Want to learn more about the actuarial profession? Check out our actuarial FAQs to help you get all the answers you need to kickstart your actuarial career!
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).
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.
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!
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.
Is actuarial work mostly office-based? What tasks and activities do you get involved in?
LCP: When you first start your career the majority of your work will be desk-based. However, even in your first year of joining you can expect to have several opportunities to meet clients, either at face-to-face meetings or at corporate events. The level of client-facing work you do will naturally increase as you develop in your career and a typical LCP partner might spend about half of their working week away from their desks at meetings or events.
One of the key benefits of a career as an actuarial consultant is the variety of work. Whichever department you work in you will be doing a variety of jobs each day, whether it is building spreadsheet-based models, carrying out calculations or drafting reports. And, whilst you are taking your exams, about one day a week will be spent studying, either at home or at group tutorials.
Can you get a job as an actuary without previous work experience?
Aon: It is not assumed that graduates have an actuarial background. Numeracy skills are important, however degrees range from maths and physics to chemistry and engineering. You learn to become an actuary on the job.
Mercer: Our internship and graduate positions are not dependant on previous work experience. Our interview process is about how you apply your knowledge and the enthusiasm and commitment you demonstrate towards Mercer and the role. For less formal experience to supplement your application, we run Insight Days in our Manchester and London offices in February which are open to students in all years, where you can come and learn more about our firm.
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.
What prior knowledge of the industry do actuarial employers look for in candidates?
Towers Watson: It is advisable to have a general understanding of how pensions works and the challenges companies are facing with the liabilities in their pension schemes at present. Researching on the internet and reading about defined benefit on our website should help.
Hymans Robertson: What applicants will need to demonstrate is a confident, high level understanding of what a graduate trainee consultant at Hymans Robertson (or in another company) does. After all, we want you to convince us of why you want to become an actuary.
What is a good way of showing commercial awareness in an application?
Hymans Robertson: As a guide, in terms of commercial awareness, we are looking for a reasonable awareness of topical pensions-related themes and your own opinions of these. We’re also keen to gauge your understanding of how these topics/issues could affect our clients and the implications also for our business and our consultants. Reading the papers, business or financial press will be helpful for you.
What hours do actuaries work?
LCP: As a new graduate you can expect to work about 35 hours a week. When you first start at LCP, the key focus will be on ensuring that you are able to dedicate sufficient time to passing your actuarial exams, and your team leader will be on hand to ensure that you achieve a healthy balance of work so that you are able to leave the office on time to go home and study (or rest!).
On the whole, an actuarial career provides an excellent work/life balance. However, as a consultancy firm, our actuaries do need to be flexible in order to meet the needs of our clients. Occasionally this may mean needing to work outside of office hours in order to ensure that client deadlines are met.
How do I qualify as an actuary?
Inside Careers: You can join the actuarial profession by applying directly to an employer and joining their graduate training scheme. Whilst working for your chosen company, you will also have to study and pass exams. This can take 3-6 years.
How different is the work in pensions compared with general insurance, and how easy is it to swap between the two?
Aon: Some of the skills used are quite different. However, actuarial qualifications are incredibly transferable and there are examples of people switching between the two programmes. At the end of the day, if you are keen for a secondment to one of Aon’s many different departments, or even to a client, there are opportunities out there.
LCP: Working in insurance and pensions both require common skills, such as numerical ability and good communication skills. However, the clients we advise in pensions differ from those in insurance and we adapt the way in which we provide our advice accordingly. For example, one of the key challenges within the pensions department lies in explaining complex actuarial ideas in a way that is easy to understand.
Our clients come from a range of different backgrounds and we need to be able to communicate to them in a way that is suitable for people with varying levels of pensions and financial knowledge. In insurance, many of our clients are other actuaries. Here, it is more common to be asked very specific technical questions that you need to be able to answer giving the appropriate level of detail.
In terms of the day-to-day work, insurance could, in general, be described as the more technical. As a graduate, you may find you are required to use more statistics and there is a greater focus on techniques such as computer programming. These skills are still required in pensions but to a lesser extent, with greater emphasis on communication. Both departments contain a good mixture of one-off, unique projects and there is an opportunity to see a wide range of work and use different mathematical techniques in both.
How to I obtain a work permit to work in the UK?
Inside Careers: You can’t apply for a work permit on your own behalf: an employer must do it for you. Work permits are issued by the Home Office to UK-based employers wishing to employ people from outside of the EU. Find out more on the Home Office website.
Will companies accept applications from international students?
Towers Watson: We welcome applications from overseas candidates. All applications are considered on the basis of their merits. If successful, we would hope to be in a position to provide sponsorship, though please be aware that the number of applicants we are permitted to sponsor is controlled by the government.
Aon: Unfortunately we are only able to accept applications for our Graduate Programme from individuals who are eligible to work in the UK.
Inside Careers: Different companies will vary in their policies on recruiting international students – always check with each company before applying to avoid disappointment.
I want to take a gap year to go travelling after I graduate. Would this hinder my chances of being recruited and would I still be eligible to apply for graduate schemes one year after graduating?
Towers Watson: We are sure the experiences you would gain from a gap year would be valuable. We would suggest either applying to our Summer Intern Programme or waiting until the following September before applying to our Graduate Programme.