What is an actuary?

Actuaries are more than just number crunchers: they not only have to be good at maths, but also innovative thinkers and problem solvers, helping companies to manage their risk.

Actuaries analyse past and present data to solve real business problems. A lot of an actuaries’ work is about risk management: assessing how likely an event might be and the costs associated with it. Actuaries predict and measure emerging risks and then help to reduce them, putting financial safeguards in place.

Actuaries must have a deep understanding of how businesses operate; they need to keep up to date with legislative changes, long-term demographic trends and have general commercial and economic awareness.

Depending on where they work, an actuary could be involved in:

  • Determining the cost of insurance premiums
  • Advising a company on their pensions plans
  • Managing financial assets and liabilities.

Entry requirements

The actuarial profession is one that demands a high level of academic attainment. The majority of employers look for graduates with a 2:1 or above, ideally in a numerical subject, and excellent A levels or equivalent.

  • Maths A level (or equivalent) at grade B or higher
  • 2:1 or above in any numerate discipline (other disciplines may be considered and some employers will accept candidates with a 2:2).

How do you become a qualified actuary?

Passing the professional exams is the first hurdle to becoming an actuary, and this must be coupled with at least three years’ practical experience to fully qualify. It takes a lot of hard work, so ensure you work towards your actuarial qualifications with a firm that really supports you, meets the costs associated with your exams and study, provides you with study leave and also gives you the practical experience you need to make your mark.

Beyond this you will need to develop the capacity to give expert advice. Often this will involve dealing with non-actuaries and the general public, so the ability to communicate and articulate difficult topics to non-specialists clearly is of paramount importance.

Career paths

An actuary’s early training has a split focus on passing the professional exams and building practical experience. Once qualified, many actuaries go on to be practising specialists in one of the traditional fields, with many actuaries becoming senior managers in firms of consultants or insurance companies.

There are many different career paths: some actuaries specialise in technical research, whilst others may focus more on commercial activities. The different roles require different mixes of skills, but whatever a particular actuary’s strengths, there will be a niche for them.

Expert domains

The traditional areas in which actuaries operate are:

  • Consultancy
  • Investment
  • Life and general insurance
  • Pensions.

Actuaries are also increasingly moving into other areas of the financial sector such as risk management, banking and capital project management, where their analytical skills can be employed.

The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA)

The IFoA is the only chartered professional body for actuaries in the UK. The aim of the IFoA is to support actuaries throughout their careers so they have the skills, attributes and knowledge appropriate for the evolving needs of the UK financial sector, primarily as risk professionals. In addition, it has the twin roles of regulating and representing members to the outside world.

In order to become an Associate or Fellow of the IFoA students have to pass examinations, demonstrate satisfactory completion of certain modules and acquire a satisfactory level of work-related experience.

What next?

If you have found this overview interesting then take a look at Areas of Work, where you’ll find more detailed information about all the actuarial areas of work mentioned in this article.

Or read on to see if becoming an Actuary is for you. Untitled-1



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