Actuary

The Job and What's Involved

Actuaries use financial and statistical skills to solve business problems. They help the financial world and governments to evaluate the long-term financial implications of their decisions. This involves actuaries using mathematical and statistical expertise and knowledge, as well as economics, business law and practices, marketing and accounting.

Actuaries' work includes:

  • Analysing the past.
  • Modelling or forecasting for the future.
  • Assessing the risks involved.
  • Explaining to senior managers and directors what the results mean in financial terms.

The work of individual actuaries depends on the field they work in. It can include:

Insurance - designing new policies, setting premium rates and calculating a company's financial status.

Pensions - assessing and advising on company pension schemes.

Consultancy - advising clients on areas such as occupational pension schemes, financing capital projects, mergers, acquisitions and corporate recovery.

Investment - including investment research and fund management.

In the Government Actuary's Department, actuaries advise other government departments on matters such as social insurance, state pensions and public sector pensions.

Actuaries use computers to analyse and build statistical and mathematical models to predict the financial outcomes of different scenarios. They liaise with a variety of people, including accountants, solicitors, company secretaries, underwriters and investment managers.

Actuaries work normal office hours from Monday to Friday. Those working in consultancy tend to have to work more flexibly, to meet clients' demands. This can sometimes include weekend work.

Actuaries work indoors in offices. They are sitting for much of the time. Actuaries sometimes travel to see clients.

Part-time work as an actuary is possible.

Study for professional examinations is done during study days (usually one day a week), evenings and weekends.

Starting salaries for graduates are around £20,000 to £26,000 a year. Actuaries often receive other benefits, such as non-contributory pensions, free health insurance, low interest loans, company cars and annual bonuses.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Actuaries work throughout the UK but there is a concentration of employers in London, Edinburgh and south-east England.

Employers include:

  • Consultancies (the largest employers of actuaries).
  • Insurance companies - some actuaries work in general insurance but the majority work for life assurance companies.
  • The banking sector.
  • Large industrial and commercial companies.
  • The Government Actuary's Department.

There are currently 8,170 Fellows of the Faculty of Actuaries and Institute of Actuaries and a further 7,720 student members. The number of actuaries is growing steadily. Life assurance and consultancy are the largest sectors employing actuaries, with general insurance the fastest growing sector at present.

There is a lot of competition for entry to actuarial work and it helps to have had work experience.

The Faculty and Institute of Actuaries publish an annual List of Actuarial Employers in the UK and Ireland. This indicates which employers are offering work experience.

Job vacancies are advertised in The Actuary and on the internet, including the websites of the Faculty and Institute of Actuaries (www.actuaries.org.uk).

Education and Training

Actuaries have to be Fellows of the Faculty of Actuaries (based in Edinburgh) or the Institute of Actuaries (based in London and Oxford).

The first step is to become a student member of the Faculty or Institute and study for professional exams while working.

Applicants for student membership need one of the following:

  • A first or second class honours degree in any subject, plus A level/H grade maths at grade C or above.
  • At least a third class honours degree that includes maths as a major subject.
  • At least two A levels/three H grades, and three GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) including English.

One of the A levels should be maths at grade A or B, while one other A level must be at least at grade C. H grades should include maths at grade A and English. Equivalent qualifications might be considered.

Around 95 per cent of entrants to actuarial work have a degree, usually from a numerate discipline.

The main degree subjects of successful entrants are maths, statistics, actuarial science, economics, finance, engineering, chemistry and physics.

For a degree course, students need at least two A levels/three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications. For a degree in a mathematical science, this will include an A level/H grade in a maths subject.

Other qualifications may be accepted, either on their own or in combination with A levels/H grades. They include relevant AS levels, applied A levels, BTEC national and BTEC/SQA higher national awards, Scottish Group Awards (SGA) and the International Baccalaureate.

Exact entry requirements vary between courses, and universities and colleges often require more than the minimum, so candidates must check carefully.

Some entrants to actuarial work have a postgraduate qualification in a numerate subject. Postgraduate courses usually require at least an upper second class honours degree in a relevant subject.

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A Few More Exams You Might Need

Degree courses in subjects such as maths, statistics, economics, finance, engineering, chemistry and physics are offered at most universities and many colleges throughout the UK. Several universities offer degree courses in actuarial science, or degrees with substantial actuarial content. Courses usually last three or four years full time.

Many universities offer postgraduate courses in numerate subjects. A few also offer actuarial postgraduate courses. These usually last one year full time.

Actuaries start work as trainees and are given training in business skills by their employer. They study part time for professional exams. Exams are based on technical aspects of actuarial work and their application. They allow for specialisation in life insurance, pensions, health and care, general insurance, or finance and investment. Study is mainly by distance learning and tutorials.

It is possible to complete all the exams in three years, but the average is five to six.

People with a relevant degree or postgraduate qualification may get exemptions from some of the professional exams.

Once qualified, actuaries are expected to undertake Continuing Professional Development (CPD). This can include activities such as attending professional meetings and courses, research, private study and reading.

Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An actuary should:

  • Have excellent maths and statistics skills.
  • Be good at analysing data.
  • Have strong verbal and written communication skills, to explain complex information clearly and concisely.
  • Be able to solve problems both logically and creatively.
  • Have information technology skills.
  • Have good commercial sense.
  • Be able to work alone and as part of a team.
  • Be able to manage staff.
  • Be motivated and determined, to cope with studying for professional examinations while working.

Your Long Term Prospects

Actuaries can move between different specialist actuarial areas. Promotion in larger companies can be to management positions and then to senior executive or director level. It is possible to become a partner in a consultancy firm.

There are excellent opportunities for UK actuaries to work overseas.

Opportunities for self-employment are limited.

Get Further Information

The Actuarial Profession,
Napier House, 4 Worcester Street, Oxford OX1 2AW
Tel: 01865 268200
Website: www.actuaries.org.uk (this site includes the Faculty of Actuaries and the Institute of Actuaries).

Government Actuary's Department,
Finlaison House, 15-17 Furnival Street, London EC4A 1AB
Tel: 020 72112601
Website: www.gad.gov.uk

Inside Careers, Unit 6, The Quadrangle,
49 Atalanta Street, London SW6 6TU
Tel: 020 7565 7900
Website: www.insidecareers.co.uk

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