If you want to apply your mathematical skills to real life problems, then the actuarial profession could be for you. Find out why the diverse opportunities, intellectual challenges and prestige of being an actuary all add up to a highly rewarding career.
An actuarial career is a very stable and secure one, as our society will continue to demand pensions and insurance whatever the state of the economy. The actuarial environment also offers constant intellectual challenge and variety, requiring the application of a multi-faceted skill set. To be successful you will need to demonstrate excellent analytical thinking and an ability to solve complicated financial problems. Solid commercial and economic understanding alongside the skills to interpret and communicate complex information in a clear way is also essential.
A prestigious industry
You will work towards a world-recognised qualification. The exam syllabus reflects the latest developments within finance and industry. It is not easy to qualify and you must be willing to work hard to get through the rigorous examinations alongside performing well in your day job. On average between 15-20 hours study at home in the evenings and weekends are required per week. This requires great focus, determination and an ability to cope well under pressure. The training can be undertaken at your own pace; the usual time to qualification is between 3-6 years, but could be longer.
The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries in the UK is relatively small compared to other professional bodies. With c. 28,000 members, you will become part of a high-profile, prestigious and well respected profession.
Excellent study support and training
The examinations are certainly challenging: the pass rates in the earlier papers are between 50% and 70% and can fall to as low as 30% in the later papers. However, the help and support given by employers is generous, although this will vary from employer to employer. The institute can even review any failed exams and give you pointers as to what went wrong. Exam failure is a part of life: very few get through all papers first time.
It is important to assess what training support and help is offered by the employer: how much paid (or unpaid) study leave is given, whether they pay for all the external tuition and exam costs, what their attitude is to any exam mishaps, how varied the training placements offered are and what the longer term opportunities are.
Unlike some other professions, the training is portable: you can start with one company and move as a trainee actuary to another employer. You need not be tied down for several years during your professional training; you can move within the UK if you wish to. You shouldn’t admit to this being your key motivation at an interview though!
Beyond the UK, consultancy and accountancy firms allow some opportunity for overseas work and travel. Actuaries have an agreed and accepted international exam syllabus and there are c. 4,000 actuarial students studying outside the UK and Ireland.
A wide range of opportunities
The range of opportunities within the profession continues to grow. Actuarial careers were previously found mainly in the life assurance and non-life (insurance) industries. In recent years though, there has been an insatiable demand for trainee actuaries from actuarial consultants, life offices and the professional financial services firms.
There are more than 11,000 qualified actuaries in the UK and over half now work in non-traditional areas. Qualified and trainee actuaries are now found in investment management, corporate finance, liquidations, mergers and acquisitions, derivatives, fund and asset management, project finance and risk assessment.
You can expect to receive very good financial rewards in the actuarial sector. The average basic salary for a student actuary last year was £36,241, rising to in excess of £50,000 for newly qualified actuaries and £100,000 plus for senior positions. A very satisfying and clearly defined career progression is there for the taking for highly motivated individuals.
Find out more about actuarial salaries in 2016.