What an actuary does
Trick question: Who can predict natural disasters and tell you exactly how much money you’ll have saved for your retirement? Who? An astrologist? Come on! Let’s get serious. We’re talking about an actuary, of course.
Here's an overview of this misunderstood profession, but one that comes in very handy in the insurance industry. Who knows? Maybe it will give you the urge to set, or change, your career path.
What does an actuary actually do?
Do you know exactly what an actuary is? If your answer is no, it’s understandable. The truth is unless you know one personally, you probably won’t come across an actuary every day. Contrary to notaries or financial advisors, actuaries rarely interact with the general public. They usually work behind the scenes. But what do they do, exactly?
Here’s how the Canadian Institute of Actuaries defines it:
“Actuaries are professionals who use mathematics to assess risk and calculate statistics. Their specialized skills in finance involve making calculations for insurance companies, structuring pension plans, and crafting government regulations and social programs.”
Actuaries provide their input across many areas, including:
- Life insurance companies
- Property and casualty insurance companies
- Pension plans
- Consulting firms
- Banks and financial services
- Regulatory authorities
- Social programs, including health care
In short, wherever there are problems related to financial risks that can impact a population, you’re likely to find actuaries working to solve them.
Actuaries find their niche in applied sciences (math, statistics), finance and the business world. Aside from the skills needed for their discipline, actuaries must also have a variety of transversal skills and competencies. So if you want to be an actuary, you must be able to demonstrate:
- Problem-solving skills
- An ethical sense
- Good communication skills
- Fluency in English
So can becoming an actuary be your calling in life?
If you think becoming an actuary might be for you, plan to hit the books for a few years. Here is the education you need to enter the profession.
The first step is getting a Diplôme d’études collégiales (DEC), i.e. a CEGEP degree.
The most strategic approach is to study natural sciences or computer science and math.
Regardless of the path you choose, you will have to take Mathematics 103, 105 and 203, which are prerequisites for applying for a bachelor’s degree. Some university programs also require physics courses.
To get into university, make sure you maintain an R score of 22 or greater.
Once you’ve received your DEC, you must get a bachelor's degree in Actuarial Sciences, or in Mathematics with a minor in Actuarial Sciences.
This program lasts three years and could include internships.
A degree in Actuarial Sciences will allow you to become an actuary.
You can then obtain a Master’s degree or PhD if you wish to pursue a career as a teacher or researcher in university.
The next step
Once you have your bachelor’s degree, you can enter the professional ranks.
You should know, however, that this profession is governed by professional orders such as the Canadian Institute of Actuaries (CIA). To climb the corporate ladder, you have to keep working hard to earn the designations awarded by the CIA, in the following order:
Actuaries who specialize in property and casualty insurance will obtain these credentials once they pass the Society of Actuaries and Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) exams.
The sooner you start, the sooner you can reap the rewards. Typically, those who aspire to get their associate or fellow credentials get an early jump by taking these exams while they’re studying or immediately after obtaining their undergraduate degree.
Actuaries are always in demand. The profession tends to remain stable throughout time despite economic fluctuations. There are also other factors that stimulate the market, such as:
- The aging population, coupled with the control of group plans and pension funds
- The continuing development of new insurance products
- Technological advancement and the growing demand for strategies to help guide business decisions
So if you’re thinking about becoming an actuary, rest assured, the employment rate is very high in Quebec. Placement rates for graduates in Actuarial Science is nearly 100%. Most graduating students are able to find a full-time job in their area of expertise.
Something else to consider: The profession ranks among the best when considering salary, job stability and schedule. So if the road to becoming an actuary seems long and arduous, know that you will be well rewarded by a career that is enriching in every respect.