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Careers Centre

Actuarial profession

 

Sector Overview

The relevant Careers Adviser for this occupational area is Dr Bhavya Rao. To see how you can meet Bhavya, or any of our advisers, visit our website.

Actuaries are involved in the management of financial risk. They use statistical and other mathematical techniques to assess the potential risks and costs of future financial and business activities. By applying their expertise in risk management in consultancies, government institutions, regulatory bodies, insurance companies, and other organisations involved in investment and banking, actuaries aim to reduce financial uncertainty and improve the financial performance of their organisation.

Traditionally actuaries were employed in life insurance companies, but although the life and non-life insurance industry still employs many actuaries they can now be found across the financial sector in investment management, pensions and financial services/accountancy firms. Consultancy is now the largest area of employment of actuaries in the UK, where they provide advice to clients on a range of issues from pensions to acquisitions and mergers. The Government Actuary’s Department (GAD) has also recruited graduates in the past. Check their website for current information on vacancies. GAD provides a consultancy service to UK government departments and public bodies and some overseas governments and organisations.

The actuarial profession in the UK is represented by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) (which was, until 2010, two separate bodies for England and Scotland respectively). Their website contains a wealth of information on the qualifications and career prospects within the industry.

Most graduates will start as trainee actuaries in an actuarial consultancy, an insurance company or the public sector, but this varied profession offers many routes for career development. In many cases, trainees do not to spend their whole training period with a single company.

Actuaries often work for international firms; once experienced, they may travel overseas to help other offices learn from actuarial techniques in the UK. Some who work for insurance companies find they have the right mix of skills to take on senior management roles such as Chief Executive, Finance Director or Investment Director. Many actuaries continue to build their specialism, be it in pensions, life insurance or non-life insurance. Client specialism is also an option, for example, health-care insurance. Within some consultancies, actuaries may move through to partnership positions.

Nearly all of UK entrants into the actuarial profession are graduates, the majority having first or upper second class degrees. Employers generally look for a numerate degree and applicants with a keen mathematical mind. There are also minimum requirements regarding maths A level/Highers - see the Actuarial profession school student section for more details.

Newly qualified actuaries should expect to work overtime, though students will be given enough time to allow them to pursue their studies. However, flexible and part-time work can be available at the discretion of the employer, and self-employment and freelance work can also be pursued, though most actuaries are employed by ‘large financial institutions’.

Student actuaries can expect a starting salary of around £25,000-£35,000. Whatever area the qualified actuary moves into, the rewards are notable. Salaries for actuaries are high – newly qualified actuaries can expect to earn £45,000-£55,000 with earning potential being higher in consultancy than insurance. Salaries in excess of £100,000 are typical for senior actuaries. (Source: Prospects)

Professional Training and Qualifications for Actuaries

Budding actuaries must first pass professional examinations and attain at least three years' practical experience before they can become a fully qualified associate and ultimately a Fellow of the IFoA. Both the exams and the experience require a lot of effort, diligence, and time, so it is essential you work towards your qualifications with a firm that supports you during these formative years, a firm that will provide for relevant exams and study, grant study leave and give you the practical experience you will need to succeed and progress professionally.

At present the St Andrews Curriculum is not accredited by the IFoA, and so does not provide any exemptions from actuarial exam modules.

As a trainee actuary, studying for examinations is a key part of the role. Although not intrinsically difficult, they require a great deal of application and determination. You should not underestimate the commitment required to manage a full time job and study at the same time. On average it can take three to six years to become qualified, depending on the individual and the employer concerned. See the IFoA website for more information.

The 'Actuarial' Inside Careers booklet is available to take away from the Careers Centre.

 

Actuarial attributes profile

 

Key attributes needed for the role Where you could develop these skills or attributes
A high level of numeracy.

Depending on your modules, this may be demonstrated through your academic studies.

Numeracy is usually assessed through psychometric testing.  The Careers Centre has online practice resources.

Using the the University’s subscription to the Microsoft IT Academy can help to develop your skills with programmes such as Excel.

An analytical mind and excellent problem-solving skills.

Through academic studies and relevant work experience.

CAPOD offer maths support for particular problems or even if just you wish to build your confidence in your maths Skills.

Practical problem solving skills are particularly valued for example taking on the role of treasurer for a society.
Ability to communicate complex information clearly.

This is most likely to be developed and evidenced through your academic studies.

Taking part in outreach programmes talking about science to secondary school children and other public engagement activities through your Department/ School.
Commercial awareness.

Keep up-to-date with business and sector news, and develop this through extra-curricular activity in student-run societies such as the Playfair Project and the Management Society.

Excellent communication skills, including the ability to build productive and trustworthy relationships with clients.

Mainly through working in a customer service environment but could include roles such as sponsorship officer for a society.

CAPOD offers courses on these kinds of skills regularly within its Professional Skills Curriculum.

Taking on positions of responsibility in student-run societies will give you the chance to put these into practice.

Project management skills, including abilities of thinking ahead, time management, and organisational skills.

Many of these skills you will develop through your academic studies and extra- curricular activities.

CAPOD offers courses on these kinds of skills (for eg the ‘time management’ course) regularly within its Professional Skills Curriculum.

Knowledge of IT systems and relevant software.

Using the University’s subscription to the Microsoft IT Academy can help to develop your skills with programmes such as Excel.

 

Nature of sector or roles

Some of the services actuarial consultancies offer and some of the projects actuaries can expect to be a part of include mergers, acquisitions and corporate recovery and financing capital projects - their purpose is to provide strategic and well-informed commercial and financial advice to individuals, groups, businesses and individuals. Inside Careers has details on some of the specialist areas of actuarial work, including consultancy, finance, and insurance. As can be seen, the actuarial sector encompasses a large and diverse range of organisations and can be a dynamic area of work, with actuaries finding employment in fields as disparate as healthcare and banking. Other areas of work open to experienced actuaries include investment systems, commercial activities, valuation work, technical research, software development and financial modelling.

Similarly, the variety of tasks in which actuaries can be employed in day-to-day work is vast. Duties such as analysing and applying stats and mathematical models to current economic trends, advising the development of IT systems, and presenting reports to clients as well as managers to advise on issues relating to mergers, acquisitions and trading are all performed by actuaries in the development of new financial products and to guide financial judgements.

After qualification, actuaries can find that it is possible to progress quickly to positions of responsibility, including managerial positions.

Some of the key attributes for those wishing to work in the actuarial profession:

Networks - why and how to use them

Networking is particularly important and can help you succeed with your applications. If you have been in contact with someone working for the organisation then you have extra information to back up your case for why they should employ you. Attending the Management and Finance Careers Fair and individual employer run events are great ways to make valuable connections. Use these opportunities to introduce yourself to representatives; ask for their business card so you can make contact in the future. Use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook (many organisations have their own page) to connect with organisations. Recent St Andrews graduates have gone on to work for Hymans Robertson, KPMG and Towers Watson. Alumni can make extremely useful contacts, giving you an "edge" with your applications and interviews. There are several ways to make contact with alumni.

Have a look at the Network with Alumni section of our website for more advice and information.

How to gain experience/internships

Undertaking actuarial work experience helps with applications for permanent positions later by demonstrating that you know what the work is all about, that you know you will enjoy it, and by showing that you have a commitment to and long-lasting interest in the sector. In addition it gives the employer an opportunity to have a long hard look at you – and if you perform well you may be offered a graduate trainee position for the following year. By experiencing the work of an actuary whilst at university, you will also be able to make later decisions about which speciality you might like to go into.

Application deadlines in businesses that offer actuarial positions vary from company to company, so keep an eye on their websites throughout the year. Bear in mind that relevant experience can also be gained in positions other than actuary-specific jobs, including more generally finance-related roles.

To find employers offering internships:

Although an internship is ideal, another option is to take a speculative approach and contact employers who are not advertising formal internships to see if you can get some work experience or work shadowing. This may also be more appropriate for earlier years students as some employers only offer internships to penultimate year students. Applications should ideally be made from December through to March. Some firms may also have open days where you can speak to actuaries and find out more about the profession. Opportunities can sometimes be found through networking and you can also check LinkedIn for possible contacts.

If you continue to struggle to find an internship then another option is to approach larger insurance companies, particularly departments dealing with data analysis where you can learn relevant administration and data skills.

How to get a (graduate) job

Upon qualification, a standard pathway for actuarial trainees is to begin their career in the financial services industry, particularly in the insurance and pensions areas. However, this is not the only route open to actuaries - keep an eye out for different vacancies on the websites listed below to see some of the options open to those with an actuarial qualification.

There are a number of oft-cited steps that employers and careers pages recommend in order to become an actuary. These are, broadly, as follows:

1. Be enthusiastic and demonstrably interested in the sector and the work processes it entails - it sounds obvious, but it is important to ensure that you are in a profession for the right reasons, one of those being that you enjoy the subject matter;
2. Hone your communication skills - actuarial work is not only about numbers and stats; much of the work revolves around interpersonal relationships, the ability of the actuary to give sound financial advice resting on a bedrock of trust with the client. Furthermore, reports and technical concepts need to be clearly expressed both verbally and in writing. Employers will need to see evidence of your ability to communicate effectively, efficiently, and personably;
3. Network before and during your employment - by talking to people in the industry whilst at university you might be able to secure an interview, or find out about lesser-known vacancies and opportunities, and you could make the acquaintance of someone conducting your interview. Networking can also give you a valuable insight into the sector that you could use to good effect during the application process, by demonstrating that you have a personal interest in and commitment to the sector;
4. Attain practical work experience whilst at university - see the 'How to gain experience/internships' above;
5. Select a company with which you will have a mutually beneficial relationship - before applying, consider the different aspects of the ideal company you would like to work with. Would you operate better in a small or a big company? What specialisms are you interested in and do they deal in? Take into account the culture of the office: this might only be ascertained during your interview, though researching the organisation can also tell you much.

(see the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) website for a list of member agencies).

Actuarial vacancies can still be available in Spring and even in the Summer, although serious candidates should ensure they apply as early as possible in the autumn to try to obtain the position, employer and location they prefer.

Submitting a speculative application to an employer who is not visibly advertising any vacancies is another often successful approach to employment.

Speculative application advice
A list of potential employers you might want to address your applications to

Relevant postgraduate study

Full time postgraduate courses in actuarial science are available for students thinking about this option. Have a look at the institutions listed on the IFoA website. These courses can give exemption from a number of the professional examinations. The full time study option can gain you time in passing the examinations, though it will lose you a year of practical experience. Employers can have mixed feelings about applicants who have lots of exemptions from exams, so full-time actuarial study does not guarantee an advantage in the job market and you are very likely to have to fund it yourself.

For further information on researching and planning for a postgraduate qualification, please visit the postgraduate study page.

 

Through a combination of self-study and distance learning courses (provided by specialists such as the Actuarial Education Company (ActEd)) students take the professional examinations at a pace that suits them, though to qualify as an Associate member of the profession (a process that also involves practical modules to achieve a satisfactory level of work-based skills) typically takes between three and six years. Prospects notes that 'The Associate-level qualification is recognised internationally as meeting the minimum requirements to be an actuary and qualifies members to use the letters AIA or AFA'.

Sponsorship for a postgraduate degree can be available through The Worshipful Company of Actuaries.

Key UK links and resources

Careers Centre resources

Online

Use CareerConnect, your central careers hub, to:

Books:

General actuarial careers information

Professional Bodies, Trade Organisations & Journals/Magazines

Resources


Firms

 

USA resources

The USA job market and recruitment timetables, for both internships and graduate jobs, for sectors of employment often differ from the UK.

The Careers Centre subscribes to the reputable independent USA careers information and vacancy provider Vault. The link below will take you directly to Vault subscription resources which cover this sector. You may find further useful and relevant resources linked from there as well.