Inside Careers asked four top actuarial firms to answer some of your pressing questions. Read on to find out what the actuarial profession has to offer and what it takes to get started.
1. What requirements are there?
Towers Watson – You must sit exams to become a Fellow or an Associate of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) and call yourself an actuary. Fellowship is the most common route, where you must sit 15 exams and demonstrate three years of experience.
To be eligible to sit the exams, you must meet the IFoA’s minimum criteria – broadly a third class honours degree in a mathematical subject or grade B in A level mathematics (or grade C if you have a first or second class degree in a non-mathematical subject).
2. Will I benefit from a degree in actuarial science?
LCP – There is an argument for gaining experience in actuarial concepts early and having exemptions from exams can accelerate the qualification process. However, I’m sure that most trainee actuaries would agree that nothing is as important as gaining on-the-job experience and developing your skills through day to day work.
After all, becoming a successful actuarial consultant isn’t just about passing the technical exams – you will also need to demonstrate that you can put these skills into practice advising clients, so a speedy qualification may not be as beneficial as it sounds!
Standard Life – Having a specific actuarial science degree is not fundamental. All of the content you will need to know will be covered in the examination process! If you have an analytical mind and an interest in mathematics and statistics, you should be able to handle the demands of the examination process.
3. What about postgraduate degrees?
Standard Life – Many universities offer actuarial postgraduate degrees which can provide exemptions from many of the exams required to become an actuary.
Whether you choose to go down this route will depend on personal preferences. Some individuals prefer to focus on studying on its own, rather than juggling both study and work simultaneously – in which case a postgraduate degree may be useful. Others are keen to get started in the office and so the merits of a postgraduate degree may be smaller for those individuals.
The later actuarial examinations require a great deal of application of technical knowledge. Experiential learning may offer an advantage in passing these exams!
4. Is previous work experience essential?
LCP – Whilst previous work experience is not essential, carrying out an internship is a brilliant way to test out whether or not the actuarial profession is the right career for you.
Not only do you get the opportunity to perform genuine actuarial work, many firms offer useful training; similar to what you would receive as a graduate at the firm. At LCP the internship is 8-9 weeks long and offers a wide range of work and training. If you perform well and enjoy the work then there’s also the chance to secure a graduate job at the end of it!
5. What prior knowledge of the industry do I need?
Punter Southall – All training is provided on-the-job and most firms will have thorough induction programmes to get graduates up to speed, with further learning enhanced via regular training courses and practical day to day work. However, having a basic knowledge of the industry you are trying to enter can only be a plus.
6. Is actuarial work mostly office-based? What hours do actuaries work?
LCP – Actuarial work for trainee actuaries includes individual calculations, performing full scheme valuations, modelling and reporting, which are office-based tasks. As you progress through your career, gaining the actuarial qualification and becoming the lead consultant on clients, there are significantly more opportunities to attend and present at meetings.
As a trainee actuary the hours are typically the normal 9-5, with workload gradually increasing with experience and responsibility.
Punter Southall – During the early years the work is mostly office-based. As knowledge and skill set grows there are more opportunities to attend client meetings and conferences to aid with ongoing professional development.
A typical day will be 9-5.30/6, with longer hours necessary during busier periods to meet client deadlines. Most employers will re-allocate work around exam time so that students have sufficient time in the evenings for revision and exam preparation.
7. What typical tasks and activities will I be involved in?
Towers Watson – In a nutshell, you will be using Excel and other software to create and run models of real life problems. In a consultancy, you may also use the results of the modelling to help explain results to your clients via emails, reports, conversations or presentations. The detail of what you will be doing will vary greatly depending on your role.
8. How do companies support employees who are taking the actuarial exams?
Standard Life – All companies will have their own unique study support package to help actuarial trainees progress through the exams. Some common features include study days (designated time during the week to focus on studying), course materials including the syllabus for each exam subject, and tutorials run by an external company. Many companies often supplement the course materials with revision aids and other support such as exam technique sessions.
One of the key support systems for actuarial exams is your peer group! If your company has actuaries who have sat the exams before you, it’s a great idea to make use of that knowledge and understanding to help with your studies.
9. Are there opportunities for international students?
Towers Watson – Yes, we welcome applications from students from all locations and universities. We do offer sponsorship but that is subject to being able to obtain the necessary permissions and is dealt with on a case by case basis.
Inside Careers – Different companies will vary in their policies on recruiting international students – always check with each company before applying to avoid disappointment.
10. What kinds of companies employ actuaries?
Punter Southall – The traditional areas of practice for actuaries are life insurance, general insurance, pensions and investment. Hence all major insurers will employ actuaries to calculate reserves and determine premiums for their various policies. In pensions the company is likely to be in the form of an actuarial consultancy, advising trustees and employers of pension schemes.
A developing area of actuarial practice is enterprise risk management; this involves the identification, measurement, mitigation and monitoring of financial and non financial risks faced by companies in the short and long term.
There are now also an increasing number of actuaries working in the design of health provision and environmental resources.