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Actuaries - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
Advancement depends largely on job performance and the number of actuarial examinations passed. Actuaries with a broad knowledge of the insurance, pension, investment, or employee benefits fields can rise to executive positions in their companies, such as Chief Risk Officer or Chief Financial Officer. These generally require that actuaries use their abilities for assessing risk and apply it to the entire company as a whole. Actuaries with supervisory ability may advance to management positions in other areas, such as underwriting, accounting, data processing, marketing, and advertising. Some experienced actuaries move into consulting, often by opening their own consulting firm. A few actuaries transfer to college and university faculty positions.

Actuaries held about 19,700 jobs in 2008. About 55 percent of all actuaries were employed by insurance carriers. Approximately 16 percent work for management, scientific and technical consulting services. Others worked for insurance agents and brokers and in the management of companies and enterprises industry. A relatively small number of actuaries are employed by government agencies.

Job Outlook
Employment is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations. Competition for jobs will be keen as the number of qualified candidates is expected to exceed the number of positions available.

Job Growth
Employment of actuaries is expected to increase by 21 percent over the 2008—18 period, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. While employment in the insurance industry—the largest employer of actuaries—will experience some growth, greater job growth will occur in other industries, such as financial services and consulting.

Despite slower than average growth of the insurance industry, employment in this key sector is expected to increase during the projection period as actuaries will be needed to develop, price, and evaluate a variety of insurance products and calculate the costs of new risks. Natural disasters should continue to require the work of actuaries in property and casualty insurance while the growing popularity of annuities, a financial product offered primarily by life insurance companies, will also spur demand. Penetration among actuaries into non-traditional areas, such as the financial services sector, to help price corporate security offerings, for example, will also contribute to some employment growth.

Consulting firms should experience strong employment demand as an increasing number of industries utilize actuaries to assess risk. Increased regulation of managed healthcare companies and drafting healthcare legislation will also spur employment growth.

Nonetheless, growth may be, to a degree, offset by corporate downsizing and consolidation of the insurance industry—the largest employer of actuaries. Life insurance companies, for example, are expected to increasingly shed high level actuarial positions as companies merge and streamline operations. Pension actuaries will also experience declining demand. This is largely due to the decline of defined benefit plans, which required review by an actuary, in favor of investment-based retirement funds, such as 401ks.

Job seekers are likely to face competition because the number of job openings is expected to be less than the number of qualified applicants. College graduates who have passed two of the initial exams and completed an internship should enjoy the best prospects. A solid foundation in mathematics, including the ability to compute complex probability and statistics, is essential. Experience or skills in computer programming can also be important. In addition to job growth, a small number of jobs will open up each year to replace actuaries who retire or transfer to new jobs.

The best employment opportunities should be in consulting firms. Companies that may not find it cost-effective to employ their own actuaries are increasingly hiring consulting actuaries to analyze various risks. Openings should also be available in the healthcare field if changes take place in managed healthcare. The desire to contain healthcare costs will provide job opportunities for actuaries who will be needed to evaluate the risks associated with new medical issues, such as the impact of new diseases.

Because actuarial skills are increasingly seen as useful to other industries that deal with risk, such as the airline and the banking industries, additional job openings may be created in these industries.

Median annual wages of actuaries were $84,810 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $62,020 and $119,110. The lowest 10 percent had wages less than $49,150, while the top 10 percent earned more than $160,780.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, annual starting salaries for graduates with a bachelor's degree in actuarial science averaged $56,320 in July 2009.

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Academic Programs of Interest

Actuarial Science
Students who major in Actuarial Science will receive rigorous training in the mathematics and statistics needed for the design, financing, and operation of all types of insurance plans, pension plans and benefit plans. Students will acquire a broad background in economics, finance, and risk management ...more
Applied Mathematics
At some schools, there is a single mathematics department, whereas others have separate departments for Applied Mathematics and Pure Mathematics. It is very common for Statistics departments to be separate at schools with graduate programs, but many undergraduate-only institutions include statistics ...more
The major disciplines within mathematics first arose out of the need to do calculations in commerce, to understand the relationships between numbers, to measure land, and to predict astronomical events. These four needs can be roughly related to the broad subdivision of mathematics into the study of ...more
Statistics encompasses the collection, analysis and interpretation of data. Statisticians work with theoretical and applied statistics in both the private and public sectors. The core of that work is to measure, interpret, and describe the world and human activity patterns within it. It is common ...more