What is so bad about being an actuary?

Over the past couple of months I’ve done some very informal research on what it means to be an actuary. From reading the Wikipedia article and also the Be An Actuary website it seems like a pretty interesting job. Here is where it gets surprising, though: nearly everyone I know in the insurance industry has communicated that it is a very lonely and boring job. This leaves my question to you: what is so bad about being an actuary?

Here are two other links I’ve yet to research: Society of Actuaries and Casuality Actuarial Society (thanks Dr. Rowe), and clearly I need to do more.

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880 thoughts on “What is so bad about being an actuary?”

  1. Hello all,

    I stumbled upon this discussion and would like to add my two cents.

    First, I am an actuary (ASA) who used to work in life insurance but switched to banking many years ago. I now work in risk management and holds the FRM designation.

    I am happy that I have gone through the rigorous process of being a certified actuary . At least I can say I am an actuary (ASA). Yes, the exams were very very very hard. Actuarial Math (Course 150) when I took it, is by far the most difficult exam I have ever taken. I have a master’s degree in Math (pure math). I know several math PhDs who took Course 150 several times and they all failed, not once, but every time, and gave up, they moved on and became quants, programmers, or hot their CFA and became very successful in their field.

    My point is, to become an actuary takes so much more than being good in math. To pass those exams require more than dedication. It requires genius.

    I remember taking a test on Risk Theory. There was one question which I couldn’t figure out the solution. Then with 2 minutes left the light bulb hit. I had to expand a function into its Taylor series expansion, do further manipulations, and solve simultaneous equations, I solved the problem just in time and passed that course. I got my ASA.

    You have to ask yourself – is this the kind of mathematics you are capable of doing? Are you at or near a math-Olympiad level of problem solving .

    When we say actuaries are good in math, that’s an understatement. They are extremely good in math. Remember, even a PhD in Math is not a guarantee one will pass the actuarial exams. Like what I said, I know several math PhDs who failed the actuarial exams and gave up.

    In my case, I have a master’s degree in math. I wanted to know if I can be an actuary, at least an ASA. And I did. I passed! My passion is in risk management. I am in banking now and a Certified FRM. But I am a proud actuary.

      1. This is pushing it. I’m an FCAS, it took 5 years, and by no means am anywhere near being a “genius”. The exams require math skills and extreme dedication.

        1. @What’s an actuary:
          Oh, but you ARE a genius. You’re just not intelligent enough to realize it.

          1. Harsh; suppose it just depends on definition of genius. I think if I was a genius I wouldn’t have ended up in actuarial science.

            Like I said; above average in math and way above average in work ethic. I graduated with a 3.5 from a state university and didn’t qualify for any scholarships to get there.

    1. Hae JM..I am 18 years old…I am Tunje Collins from Kenya….I really want to be an actuary and I know I have what it takes….quite a pretty interesting experience you have shared….I really want to know ..how long it take to be a fully certified actuary

      1. It generally takes about 4-5 years to obtain an ASA qualification. And then another 3-4 years for an FSA qualification, if you are following the SOA pathway.

    2. I find it fascinating that a PhD graduate would find actuarial courses hard. The lack of clarity and omission of watertight proofs especially with regards to martingales and stochastic processes is mind boggling.

  2. I would recommend folks stay away from actuarial science degrees. An apply math or stats major will make you just as employable for an actuarial position, but also keep your options open a bit.

  3. If your main goal in life is to pick loss development factors to massage reserve requirements while being relatively well paid then being an actuary is an excellent career choice

    1. They’re not even in the same ballpark. Remember, actuaries are very intelligent math nerds (I mean this as a compliment), and only 1/3 of them pass each exam. I’m not sure what the CFA exam pass rate is (too lazy to google), but the technical capabilities of those taking the CFA exam on average is definitely going to be lower than those who sit for actuarial exams.

  4. My husband who is in his 50s is thinking about going into this field. His degree is in business. Does he have any chance of passing this with doing a certificate and then taking exams? Would he be able to tell after one exam if this is for him?

    1. Hi Jacqui,

      I have seen career changers be successful, but it is difficult. The exams take most people 7-10 years, so keep that in mind.

      He’ll likely be able to tell from the first exam what his chances are at completion, but the more important thing is to understand if he likes the work. It takes quite a bit of time to understand the concepts of risk and insurance if it’s not something he has already seen.

  5. I’m a student who passed out of engineering from a tier 2 pvt univ in India. Before I start, I’d like to share this link – http://www.charteredclub.com/a.....is-course/

    I came across the career as an actuary after passing out from college, and finding out that I couldn’t get any assistantship or loans for my MS. Ya, on the outside it was pretty great – good hours, great pay, solving problems, etc. What more could I ask for? Turns out the market in my country is pretty bad. The insurance industry hasn’t moved forward for a decade. The so called fellows, became fellows around 2000-2003.

    The problem with employment at the entry level here, is that people don’t proceed to progress with the exams. They give up, and stay at the middle levels after gaining experience, and hitting the ceiling for salary. In this case, it’s pretty clogged up. And given the no of insurance companies is very less (I think around 40), not many fellows are needed for the country either. Hence, the organisation IAI doesn’t exactly need to pass the people during the SA subjects, hence restricting the number of fellows being qualified each year. Additionally, most “students” are just not smart enough.

    My personal experience, I passed the first 5 exams in one go, with 3 months of prep time being unemployed. First few months after the results, I could never get a call for an interview. Then, I got around 7 interviews after applying to endless positions with various companies, even for underwriting positions. The problem, after talking to a LOT of people, turns out that, the people who already had their positions there, got it because of their influence/nepotism rather than their skills. This is just sad. They are then trained to do menial work, from which they aren’t promoted either. I was declined a position at a consulting firm, because the employees there don’t have more than 3 papers passed, and my interviewer hasn’t passed more than 4 papers.

    It’s been around 15 months since I passed out of college, and being unemployed. I now have 8 exams passed, waiting results for CA1 and CT9. I don’t have any industry level skills developed except for Excel and basic programming, due to which I’m not employable anywhere else that easily, added to the fact that the hiring people look down at the “actuarial student” as such because of such a narrow focus on just exams and excel. I have gotten myself in such a position because of the illusion that actuarial science as a profession was great. I guess I’m now at a point where I’m gonna quit pursuing this profession altogether and move on to something else. Maybe get higher education. I wish I had come across this thread of comments earlier… :/

    The society IAI seems to be just a scam, just like IFoA. They don’t have their own study material, they don’t have their own vision as such, as a society. Even recently, they launched their own “coaching classes” for the students. I wonder why, when something relatively better, time tested, exists from Acted itself (not saying acted is a good thing either, they make a lot of revenue). In addition to this, there’s the umpteen number of coaching classes who are trying to say that “when you qualify you don’t have to work a day, just sign and sit back and makes lots of money” and “earn while you study”, etc. I personally know about a guy whom my friend got him a job at a private consulting firm, and he quit to start his own coaching classes for actuarial science. He makes almost half of what a qualified actuary makes in india, and this is just 6 months after starting his own institute. According to his projections, he’ll be making 4 times what he’s making now, that’s almost 2 times the amount what an actuary makes here. And ironically, his classes are double the rate of the acted’s reduced rates classes. No wonder coaching classes have taken a new turn in my country.

    To those who are trying to become an actuary in india, find something else to do. Try going for an Masters abroad and get some real education and skills. You’d be better off in the long run. The subject as such is great (but ya, comes under statistics :P), the profession isn’t.

    1. Hi IndianStudent,

      Your comment hit home hard – in these few lines you have detailed the entire scenario in our country at present. I will share this thread with all those who approach me wanting to take up a career in actuarial science. I have recently obtained a Master’s in actuarial science, stumbled into the course without doing proper research into the profession in our country, much like you I was disillusioned by the hype bubble that has been created by all those spouting that it is the most high-paying job currently. I am going through the motions of what you have described as your experiences – finding out that no insurance company wants to hire freshers since “we cannot spend time and effort on training you” as they say, and the nepotism and favour-calling that drives the employment scene in this field.

      I would like to contact you and discuss some queries I have regarding the job space, since you seem to be much more experienced and qualified than me. I would be much obliged if you could find me on LinkedIn and add me as your connection so we may exchange correspondence. If you are interested, kindly reply to this comment and I shall post my name which you could then use to find me on LinkedIn.

      1. I am not comfortable with connecting with people who I come across online, so I’d have to refuse your request right now. I’d be more than happy to assist with whatever queries you might have, here. But not anywhere else. Sorry about that.

        Where did you get your masters btw (if you don’t mind sharing it?)? My generic advice would be for you to go into other fields, and start your career somehow somewhere or the other. It’s better than waiting for the magical gem of an actuarial position opening up for you.

  6. If you would like to be an actuary it is important to know that unless you get an internship during school and have at least a 3.0 GPA you will never even get an interview.

  7. Maybe actuAries can answer this question. A doctor is offered as an expert to opine on life expectancy of a injury victim. He cherry picks one study fro Great Britain. Based on that study, he states that personal injury victims life expectancy will be x number of years less than average stated in life expectancy tables because he is 25 years overweight. Presumably, The average life expectancy already includes the person who is 25 pounds overweight. The physician is not an expert in life expectancy, nor has he conducted any actuarial analysis of the issue other than cherry picking a single piece of literature. Any thoughts from the actuaries? Fordham

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