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Actuaries use statistical techniques and mathematical skills to assess the probability of an event and its financial consequences.

Insurance companies are legally obliged to employ at least one actuary to advise on financial management.

What does an actuary do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Actuaries evaluate complex risks and assess the potential financial consequences of those risks. Typical responsibilities include:

  • analysing statistical data, for example of accident rates
  • computer modelling of statistics to determine potential risks
  • preparing presentations and reports
  • communicating findings to clients, managers and stakeholders
  • keeping abreast of financial developments in the business world.

In insurance-related specialisms, actuaries must ensure that premium rates are set accurately and that adequate funds exist to meet claims.

Career progression is encouraged through direct client responsibility, specialisation, management or partnership. Although qualification can be a lengthy and demanding process, the work is highly respected, globally recognised and extremely well remunerated.

Positions occur in towns and cities throughout the UK, and opportunities for international and self-employment also exist. Working hours tend to be predictable; although extra hours are common, actuaries are not usually required to work at the weekend, and there is scope for flexible/shared working hours depending on the employer.

Vacancies are advertised through targetjobs.co.uk, specialist recruitment agencies, websites and in publications such as The Actuary.

Typical employers of actuaries

  • Life assurance companies
  • Pension funds
  • Insurance companies and consultancies
  • Healthcare providers
  • The government’s Actuaries Department
  • Actuarial consultancies
  • Investment banks
  • Accountancy firms
  • Management consultancies

Qualifications and training required

There are routes into the actuarial profession for both graduates and school leavers, although there are generally more opportunities for graduates. Graduates are expected to have a good record of academic achievement, including grade B in maths at A Level/Scottish Higher level and at least a 2.1 degree result. Most employers require a degree in maths, statistics, economics, physics or similar numerate subjects, although some accept any degree discipline. Internships are strongly encouraged by employers, and are commonly used as a way of evaluating suitable candidates for future positions.

Courses are often provided through distance learning, although university-based courses are also available. Students must pass a range of traditional and practical exams, and complete one year of work-based training before being granted associate membership of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA). In order to then become a Fellow, three years of work-based training are required, as well as further specialised study and exams.

Professional study is well supported. Students are granted membership of IFoA while they study, and employers often provide paid study leave, sponsorship and contribution to study materials as well as mentoring students. A substantial amount of private study is often required, but exemptions from some assessments may be available if you can demonstrate significant prior knowledge of the syllabus.

School leavers can become actuaries by undertaking either the CT1 core qualification or the Certified Actuarial Analyst (CAA) qualification with IFoA, and then completing the rest of the study modules. Alternatively, a few companies offer actuarial apprenticeships. For more information about school leaver routes, see our article on how to get into finance on TARGETcareers, our website aimed at school leavers.

Key skills for actuaries

Employers look for candidates who are confident in their abilities, as well as motivated, as the qualification process is difficult and lengthy. Further valued skills include:

  • excellent numeracy
  • research and analytical ability
  • problem-solving ability
  • a deep understanding of economics and of the legislation relating to financial services
  • attention to detail
  • high level of computer literacy, as specialised software may be used
  • written and verbal communication skills

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