If you are interested in learning about how to become an actuary, you have come to the right place. Deciding to embark on this journey is an excellent choice, as it is a field that has a wonderful job outlook and great salary. It is a profession that is spent managing and assessing potential risks that may harm a person or company’s finances. When a business is uncertain about things that could happen, it is the actuary’s job to determine the possible misfortunes that could occur, how much it will cost, and how to lower these costs. In this article, you will read about the steps to become an actuary, the education requirements, the job duties, salary expectations, career projections, the areas of specialization, and closely related career fields.
Steps to Become an Actuary
There are certain steps you must take to successfully become an actuary. It may seem like a lengthy process, but it is worth it if this is a career that you would like to pursue. The following are the seven steps to take to become a professional actuary:
1. Graduate high school and earn a bachelor’s degree in college.
Most employers prefer applicants to have at least a bachelor’s degree to be considered for an actuary position. If the college you are planning to attend does not offer an actuarial science program, you can choose from a variety of degree programs such as business, statistics, finance, or economics. No matter which program you choose, it is highly recommended to take courses in algebra, calculus, finance, computer science, economics, and statistics. If these courses are not offered as core courses, you should take them as electives.
2. Pass the actuarial exams.
There are two exams that actuaries must pass before entering the field. The first exam, referred to as Exam P, is on probability, and the second exam, referred to as Exam FM, is on financial mathematics. Both exams will take about three hours each and are multiple-choice questions offered on the computer. Most people spend months preparing to sit for these exams, so it is important that you set aside an adequate amount of time to study.
3. Work on acquiring technical skills.
If you are not a tech-savvy person, now is the time to gain some computer and programming skills. When interviewing, employers will look for individuals who possess some type of technical skills. Becoming proficient in Excel is one of the most important skills you can learn because actuaries will often use Excel functions such as If Statements, Vlookup, and Hlookup to complete their daily job duties. Since most entry-level actuary positions require the knowledge of Excel, you will stand out among other applicants if you already possess these technical skills and do not need much training.
4. Participate in an actuarial internship.
This step is not a requirement, but it is highly recommended. Participating in an actuarial internship will provide you with knowledge, skills, and hands-on experience that you would not get anywhere else. If you are unable to find an actuarial internship, you can look for an internship that will provide you with useful knowledge and skills such as data analysis, underwriting, investments, and risk management. An internship at an insurance company would also be helpful.
5. Find an entry-level actuarial job.
This may be the most exciting step of this process. Looking for and landing your first actuarial job is an amazing accomplishment. You will need to fill out many applications and attend quite a bit of interviews with various employers. Once you are hired, you will learn so much and gain valuable experience that will stick with you throughout your entire career.
6. Decide what type of actuary you would like to be then get your associateship.
You will continue to learn and take exams while working in the actuary field. Once you have decided what type of actuary that you would like to be, you will need to get your associateship. Before getting your associateship, you will be required to take and pass five exams in addition to the first two exams in step 2. You have the choice of getting the Associate of the Society of Actuaries (ASA) or the Associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society (ACAS). If you decide to get the ASA, your focus will be on life insurance, benefits, finance, and investments. If you choose to get the ACAS, your focus will be on property and casualty insurance, which means you will be dealing with homeowners, automobiles, workers’ compensation, and medical malpractice. This may seem like a difficult decision, but you do not need to decide until you have worked in the field for a decent period of time and passed several exams.
7. Earn your fellowship.
This is the final step that will declare you a certified professional actuary. It requires you to have passed all 10 actuary exams, which usually is not done for several years after an individual has started their entry-level job. If they feel it is an investment to their company and would like you to continue working for them, some employers will pay for their employees’ exams and materials as well as help them study and prepare. Once you have completed your exams and met the requirements to earn your fellowship, you will either be a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries (FSA) or a Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society (FCAS), depending on which associateship you chose. After you are officially a certified actuary, you can start to move up in the field and continue your education to stay up-to-date in the actuary industry.
Education and Certifications Required
Individuals who would like to become actuaries are expected to go to college and earn a bachelor’s degree. Majority of students choose to study actuarial science, mathematics, statistics, or a closely related field. During your bachelor’s degree program, it is recommended to take courses in economics, statistics, computer science, computer programming, and finance.
Upon completion of your bachelor’s degree, you will possess the following important skills that will benefit you in the actuarial field: analytical skills, communication skills, mathematical skills, problem-solving skills, computer skills, interpersonal skills, and many more.
As mentioned above, you will need to earn your associateship and fellowship certification, which will lead you to becoming a certified professional actuary. Most individuals do not earn their associate certification until they have been working in the field for around four to seven years, and most do not earn their fellowship for another two to three years after earning the associate certification. The reason for this is because it takes many months, and sometimes years, to prepare for the 10 required exams.
To remain certified, you will be required to participate in continuing education opportunities throughout the duration of your career. This will include training seminars, classes, and networking opportunities.
If you decide to become a pension actuary, there is an additional step that you must take. This step is to become licensed by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Joint Board for the Enrollment of Actuaries.
An actuary spends majority of their time analyzing financial costs of possible risks during moments of uncertainty. They possess a large amount of mathematical, statistical, and financial knowledge that helps them determine and assess the potential risks that may occur. After they have determined the risks, they will work with companies and clients to create and implement policies that will reduce the costs of the risks.
Most actuaries are found working in the insurance industry, where they are employed to help develop insurance policies and decide on premiums to charge customers for each given policy. The goal is to make sure that the premiums will bring in money as well as remain at a competitive level with other insurance providers.
Actuaries are usually in office environments because they spend most of their time completing their work using database software on a computer. A typical day for an actuary is spent using various software programs to determine if any potential risks may occur soon, how much the risks may cost if they do happen, and if the insurance company has enough money to be able to pay for the future claims that may be filed.
Salary and Career Projections
In 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the annual median salary for an actuary is about $108,350, which equals to $52.09 per hour. This is a wonderful salary for those considering entering the actuary field. However, it is important to keep in mind that your salary may vary depending on your background and level of experience.
The lowest 10 percent reported earning close to $65,000 annually, and the highest 10 percent reported earning slightly under $200,000 per year. Actuaries working for the government made an annual salary of around $101,740, actuaries working as managers of companies earned a little less than $100,000 annually, and actuaries working for the insurance and financial industry received an annual wage of $110,020.
Throughout the next decade, the actuary career field is expected to grow by 18 percent, which is a lot faster than other career fields. This is excellent news for those planning to become actuaries and those already working in the field because it means that there will be around 5,000 jobs opening up.
Areas of Specialization
There are many different specializations to choose from when considering entering the actuarial field. Some individuals may decide which specialization fits them during college, and some individuals may not know fully until they have already begun to work in the field. The following are a few of the most popular actuarial specializations chosen by students and employees:
- Employee and Retirement Benefits
- Health Insurance
- Life Insurance
- Product Development
- Risk Management
Closely Related Career Fields
If you do not feel like becoming an actuary is the right path for you but would like something related, you should take a look at similar occupations. By looking at other career fields that are similar to the actuary field, you may be able to find a career path that suits you and your goals better. Below, I will provide a list of closely related professions, their education level requirements, and median salary expectations.
- Economists: An economist spends their time analyzing and collecting data, conducting research to determine any financial trends, and assessing the economic issues that may be related to products and services.; Required Education Level: Master’s Degree; Median Salary: $105,020
- Financial Analysts: A financial analyst is responsible for guiding businesses and clients with making the best investment and financial planning decisions.; Required Education Level: Bachelor’s Degree; Median Salary: $81,590
- Mathematicians and Statisticians: Mathematicians and statisticians are in charge of analyzing data and using mathematical and statistical methods to determine problems as well as solve them.; Required Education Level: Master’s Degree; Median Salary: $92,030
- Accountants and Auditors: Accountants and auditors spend their days preparing and assessing financial records for individuals and companies.; Required Education Level: Bachelor’s Degree; Median Salary: $71,550
- Budget Analysts: A budget analyst helps public and private companies successfully determine and plan their finances.; Required Education Level: Bachelor’s Degree; Median Salary: $76,540
- Cost Estimators: Cost estimators gather and analyze data to determine the time, materials, money, and work that may go into launching a product or service.; Education Level: Bachelor’s Degree; Median Salary: $65,250
- Personal Financial Advisors: A personal financial advisor spends majority of their day giving advice to businesses and individuals on how to manage their finances in a better way that will help them plan for the future financially.; Required Education Level: Bachelor’s Degree; Median Salary: $87,850
- Insurance Underwriters: Insurance underwriters are in charge of analyzing insurance applications and determining if the person qualifies for insurance or not.; Required Education Level: Bachelor’s Degree; Median Salary: $70,020
As you can see, becoming an actuary is a great career choice. It may seem long and complex, but it is a very rewarding field that encourages continuous learning. In addition to making a great salary, you will also be able to make a difference by helping companies and individuals save and fix their financial issues. If you enjoy mathematics, statistics, computer science, and are up for the challenge, then this is the perfect occupation for you.