Actuary Job Description:
Actuaries are trained to measure and manage risk. Actuaries are seen as technical experts who work with mortality tables and use statistics every day - and have no personalities. The movie "About Schmidt" with Jack Nicholson perpetuated that stereotype. Naturally, there are different actuaries and different roles.
Most actuaries work for insurance companies or consulting firms. My career in actuary is nontraditional. I work in the field, helping advisors who sell life insurance increase their revenue. That involves coaching, training/education and support on actual cases.
Can you describe your steps in pursuing an actuarial career?
I wasn't sure what I wanted to become when I entered the university in 1980. Luckily, the first year courses were general study at the University of Western Ontario. Toward the end of the first year, I attended an open house where I first learned of Actuarial Science.
Here's what I liked: helping people (which is what insurance does), upward career mobility (some actuaries become presidents of their companies), paid study time (none of the low-paid, long-hour articling faced by law grads and accounting grads) and great compensation.
I registered in an actuarial program which helped prepare me for the first few of 10 standardized actuarial examinations administered by the Society of Actuaries, based in Chicago. I had passed three exams when I graduated and joined Metropolitan Life in Ottawa. I continued my exams and eventually finished.
After five exams, I became an Associate of the Society of Actuaries, and later a Fellow. I've spent over 20 years designing/pricing life and health insurance products, developing illustration projection systems to make products tangible for consumers, creating marketing material, writing/editing policy contracts, negotiating, managing/mentoring staff, giving presentations, and, most recently, providing field support to advisors. As you can see, there's plenty of variety and opportunity for upward movement.
Do you recall any humorous or memorable moments from your actuarial jobs?
There's nothing funny about actuarial work!!! Haven't you seen the movie "About Schmidt?"
I soon realized that becoming an actuary made me think like other actuaries. This happens with other professions too. So I started spending more time with "normal" people and focusing on developing skills in communications, project management and presentation. Broadening your skill set makes work more interesting, and more valuable.
What are some reasons to pursue an actuarial career?
I wanted to do something that would make the world better. Actuaries balance the concerns of four parties: consumers (who buy the products), regulators (who want to ensure the insurance companies stay solvent), employers (who want to make a profit) and shareholders (who expect a return on their investment). Actuaries work with complexity and we have a responsibility to balance the goals; that resonated with me.
What advice would you give to those seeking actuary jobs?
I'll repeat the advice that I was given by Linden Cole, the Director of Education for the Society of Actuaries, before I started my career: find something you like doing. Then find someone who will pay you for doing that. You'll have a happy life. I'll add that a working career can last 30 to 40 years. Can you really see yourself doing similar work the whole time? Develop a range of skills and interests so that you can evolve as the world does.
What is the outlook for actuarial jobs these days?
Risk abounds. Actuaries are uniquely qualified to measure and manage risk. So the outlook for actuarial jobs looks good. The latest Jobs Rated Almanac (6th Ed) rates actuary jobs as #2 (after biologist). Actuary jobs have been ranked #1 twice and #2 three times. The lowest ranking is #4. That's saying something.
What factors could affect actuary salaries?
The usual factors affect an actuary salary: experience, location and demand. There are tremendous opportunities in nontraditional areas such as financial planning, helping reduce financial risks for families and businesses.
For an actuary salary, larger cities pay more (more competition, higher cost of living, lower quality of life). Actuaries do work as consultants and "should" be paid more than employees. Smaller companies tend to pay a higher actuary salary and have better benefits (but are also more demanding).
An actuarial recruiter would know better. I generally haven't talked to them, as I've been happy with the opportunities I had. Most of my career was at a smaller company, National Life of Canada, with about 375 employees, where I reported to a Senior VP and Chief Actuary who reported to the President. So I had lots of scope, saw "the big picture" and became what I am.
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