How to Become an Actuary?

For most college and university students looking for a respectable career and lucrative career, the actuarial profession is a great industry to keep an eye out for! In this article, I will speak a little about the industry and the traditional path to guarantee yourself a job in this career.

What might be the actuarial profession, you ask?

“Warren had even considered actuarial science – the mathematics of insurance – as a career. He could have spent decades toiling over tables of mortality statistics, handicapping people’s life expectancies. Besides the obvious ways this suited his personality – which tended toward specialization, collecting, and manipulating numbers; and preferred solitude – working as a life actuary would have let him spend his time pondering one of his two favourite preoccupations: life expectancy. However, his other favorite, collecting money, had won out.” (Chapter 15, Warren Buffet and the Business of Life)

Namely, one of the world’s richest individuals, Warren Buffet, considered being an actuary at some point in his life! In essence, being an actuary is simply applying statistics and mathematics to business cases regarding human mortality.

Financial Insight into the Career

First off, let’s take a look if getting into this career is worthwhile!

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Source: LinkedIn Salaries

A query from LinkedIn salaries shows an actuarial analyst’s median salary, which is an entry-level role in the actuarial profession, being $70,000. The career has further potential growth in salary as you become a full-fledged actuary with salaries ranging between $100,000 to $250,000+. From personal experience at one of the big banks in Canada, I can also confirm an actuarial analyst’s salary to be similar.

For further salary information into actuaries’ salaries, check DW Simpson for salary information based on actuarial exams and years of experience.

The Traditional route to being an Actuary

  1. Attend a university with a strong STEM program (especially in math, statistics, actuarial sciences, or computer sciences).
  2. Write 2-3 actuarial exams during your undergrad.
  3. Seek internships in any of the following fields (pensions, life, health, property & casualty, etc.).
  4. Convert experiences from undergrad, actuarial exams, and internships into a full-time offer.

Frankly, this is a straightforward overview of getting into the actuarial profession, but it works.

How Hard are Actuarial Exams?

From personal experience, I have noticed actuarial exams to be difficult across the board. But why? Are they not comparable to the CPA, which has an 80% pass rate in the country? Actuary exams are difficult for various reasons, which include the following:

1) Number of Exams

The number of actuarial exams that an Actuary has to take can vary depending on the track you take, but for the most part, there are approximately 10 exams. To give a little bit of context, an Actuary will first become an Associate of the Society of Actuaries (ASA) after writing the preliminary exams and a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries (FSA) after writing the more specialized exams.

For the preliminary exams, there are currently seven exams to write before you become an ASA:

  • Probability (P)
  • Financial Mathematics (FM)
  • Investment and Financial Markets (IFM)
  • Long-Term Actuarial Mathematics (LTAM)
  • Short-Term Actuarial Mathematics (STAM)
  • Statistics for Risk Modelling (SRM)
  • Predictive Analytics (PA)

For the more specialized exams varies based on the actuarial track you take, and the following exams are:

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As you can see, there are many exams you need to pass to become a full-fledged Actuary. Compared to other accreditations like the CFA, CPA, or FRM, these accreditations don’t require many exams.

2) Survivorship Bias

Survivorship bias is a key concept to understand why actuarial exams are difficult. Historically, there is a 40-50% pass rate for most actuarial exams, and as you progress through them, that percentage may get lower.

There are still many smart and hardworking actuarial professionals working towards actuary accreditation. So even if the first actuarial exam (Probability) has a pass rate of 40-50% and the last actuarial exam has a pass rate of around the same, the pass rate does not and rarely increases. More importantly, you do not see the number of people taking the exams decreasing down the exams.

So if we think about the true probability to become an actuary with a pass rate of assumed 50%, it is approximately (average exam pass rate) ^ (number of exams) = 50% ^ 10 = 0.09765625%.

Tips to being successful in this Career

  • Network, network, and network!
  • Plan your approach to applying for internships and actuarial exams.
  • Please make sure you’re passionate about this career as it is a very long career.

Be aware of the various industries in the Actuarial Field

Most industries you can work in about actuarial sciences are typically careers where mortality plays a part.

  • Life Insurance – Reserving, Valuations, Pricing
  • Property & Casualty – Commercial or Personal Lines
  • Pensions – Defined Benefits
  • Reinsurance – Reinsurance
  • Other – Investment Actuaries, Game Actuaries, etc

Great Resources to help you out


Disclaimer: This was my profession coming out of University, so many of these tips and knowledge are from my personal experiences.

Author

  • syao scaled

    Stephen Yao is a writer, ex-Deloitte financial engineer with expertise in the life insurance, pension, and capital markets industry. He lives in Toronto, Ontario, and writes about personal finance and career fulfillment.

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