Unlike the traditional degrees in sciences, arts, literature, business, and more, the name Actuarial Scienceis quite uncommon and unsuggestive. What is Actuarial Science?Well, rest assured, it has nothing to do with the study of acting.
In the simplest of terms, it is the study of risks. The need to predict, assess, and control risks is at the heart of an economy. Businesses rely on risk management for the process of decision-making and safeguarding their future against uncertainties.
There are three main ways that an individual, trained in actuarial science, puts on the cape, of a savior of the financial world.An actuary identifies the possibility of a bad event, or a catastrophe. He evaluates a solution to manage and minimize the possibility of said bad event, or catastrophe, from occurring. He also analyzes the losses, that the risk might bring about, and devises solutions to reduce its consequence to the economy.
And an actuary does all of the above, and more, without the help of guesswork and Nostradamus’s foretelling. He is skilled (underline, bold and highlight it to the nth power) in mathematics. He has a deep understanding of finance, economy and its constituents, including its people, and can analyze how they are going to evolve in the future. Hence, he is able to use those mad mathematics, and statistical, skills to develop financial models that can determine present decisions, taking into account the uncertainties of the future.
[Editor’s Note: Article updated in July 2021 to reflect the latest data]
Actuarial Science Degree
Scope, demand, salaries, top universities
Where does an Actuary work?
Primarily in the insurance industry. They are the ones who are consulted on what insurance premiums should look like based on the history of the policy holder. They have a wholesome picture of mortality and disability rates based on demography, location, and other related factors that establish the probabilities of undesirable events. They determine how much does a vehicle owner, a homeowner, a business owner, have to pay against insuring their property, or safeguarding their liabilities, for the future.
They also work with corporations, assisting their growth and decision-making processes by analyzing their financial risks.
They are equipped with the skill to determine future pension schemes, gratuity, benefit plans, and other social security policies, both for the public and the private sector.
A lot of actuaries function as consultants, working independently and providing their invaluable expertize to the government or private businesses.
What is the current, and future, scope and demand of Actuarial Science?
An actuary job title is a very well respected one in the financial world. Starting salaries can be in the range of $100,000 with some consultants making way above $300,000 for contributing their deep insights. According to BLS.gov, actuaries are looking at an above-average climb towards future demand. Between 2019 and 2029, their job growth is predicted to undergo 18% rise over the 27,700 current positions. But with an increasing reach, beyond the insurance industry, the actual number may be much higher than this forecast.
There are other advantages of taking on the responsibility of risk-minimizers.
- Based on Glassdoor’s findings, Actuaries are among the top 25 professionals with the highest salaries, in America. (Read Highest paying jobs in India)
- It is also one of lowest stress jobs with a pretty well-balanced work-life equation. According to a survey conducted by Monster, actuaries are among the chosen few blessed with over $100k salary and an enviable laid-back work environment. Read MBA jobs with the best work life balance.
- Actuaries are also repeatedly showing up on the online recruitment site, CareerCast’s Jobs Related Report for some of the top US jobs in terms of environment, income, outlook and stress. In 2019, it was ranked #10, among 200 jobs, with an impressive individual ranking of #8 on work environment, #80 on stress (that’s low stress to be precise), and #28 on projected growth.
How do you become an Actuary?
Before you start putting away your other career aspirations and jumping into the actuary band wagon, you should probably understand that it is one of the hardest professions to crack into. Being an actuary requires a dedicated pursuit of your end goal. To begin with, your passion should lie with mathematics, business, and numbers.
Many universities offer courses in Actuarial Science that provide pertinent training for qualifying actuarial certifications. The process varies between countries with some requiring actuaries to qualify a set of examinations to become a practicing actuary, some prescribing to a university degree or exemptions based on university courses taken, while others following a combination of university degree and a professional certification.
In the United States, an actuarial science degree is not essential to become an actuary. However, your undergrad degree should focus on math, economics, and statistics, that are essential to qualifythe certifications/exams. These exams are conducted by the Society of Actuaries (SOA) and the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS).
Each agency has laid out a rather detailed, and rigorous, process to obtain actuary credentials that is best left for you to explore in detail. To sum up, the first certification is the Associateship (ASA from SOA and ACAS from CAS) which is obtained upon qualifying five SOA or seven CAS exams, passing a Validation of Educational Experience (VEE), having a committee review your knowledge in relevant areas, and completing online courses in professionalism.
You can also obtain a Chartered Enterprise Risk Analyst (CERA) credential. With enough work experience, and expertise, you can pursue a fellowship. The whole process can take several years to complete with the ultimate crown being members of the American Academy of Actuaries or qualifying further certifications to become an Enrolled Actuary.
Many countries require some form of university curriculum – Australia (governed by the Institute of Actuaries of Australia), Greece, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, etc. A lot of countries follow the UK system governed by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries whereby candidates, employed by actuaries, qualify exams to obtain the credentials.
In India, a student has to qualify the Actuarial Common Entrance Test (ACET) to become a member of The Institute of Actuaries in India (IAI). To obtain associateship, you will need to qualify 9 Core Technical and 3 Core Application papers. A total of 15 exams will land you a fellowship.
Top universities for Actuarial programs
Some of the better-known Universities and Colleges with Actuarial Programs (UCAP) and Centers of Actuarial Excellence (CAE), with SOA blessings, are listed below.
|Arizona State University (Advanced Curriculum -AC)||Australian National University (CAE)||Macquarie University (CAE)|
|Florida State University (AC)||Boston University (AC)||McMaster University (AC)|
|Pennsylvania State University (CAE)||Nanyang Technological University (AC)||UCLA (AC)|
|Oregon State University (Introductory Curriculum-IC)||University of Michigan (CAE)||University of Melbourne (CAE)|
Source: UCAP list from SOA
MBA vs Actuarial Science
How does it compare to MBA?
Quite frankly, an MBA is to an Actuary as a red cherry apple is to a juicy orange. Both careers are equally good, both pay well, and you can always choose an MBA specialization to work in the insurance, banking, or other financial sectors. However, there are clear differences that set them apart. Here are some of them.
- Candidates in pursuit to become actuaries, can spend years working with a low pay until they are able to qualify the significantly tough exams, needed to get the certification. MBA candidates, on the other hand, need spend only two years in obtaining the degree and securing a position within an organization.
- Actuaries, however, are almost guaranteed a high pay and definite employment positions upon qualifying the examinations. Such may not be the case for all MBAs, especially the ones who graduate from lesser known programs.
- Mathematics and analytical skills, though essential, needn’t be ones’ forte in pursuing an MBA. But you cannot survive without a strong quantitative aptitude, as an actuary.
- Financial Analysts (MBA) are equipped with the knowledge to provide consultation about markets, investments, regulations, and more, to businesses. Actuaries are experts on, as mentioned above, pricing, financial modeling, risk management, and more. Both are desirable as far as work life balance and salary packages are concerned, with actuaries sitting on somewhat greener pastures, higher median salary and less than 45 hour work week, after certification (Read How many hours per week will you work after MBA?). However, the actuarial job in itself is quite intense and often less team oriented than that of a financial analyst. It all comes down to the nature of the job, and how inclined you are to pursue a career in either.
Actuaries are the behind-the-scenes math geniuses making our future secure. If you are interested in this career path, we suggest you explore your options, start taking notes, and chalk out a plan to secure your future. After all, the world is never going to run out of risks!
Some related links.
- Highest paying jobs for MBA graduates
- Introduction to Finance
- Types of jobs after MBA in Marketing, Finance, Operations and Technology