CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become an actuary.
Is becoming an actuary right for me?
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Students considering a career as an actuary can begin to prepare for the role in high school. Technical skills are particularly important for actuaries. Proficiency in Excel – including functions like VLOOKUP, HLOOKUP, and IF statements – is vital. Start learning some basic computer programming, as well. Learn the VBA coding language, and perhaps other coding languages such as Python and SAS.
Virtually every employer in the actuary field seeks job candidates with a bachelor’s degree. The specific area of study is less important. However, a major concentration in business, economics, finance, accounting, mathematics, or statistics is common. A minor in communications and liberal arts is also considered very valuable because actuaries need to be able to do more than assimilate and synthesize large volumes of data. They must also be able to effectively communicate this information to manage risk.
While specific undergraduate programs in actuarial science exist, some actuaries recommend earning a degree in a more general discipline, like those cited above. The rationale is that this choice keeps career options open should a student decide to transition to another field.
The Actuarial Exams
All actuaries are required to pass exams with one of two professional bodies: the Society of Actuaries (SOA) or the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS). These societies administer a series of six actuarial science exams for associate status and a series of three exams to achieve fellowship status.
The SOA certifies actuaries in the fields of life insurance, health benefits systems, retirement systems, and finance and investment. The CAS covers the property and casualty field: auto, homeowners, medical malpractice, workers compensation, and personal injury liability.
Actuarial students should pass at least two of these exams by the time they graduate with a bachelor’s. For most people, the first two exams are Exam P and Exam FM. The first three actuarial exams – Exams P, FM, and IFM – are the same for both the Society of Actuaries and the Casualty Actuarial Society.
Actuarial science exams are difficult. The general standard is that students need to study for 100 hours for each hour of exam time. A three-hour exam, for example, calls for 300 hours of study time.
In addition to passing some of the required exams while earning their bachelor’s degree, prospective actuaries typically start building their resume with relevant work through supervised paid or unpaid internships. The actuary field is one in which internships are extremely valued and often result in employment offers.
Interns work closely with experienced actuaries and start by performing basic tasks like collecting statistical data and entering data in software systems. Eventually, they may conduct research, test policies, compile reports, and explain findings to their mentors.
Q: How do you find an internship?
A: Find out if your school maintains postings for internships. Do a Google search. Inquire directly with actuarial firms and insurance companies. Use your personal network: do you know anyone that works at an insurance company? And even though you may have a particular kind of internship in mind, be flexible and open to all opportunities: life insurance, property and casualty insurance, health insurance, consulting.
Employment & More Exams
As noted above in Step 3, most future actuaries have passed two or three exams by the time they get their first job. This is where the material covered in the first few actuarial exams comes together; and where the big learning curve really begins, as new entrants to the field discover the intricacies of insurance concepts.
And, yes, this is also the time to take and pass more of the actuarial exams. Reimbursement of exam fees and paid time off for studying is standard industry practice. With each exam passed, many companies assign added responsibilities and provide a corresponding pay increase.
Associateship is the first level of actuary certification, awarded after passing the associate-level exams and completing what is called validation by educational experience (VEE). The VEE requirement incorporates applied statistics, economics, and corporate finance as a means to broaden actuaries’ scope of knowledge. To obtain the credit, candidates need to maintain a minimum B- GPA and pass two exams.
An ASA is an Associate of the Society of Actuaries. An ACAS is an Associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society. Actuaries obtain only pursue one of these designations. Those who decide to work as a life/health insurance actuary attain the ASA credential through the SOA. Those who decide to work as a property and casualty insurance actuary attain the ACAS credential through the CAS. Choosing the SOA or CAS route is a crucial decision, because it will impact the types of jobs you can get and the exams you will write in the future.
Obtaining fellowship or becoming a ‘fellow’ means that you are a fully qualified and certified actuary. There are specific requirements that apply to each of the SOA and CAS routes. At this level, the SOA designation is FSA – Fellow of the Society of Actuaries; the CAS designation is FCAS – Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society.
Employers in the actuary field invariably require that their employees earn continuing credits to keep up-to-date with industry standards and changes. The cost of this education is most often covered by the employer.
The Society of Actuaries also offers the Chartered Enterprise Risk Analyst (CERA) credential.