The salary for an actuary is very high, averaging around $80,000 per year for a mid-career, mid-certification individual. It is not unheard of for senior actuaries in finance and other fields to make in the mid $500k range. Actuarial science is a popular career with plenty of employment opportunities. Actuary salaries vary depending on where you are working, the type of work you are doing, and the amount of experience you have. Actuaries are hired in a wide range of businesses and government agencies, and job prospects are good. In the age of big data, the ones that can master massive quantities of information and communicate the value of that knowledge are the most sought after.
What is an Actuary?
Actuaries manage risk. Actuaries use math and statistics to predict the risks of certain outcomes, develop ways to manage that risk, and calculate the impact of the risk. Insurance companies are one of the main employers of actuaries since their entire business is based on risk assessment. Actuaries are also hired to work in private corporations to manage strategic risk. Actuaries also work as consultants for outside corporations. The government also hires actuaries, as do accounting firms, universities, investment firms, and rating bureaus. There are many job opportunities for those interested in pursuing a career as an actuary.
Although some universities now provide a major in actuarial science, actuaries come from many different academic backgrounds. Actuaries have a strong background in math and statistics and have taken coursework in finance, economics, computer science, communications, and the humanities. Actuaries benefit from a well-rounded education.
Students interested in pursuing a career as an actuary may want to pursue an actuarial internship to gain relevant work experience. The salary can be downright livable for a temporary position. Still, you should know that the relatively lower-level positions can be a grind, according to academics and those in the field. Certainly, it depends on your immediate supervisor and your endurance. At each level, the more time you put in, the more the likelihood of greater salary increases.
Becoming a working actuary is complex. There is a series of six exams that you must pass. These exams are rigorous and require hundreds of hours of study to pass, but if you do not pass, you are allowed as many retakes as you need, and the retakes do not count against you. Most people interested in becoming an actuary will take the first two or three exams and begin working as an actuarial assistant. Actuarial assistants can continue to study for advanced exams while employed and learning on the job. Oftentimes, employers will pay for study time and training to prepare you for the test.
The reason for the variability in the number of tests you will take is because of a bifurcation to the field of actuarial science. The Society of Actuaries oversees the fields of life, health, and pension risk management. The Casualty Actuarial Society has dominion over the areas of property and casualty actuaries. Also, these two organizations share oversight of the first four tests in the battery. The Society of Actuaries membership involves an additional test in statistics. Is that all, you ask? Six to seven tests, each requiring 400+ hours of study time? Why no, that is not all. The Casualty Actuarial Society also administers two modules that you must complete. The Society of Actuaries has an eight-module self-learning course required as well as a course on professionalism.
The first level of certification an actuary receives is the associate rank, which means that person has passed the first five tests in the Society of Actuaries. To attain the level of Fellowship (the next level of qualification) in the Casualty Actuary Society, one must pass seven exams and be recommended for membership by existing organization members. There are further certifications that you can pursue through yet still more organizations. The American Academy of Actuaries offers ongoing professional education, and the Conference of Consulting Actuaries represents those in the field with a more entrepreneurial bent.
The higher the qualification level an actuary achieves, the greater the salary they can demand. It can take as much as six to ten years to complete all of the actuarial exams. Each test requires 400 hours of study.
The recent college graduate generally takes the first two tests of the system, and then the individual is considered ready for employment. The five most common roles for actuarial work and their starting salaries are as follows. Health insurance actuaries ($54,000-$66,000 starting salary) obviously work within the healthcare system either as part of a private organization, part of the government or as a consulting actuary, under their own shingle. Life insurance actuaries ($51,000-$62,000) run risk management and a host of other duties in the (you guessed it) life insurance field. Chartered enterprise risk management actuaries ($88,000-$96,000) are a less common non-entry level occupation that is also quite new. These individuals attempt to put a dollar amount on the risk exposure of an organization. These people have passed eight exams in the CAS/SOA battery of tests, hence the higher starting pay. The chartered enterprise risk management actuary is a designation bestowed by one’s chosen actuarial society upon completing all seven exams and sufficient professional development. The final common type of actuary is a property and casualty actuary ($50,000-$71,000) whose role is to measure the risk involved in insuring people’s possessions, property, and business ventures.
How Much Math Is Involved With Being a Professional Actuary?
The math involved in actuarial science is considerable, but that’s not the end of the extent of the knowledge required for this field. In addition to three college calculus classes and linear algebra, one should possess some business background and work in computer programming to a certain extent. Economics knowledge beyond microeconomics and macroeconomics can also be helpful. More than a competency with statistics is also required. You do not need to be a math major to be an actuary, but you need to fill out your elective sheet as an undergraduate carefully. Many students come to actuarial work with a background in biology, chemistry, or physics, as the amount of math involved in higher-level work is similar.
How much do Actuaries Make?
Becoming an actuary takes a lot of work, but the payoff can be great. The salary for an actuary can vary anywhere from $60,000 per year to upwards of $150,000 per year. Salaries vary based on geographic location, level of experience, and the type of work the actuary is doing. Private corporations and insurance companies generally will pay better than the government or universities. Depending on the type of company the actuary works for, there may also be opportunities to increase earnings based on company bonuses or stock options. Working as an actuary can sometimes lead to advancement into higher-paying management or executive positions.
Actuarial science is an excellent career choice with positive job growth and lucrative salaries. Those who are interested in statistical modeling and risk management and are willing and able to work hard to achieve their goals should consider pursuing a career as an actuary. There are many job opportunities in a wide variety of fields, from private corporations to academia. Actuarial science is a satisfying and stable career to choose, and the salary for an actuary is high compared with fields with similar prep and training loads.
What else do I need to know about the actuarial field?
Actuary is consistently rated one of the top STEM jobs for women to pursue, both because it is a desirable job in general and one where women consistently excel. If this is meaningful to you personally, that is fabulous, but this is not a field that is free from the wage gap. The last check in the field ca. 2016 by the advocacy group, narrowthegap, a woman in a mathematics-related field tends to make 82 cents for each dollar her male counterpart makes. Since Covid, the gaps have hardened more than anticipated. Be prepared. Cheers to those up to crush that gap.
What’s the deal with all the actuarial societies? Do I need to join ALL of them?
The short answer is no. You must choose between the Casualty Actuary Society and the Society of Actuaries fairly early on. The organizations cover different areas of the field, with the Casualty Actuary Society mostly covering property and casualty actuaries, and the Society of Actuaries covering everyone else (though the Society of Actuaries has recently made moves into the property and casualty sector). The Society of Actuaries is the larger and better respected of the two organizations. Still, the Casualty Actuary Society edges out of the competition with higher reported salaries on average for its members. There have been rumors of a future merger between the Society of Actuaries and the Casualty Actuary Society, which would make a future choice between the two moot, and leave individuals free to pursue a different type of actuarial work mid career if they so choose. Other organizations available for the professional actuary include the aforementioned American Academy of Actuaries and the Conference of Consulting Actuaries, which accept qualified Casualty Actuary Society and Society of Actuaries members to join, depending on their field.
Why Is the Study of Actuarial Science So Highly Formalized With Organizations Running Everything?
Actuarial duties are a very old job, going back to the 17th century in Europe. Seagoing cargo needed to be insured against loss. Once profit was assured, even if all hands were lost, businesses began to grow to previously unknown sizes. It was kind of like the Mesozoic era for Industry. Whereas previously, all businesses had been like small dwellers in a swamp (with some exceptions), suddenly there were these massive beasts on the scene gobbling up contemporaries and just maintaining solvency on a scale that had not been thought of as possible before. Actuarial science made this possible. On another front, the amount of knowledge required to operate as an actuary is immense, highly specialized, and regarded somewhat as a trade secret, which is not unusual in many fields. Medical doctors and diamonds are both markets that suffer from artificial scarcity. While this is not so much the case with actuaries, there is a “choke point” on the market with the constant need for testing and professional development, even for senior members of the profession. This prevents easy access to the upper echelons of the profession from all but the most dedicated (and by “dedicated,” I mean, the ablest to spend spare hours studying for tests, repeatedly, over a seven to ten year period), which skews the profession white and male. Though it has done more than other professions to foster diversity, there is much more to accomplish. But another reason for the organizations in charge of actuarial science is simple. Those in power seek to remain in power, and recent moves to consolidate that power by ranking universities and seeking to merge only add credence to this line of thought.
Of course, there may be competition for these actuarial positions. It’s a small but growing and competitive field. Part of the challenge, of course, is to do well enough to stand out on the testing. So, it helps if you can master the tests. Fortunately, you have abundant online resources your father’s generation of actuarial professionals never had access to (unfortunately, so does everyone else). Actuaries are some of the highest-paid individuals in their tier of the business world and well set up to move on to management and beyond. Still, the time committal to reach the higher and higher levels of salary is something to consider seriously. If the market is not necessarily worth it for you, your stats, probability, and other math courses will be well-aligned with your accounting, finance, and general business background to become a potentially well-salaried asset, even if you choose a different career in the end. Actuarial training will help you land on your feet, wherever you end up.