like computer science, economics, or engineering.
Most bachelor's degrees comprise about 120 credits and take four years of full-time study to complete, though some online programs may offer accelerated completion times. Prospective actuaries must take coursework on topics like probability theory, mathematical statistics, and data mining to meet certification standards.
Only some degrees require an internship, though most culminate in a capstone course. Some employers hire imminent graduates of a bachelor's in actuarial science or a related field with the expectation that the student will complete at least two of the seven certification exams prior to graduation.
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Master's Degree Programs
Actuaries can pursue a master's degree to advance their careers and assume leadership positions in the field. Most master's degrees comprise 30-60 credits and take two years of full-time study to complete, though some schools may offer expedited completion times.
Master's in actuarial science students can tailor the curriculum to their career goals and interests through concentrations such as risk management, mathematical finance, or insurance. Students can also pursue a master's in mathematics with a concentration in actuarial science.
Many master's programs include required or voluntary internships to give students hands-on experience in the field. Graduates can work as senior actuaries or pursue related roles, such as budget analyst, insurance underwriter, or claims adjuster.
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Professional Licensure and Certifications
Actuaries must hold professional certification to practice. Both the Society of Actuaries (SOA) and the Casualty Actuary Society (CAS) issue actuary certification. Candidates must pass a minimum of seven exams to earn initial certification as an Associate of the Society of Actuaries (ASA). They can then pursue advanced credentials, such as Chartered Enterprise Risk Analyst (CERA) or Fellow of the Society of Actuaries (FSA).
ASA exams test a candidates' fundamental actuarial skills, including modeling, risk-management techniques, and professionalism. CERA exams test more advanced actuarial skills, focusing on risk analysis methods and strategies. FSA candidates must pass exams in an acute actuarial specialization, such as corporate finance, life and annuities, or general insurance.
Exam fees vary by subject and certification level, ranging from $50-$2,650 per course. Due to the number of required exams, candidates often need 4-7 years to earn full actuary certification.