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Is anyone an actuary?

  1. Oct 16, 2006 #1
    Is anyone on the board an actuary or has anyone on here taken the actuary exams? I have graduated witha BS in math and a minor in economics, and was wondering if this was enough to pursue a career as an actuary. The only problem is that I have never ever taken any stat or probability classes. I am sure that I could study the material that would be covered on the actuary exams, but I was wondering if potential employers want to see it actually listed on a transcript. Would I need to take a course on stat/probability or would it just be ok as long as I could study myself and pass the exams? Also, how hard are the exams? Did it take you multiple times to pass the exams? How long did you study for it? How hard is it to find a job as an actuary? What are some things employers look for on a resume?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 16, 2006 #2


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    I've seen Actuary courses offered in some schools, so you might want to look into that. It's probably only a course or two with maybe a statistics class as a pre-requisite. That's about a year of preparation.

    Not sure how the exam is, but I'm sure after taking an Actuary course you should be ready, as long as you do some extra studying.

    Will employers care? I have no idea, but I doubt they would. I heard the job is in demand, so I don't see them being too picky about things.

    Anyways, hopefully someone else can answer your questions and good luck! :biggrin:
  4. Oct 16, 2006 #3


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    I'm not an actuary, but I've been thinking some about becoming one. A while ago I went to a guest lecture by someone who is an actuary so I have some second hand information. Apparently the exams are very difficult and are meant to weed people out--only a small percentage (2% or 3%, I think) pass all of them. You get a few tries per exam--I think it was 3 or 4--that your employer will pay for, but if you have a record of failing it then they will stop paying for it (or maybe the testing organization has a limit on the number of attempts also, I didn't catch that). If you don't complete all the exams you won't become a certified actuary, but you can be a financial analyst doing most of the same work. It looks good to pass an exam or two if you can before applying for a job, and some students take an actuary exam while still in college. I got the impression that the exams are more important than any coursework you take. It typically takes 10 years to finish them.
  5. Oct 16, 2006 #4
  6. Oct 17, 2006 #5
    10 yearsss?!?!?!?!?!?!?


    I think i "was" interested in becoming an actuarian..... LOL!
  7. Oct 18, 2006 #6


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    Well, apparently you are typically employed while studying and taking the exams. It's not like 10 years of just education.
  8. Oct 23, 2006 #7
    First off, there's two types of actuaries. There's about ten times as many life actuaries (that's a fairly precise figure) as there are P&C actuaries. The extremely favorable reviews you read of the actuarial field mostly relate to life actuaries. I was a P&C (Property and Casualty) actuary.

    You don't really need stat. Basic calculus (perhaps two semesters) is about as far as the "real" math goes. Beyond that, it's this weird sort of math invented by actuaries for actuaries. A basic understanding of stat is about all you need to pick up that part.

    The exams are brutal. Each exam is worth an extra $5,000 a year or so, so people study a LOT for them. That's the competition. The official number is 500 hours to pass an exam. The reality is it is still a crap shoot. The exams have about a 50% pass rate. For the P&C exams, it is ALL memorization beyond the first three exams. You need to know the specific solutions provided by specific authors to specific problems. Sample question: "according to Herzog, what is the appropriate treatment for ...". That question will relate directly back to an example in the text, and you have to know that solution, being able to solve the problem is irrelevent.

    There are ten exams, offered twice a year. With a 50% pass rate, you'll pass one a year on average, for a ten year "travel time" to pass all ten. During that time, you'll spend 1,000/year (4 hours every single day) studying.

    It IS worth it: once you pass all 10, you are pretty much guaranteed to make $150,000/year, even if you tend to drool during interviews.
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2006
  9. Oct 24, 2006 #8
    Is it stressfull being an actuarian?

    Hard to lead a proper life?

    Do actuarians somehow end up as workoholics!?

    And, what does life actuarian really mean!?
  10. Oct 24, 2006 #9
    My wife is an actuary. How hard it is depends on which country you live in. It is harder in the UK and US.

    In the UK (where I live) you can do the first 4 exams as a one year residential course at a university. That takes you roughly half way through the exams (athough they are the easier ones) and will make it easier to get hired by a company where you can do the other exams while working.

    You can in principal do the exams in 3 years, but that is quite tough. My wife took 5 because she did them all while working.
  11. Oct 24, 2006 #10
    How important is experience? For example, I was going to go to grad school and maybe take a few exams while I'm there. If I passed too many exams while working as an engineer or in grad school, will I be too overqualified for the entry level jobs and underqualified for the better paying jobs because of lack of experience? I guess my question is this: Say I pass 7-10 exams without any experience at all as an actuary, wil I find a good paying job?
  12. Oct 24, 2006 #11
    They aren't called "actuarians", but "actuarials" (as in "actuarial student/associate/fellow"). Technically, "actuary" is a singular job title. like "President", but the students will still call themselves "actuaries" in the vernacular.

    Very. They are an extremely weird bunch of geeks.

    Mostly, yes.

    They work for life insurance companies, which are regulated differently than P&C companies in the US. That same distinction exists in some European countries. The British make little distinction, but the Germans break things down into life and non-life.
  13. Oct 24, 2006 #12
    True: other countries have things they call "actuaries", but it is hardly the same thing that tops all those "best jobs" lists you see. Those lists are based on US surveys. I feel it is generally safe to assume they mean US actuaries. Other countries may have similar lists, and "actuary" may top those lists too, but if so it is more a matter of coincidence than anything else.

    "Actuary" is almost always at or near the top of such lists in the US. That is why I assumed the question referred to US actuaries. Those lists mean life actuaries, of course (the P&C ones being so much rarer), and there is a difference between the two. The life course is a little easier than the P&C course, but less lucrative. It's still not a cakewalk, and involves immense quantities of memorization.

    Life actuaries have their own problem, not refelcted in those lists. The career is on its way down. There are so many of them because they do an awful lot of pedestrian grunt work, and are being replaced by software.
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2006
  14. Oct 24, 2006 #13
    That IS sometimes a bit of a problem. Every employer in existence will tell you it is more important that you get the job done than that you have the exams. But all that tells you is that every employer either lies or has no idea how things actually work.

    It's almost impossible to have anyone with more exams work under someone with more. I know a number of people (myself included) who have a few exams but refuse to admit it except under pressure. Someone with no exams can be in a position senior to someone with all of them. That happens all the time (someone with all of them is usually upper-middle management, senior managers like the president of a firm rarely have any).

    But if you have a lot of them, you'll defintely get interveiws, and they will find a way to make things work. The certification is extremely valuable, laregely because it is next to impossible to find anyone willing to go through the entire process.

    As was pointed out earlier, I am referring to the US actuarial designation from either the SoA (Society of Actuatries, the life side) or the CAS (Casualty Actuarial Society, the P&C side).
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 24, 2006
  15. Oct 25, 2006 #14
    My wife specializes in pensions and works as a consultant for the international group of one of the big US actuarial consultancies. She works quite hard, and has to travel to meetings around the world a lot (London, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Zurich mainly).
  16. Oct 27, 2006 #15
    i am!

    I'm a P&C actuary (actuarial student, actually) in the US.

    1. Actuaries aren't weird geeks! A few are, but mostly we're the people who were good at math but too *normal* to go into, like, theoretical physics or whatever.

    2. Most Actuaries are not workaholics. That's one of the reasons it always ranks so highly! It's a great way to have a job that is interesting, rarely over 40 hours a week, and pays 6 figures within 7-10 years of starting :) In particular, actuaries working for consulting firms tend to work quite a bit harder.

    3. I'm wondering about those stats for P&C actuaries. Is it true the there are so many more life actuaries? I didn't know that!

    4. The exam process is brutal, but with a strong math background (even if you haven't done probability & statistics before) you should be fine. I think your economics background will help you out quite a bit; I started with very little knowledge of stats and NONE of business/accounting/economics, and that second deficiency definitely hurt me more.

    5. If you have no experience, then anything past the first 2-3 exams probably won't be that helpful in boosting your starting salary. However, you'd move up the ranks VERY quickly if you had a whole lot of them done before you started. So it's not a waste of time. However, it is very hard to past the higher level exams if you aren't working in the field.

    6. You are somewhat limited geographically. You can't be an actuary in a place where there aren't any insurance companies! In the US there are a few employers in most major cities, but the bulk of the jobs are in the midwest and in Hartford, Connecticut.

    7. No one will care what your degree was in once you start taking exams. Mine is in education, and I know of people with law degrees, business degrees, engineering degrees, etc. Some schools have a B.S. or M.S. in Actuarial Science and beleive it or not, those people aren't really THAT much more prepared than anyone else.
  17. Oct 30, 2006 #16
    The math runs out around exam 3 for P&C actuaries. Beyond that, it involves numbers, but not anything readily identifiable as "math", per se. By exam 8, it's almost all regulations and law.

    If you count the time they spend studying as "work", they certainly are: the "500 hours per exam" is an official statistic of the CAS. Two exams a year is 1,000 hours/year. A full time job (40 hours a week) is 2,000 hours a year.

    Anyone who works 60 hours a week (3,000 hours/year) every year for ten years is a "workaholic" in my book.

    My data is about a decade old, but 10:1 is indeed the ratio between FSAs and FCASs.

    I've never passed the top exams, but I know many people who have (I used to work for people going through them). I also passed part 4, and while it dealt with numbers, it had nothing to do with statistics (in any reasonably identifiable form) or math. Half of it was economics, and the other half nothing but weird symbology used solely by life actuaries.
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2006
  18. Nov 2, 2006 #17


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    Well, I don't understand twisting_edge's grumpiness.

    I say:
    welcome to PF, tbug!:smile:
  19. Nov 2, 2006 #18


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    He always comes across as grumpy. He actually has a very close connection to and insider's knowledge of the actuarial tests. But since he hasn't mentioned it, neither will I. In other words, you can trust his knowledge of the tests.
  20. Nov 6, 2006 #19
    My husband is an actuary. I remember several years ago when he was still taking the exams. It is not something he would ever want to do again...but the rewards are worth it in the long run. His job pays well, and he generally doesn't worry about getting laid off. His job is interesting and challenging. He has fairly good hours, and he does have seasons that are busier than others.
  21. Nov 17, 2006 #20
    Point taken; I guess we are workaholics around exam time. BUT . . .

    1. Exams are twice a year, and really it's only around the last month or two before each exam that things get intense (I guess that is a lot, but I think it's worth it in the long run.)

    2. I don't know anyone who studies 500 hours for an exam; I put in a little over 300 on average, and almost half of those are at work.

    3. The exam process is only 10 years if you fail a lot, or skip a lot of sittings, which is fairly common if you have kids and other sorts of committments. The younger single people I know starting right out of college usually get through in more like 5-7 years

    4. Actuaries who are finished exams tend not to be workaholics, as compared to other people making 6-figure salaries. This is what I was thinking of :)
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