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How to become an actuary

how to become an actuary

Lauren Bahun (front row left)

Actuarial Analyst

Matthew Feryus, ASA (front row right)

Senior Actuarial Analyst

Kevin Jansen, FSA, MAAA (back row right)

Managing Actuary

Andrew France, FSA, MAAA (back row left)

Actuarial Director

Q: How long have you been working as an actuary? Why did you choose this career?

Lauren: I have been working as an actuary (I refer to myself as an "actuarial student" because I am not yet credentialed) for two years. I chose the actuarial profession because I have always had a strong interest in math, as well as pursuing a career in the business field. I wanted a career that would challenge me, but would also provide job stability and opportunities for growth and advancement. I chose working in the health insurance industry—I felt it was one of the most interesting types of insurance and one of the most challenging because since it is constantly changing and evolving.

Matthew: I have been working in the actuarial department of Florida Blue for two and a half years. I started soon after I graduated from college. I chose the profession because I was very skilled at mathematics and knew that I wanted to do something more concrete involving that than just 'pure mathematics'. I knew that the field would be both challenging and rewarding.

Kevin: I have been an actuary for five years. I spent the first two years at a large health insurance company in Kentucky and now have been at Florida Blue for three years. I hope to spend many more years as an actuary! I chose this career because I wanted to use analytical skills to help solve business problems. I get to use my best skills each day to help my company. I liked that the exam system was set up to have specific rewards for those that worked hard and passed exams. When I was considering becoming an actuary, I was amazed at how friendly actuaries were, and it made me want to work with these types of people for my career.

Andrew: I have been an actuary for 13 years. I discovered it after a move by my spouse made me re-examine my career choice. The notion of career progression through exam passing and applying mathematics and economics principles appealed to me.

Q: What do you do in a typical day?

Lauren: At my company, the typical work an actuary does depends on what area they work in within the actuarial department. Since I work in the Forecasting area, I work on updating and maintaining our projection model, which calculates and predicts how our health insurance products will perform financially in the future. I also help monitor how our products are actually performing with what the model has predicted. The coolest part about what I do is that the results of the projection model drive some of the company's business decisions!

Matthew: My day can greatly vary. As some sample items, I could be:

  • Projecting future premiums by projecting future claims data and applying appropriate adjustments.
  • Preparing documents for governmental agencies at the state or federal level to show that proposed premiums are justified.
  • Calculating premiums for individuals
  • Reviewing and critiquing a variety of other initiatives involving Actuarial, such as how a new initiative for reimbursement for providers works (e.g. Patient Centered Medical Home model, Accountable Care Organization).

I do a variety of tasks, so it also helps to make each day unique.

Kevin: I'm an early career manager with two actuaries working on my team. Typical days include working with data to produce analysis and exhibits and then sending them or presenting them to other actuaries or other departments. Early in my career, I spent more time at my desk organizing data, analyzing data and updating excel spreadsheets. As I've progressed in the career, I spend more time in meetings and using critical thinking skills to help solve new business problems.

Andrew: I spend my days on coordinating and evaluating work of direct reports, creating excel workbooks to organize data for the purpose of analyzing historical trends or estimating future results, and preparing for presenting ideas and concepts to company leaders.

Q: What education and/or training did you need for this job?

Lauren: After high school, students interested in the actuarial profession attain a bachelor's degree at the minimum. While most companies don't require you to have majored in actuarial science specifically, actuaries typically major in math/statistics and/or some business related field. Aside from college, in order to become credentialed, you will need to pass a series of exams. Many actuaries start taking these exams in college.

I attended college at Drake University where I majored in actuarial science. During my junior year in college, I interned at the company where I currently work. During my internship I was able to learn health insurance basics and advance my technical skills which every actuary needs, such as learning how to use Excel and learning how to pull data using certain programs.

Matthew: At my company, you just need a Bachelor's degree in terms of schooling, but you need to be committed to passing the professional exams offered by the Society of Actuaries (SOA). I believe that my university (Robert Morris University near Pittsburgh, PA) helped immensely with passing exams. This is important because the exams can be very challenging. Additionally, it was helpful to learn some programming languages because part of my job requires processing raw data into usable information.

Kevin: I got a bachelor of business with a double major in finance and psychology. An undergraduate degree is required for most jobs as an actuary. Most actuaries major in actuarial science, math, statistics, finance, computer science or another analytical major. It is helpful to major in these, but it's not required. There can be actuaries with any major as long as you can pass actuarial exams and show that you would make a good actuary. Passing exams is very important to be an actuary. Most employers require that you've passed one or two exams before getting your first job as an actuary. Once you have a job as an actuary, most companies support you in taking exams, meaning they will give you time to study at work and pay for the exam

and study materials. Most also give you automatic raises/bonuses for passing exams.

Andrew: I got a Bachelor of Arts in math and political science from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. I then sat in a few math statistics and interest theory classes at the University of Florida before taking my first two exams.

Q: What do you like best about your job?

Lauren: What I like best is that there is always an opportunity to learn something new and develop yourself, almost every day.

Matthew: I best like figuring out the complex issues. For example, my team had to best work out how to properly demonstrate medical trend, given some different ways to express it. After looking through some sources and using some examples, we found a solution that best fit the situation presented.

Kevin: There are too many things to list that I enjoy but I'll put my favorites.

  • I get to work with many very smart people.
    • In order to pass exams, you must be good at math and disciplined enough to work hard to pass them. Actuaries tend to be friendly, reasonable and enjoyable to work with also.
  • It's a good job that pays well and is in high demand.
    • Actuaries are very valuable to their companies and are highly regarded. There are very few credentialed actuaries that are unemployed because they can't find a job.
  • It's a specific job with a specific role and career path.
    • If you major in general business, you may not be sure what type of job you will have. You may be a business analyst for a company but that can entail many things. Actuaries have specific jobs with specific responsibilities of pricing, forecasting, reserving, etc. It's a specific well defined job much like a doctor, lawyer, etc.
  • It's a small profession and a close knit one.
    • Many of my friends are actuaries at my job and I've stayed friends with my old co-workers from Kentucky. Actuaries understand the actuarial exam system and the time and effort it takes to pass the exams and this can create a bond with the people you study and work with.
  • Work/life balance is good.
    • Once you are done with exams most actuaries work around 40 hours a week and can maintain a good work/life balance. Early in your career when you are taking exams, you'll have to work and study which can be stressful but the hard work definitely pays off and it is worth it.
  • An actuary's job can be flexible.
    • Actuaries can work at the office or at home. We've had actuaries work from other states and other countries. Some other professions require you to be at work for 8 hours a day. For example, a nurse must be at the hospital to do their job. Actuaries do have to be at the office for some meetings or at a client site at times but generally their work schedule allows for flexibility.
  • It's a very interesting time to be working in Health Insurance.
    • About one-fourth of actuaries work in health insurance or health consulting. With the passage of the new national health care law, it's a very interesting time to be working in health care. It keeps the work interesting and also allows us to help shape the changes being made to the health care system.

Andrew: What I like about my job is that we are constantly having new problems to figure out. That what you have learned in the past is useful but not sufficient to do your job better in the future.

Q: What advice would you give to students who are interested in becoming an actuary?

Lauren: My advice is to continue taking math, computer, oral communication, and general business courses in high school. If you have extra room in your schedule for courses other than those, take ones that challenge you and make you think. Every actuary needs to develop strong critical thinking skills, and these types of classes help do that. Also, if you have the chance to job shadow an actuary for a day, I would recommend doing it. I job shadowed an actuary when I was a senior in high school, and it was a great opportunity to observe examples of specific actuarial work as well as the work environment.

Matthew: I would recommend reflecting on whether you feel like you would want to pass the series of professional exams. While there is a great benefit behind passing exams, and I don't regret it, you will be studying immensely for them. Also, I would work on communication skills, which would be necessary and helpful no matter what you do after graduation. Finally, if this aligns with some other career options for you, I would consider learning a programming language or two (like Visual Basic, SAS, or SQL).

Kevin: I would keep exploring the actuarial profession like you are doing now. Try to find an actuary that you could go to lunch with or spend a day doing a job shadow. Spend some time on During high school, take as many math, statistics, and computer science classes as you can. Explore colleges that have actuarial science degrees. If you major in actuarial science, pick a second major in something less specific in case you decide not to be an actuary. Start preparing for and taking exams in college as soon as you know you want to become an actuary. Find the career that is right for you and good luck!

Andrew: Problem solve. Realize that the skills used to make yourself the best cashier or student or painter or most efficiently drive to the mall are the same skills that came make you professionally successful. Try to find ways to do everything better.

Read books and articles that force you to think. Your biggest value will be your ability to challenge how things are done. Reading things that challenge your mind can be a good way to prepare to do that in the future.

Category: Insurance

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