BEING an actuary is not something many children will aspire to, unlike being a doctor, lawyer, pilot or firefighter.
It is not an easy profession to enter either, yet there is no shortage of actuaries in the world today.
Why is being an actuary so popular then?
For those who are willing to work hard, it is a financially-rewarding profession.
However, it can also be flexible for those who are less ambitious and prefer to work basic hours for a decent salary.
Actuarial science is also an internationally-recognised qualification that is a passport to working anywhere in the world.
Actuaries are in demand mainly in the financial services sector, working in banks, insurance and investment companies as well as government bodies.
The job is recession-proof, hence providing security for one’s career.
What this profession is not though, is boring. Though unexciting-sounding, the work is challenging and intellectually stimulating, especially for those who love numbers and logic.
You can also see your efforts having a big impact on the industry and society as a whole, as when you devise and formulate financially-secure benefit plans and programmes that serve to protect clients.
In the insurance industry, actuaries are the financial engineers. Actuaries analyse and predict the probability that a potential event will generate a claim, and ascertain the amount of money needed for claims payouts.
They are also involved in regulation, policy writing, product design and marketing of the products.
If you are interested in becoming an actuary, you need to first obtain an undergraduate degree in statistics, mathematics, finance or actuarial science.
After that, the Society of Actuaries (SOA) has a series of examinations and modules that you can take to become a fully-qualified actuary.
This is usually undertaken while one is already working as an entry-level actuary, and this certification process is often sponsored by the employer while the candidate gains practical experience at the same time.
The SOA is the world’s largest actuarial professional organisation and one that constantly highlights the importance of education, credentialing and professional development. Although based in the USA, the society has a global footprint.
Through research and education, the SOA’s mission is to advance actuarial knowledge and to enhance the ability of actuaries to provide expert advice and relevant solutions for financial, business and societal challenges.
Most people will take around six to eight years to complete the requirements to become an Associate, and another two or three years to become a Fellow, by which time one will usually be in one’s thirties.
After qualifying to be an actuary, one can choose to specialise in one of the areas of insurance, viz life, health protection, property, pensions etc.
Later, one can also choose to work with a consulting firm or even be an independent consultant.
However, even those who did not manage to sit for all the exams will still be recognised for those that they have successfully completed.
“Those who have taken only the first three exams can qualify to become underwriters,” said SOA president Jeremy J. Brown, who added that the SOA is a non-profit organisation and the fees charged go towards administration and the cost of running the programme.
“Most candidates will have their fees paid by their employers, while we also provide reimbursements for some hardship cases,” he said.
“SOA works very hard to make it possible for someone to take our exams and not deny anyone the opportunity to advance in the profession.
“In the US, no one is more than 25 miles (about 40km) from a centre where exams are administered. Elsewhere around the world, for candidates living in remote areas, we will come as near to you as we possibly can.”
Said Brown: “The SOA’s vision is for actuaries to be the leading professionals in the measurement and management of risk.
“The curriculum is regularly updated, with new areas like analytics being added to ensure that actuaries with the certification are the best-trained.
“Our focus is beyond analytical techniques, as we help actuaries turn knowledge into insight, insight into recommendations and recommendations into solutions that will benefit insurance, finance and investment corporations.”
Brown said that the SOA is also cultivating new and emerging opportunities with actuarial initiatives that support candidates in utilising actuarial credentials to pursue non-traditional routes like business analytics.
“The profession has evolved tremendously compared to when I started out 40 years ago. Back then, everything was manually processed and we were mainly dealing with monthly financials and daily statistics,” he said.
“There will always be different types of cases so the work is never the same drudgery.
“Now, expectations are much higher, with more advanced products being offered as consumers also become more sophisticated.
“Actuaries are involved in designing products and determining the pricing, and have to ensure better product choices that also translate into greater profits for their companies.
“As financial services continue to grow, we want to provide current and future actuaries in this region and around the world with the skills and qualifications required to enable the growth and development of insurance companies and other bodies served by actuaries in the decades to come.
“Our exam candidates will now be exposed to all areas of actuarial practice before they select from among the various practice-specific fellowship tracks.
“This allows candidates maximum flexibility in working toward their professional designation.”
Recently, the SOA organised their annual Asia-Pacific symposium in Kuala Lumpur to provide a learning and networking platform in the region whereby members and non-members could share their professional experiences.
The event, themed Beyond Traditions — A World of Opportunities, was supported by the Actuarial Society of Malaysia and Persatuan Insurans Am Malaysia.
Also present were students from the Chinese University of Hong Kong who were among the winners of the 2017 SOA Student Case Study Challenge which saw 69 teams of actuarial students in a research competition where they applied their skills on economic development and environmental considerations.
Over eight weeks, the student teams researched situations, conducted actuarial analysis, determined a data methodology, developed solutions and provided recommendations.
Pathway to SOA Professional Certification
The Society of Actuaries (SOA)’s professional certification involves a full curriculum, with a specialty track for practitioners.
The Society has partnered with schools around the world to set up centres of actuarial excellence and research grants have also been awarded to universities.
A student will first need to earn a university degree in either Actuarial Science or a related field like Mathematics.
Upon graduation, the candidate will then undertake professional examinations while working in the industry. Most employers will sponsor this process which also includes various on-the-job assessments and a professionalism seminar.
Once the requirements are fulfilled, the candidate will be admitted to the SOA and designated an ASA (Associate of the Society of Actuaries).