THE MAGIC NUMBERS
For those graduates with really outstanding mathematical skills and an ability to think logically and problem solve, then the role of Actuary could be an ideal career choice.
Actuaries operate in the area of risk management, using their keen analytical skills and knowledge of statistical theory to solve problems and forecast financial futures. Their role is complex, they work with very detailed and complicated mathematical models, and they are essential to many areas of the financial sector. In pensions they work out projections on payouts; in life assurance they calculate what the premiums are, how long people are going to live, and how much they will need to pay in; and in general insurance they calculate premium prices and what reserves are needed.
Trevor Watkins is the Head of Education for the Actuarial profession and he says: ’40 per cent of members in the profession are in the pensions’ area, but we will see a change in that in the future because so many final payment pension schemes are now closing. However, until they all close they will provide a lot of work for Actuaries. But in the longer term they will move into other areas such as product development, especially in the insurance market.’
As the financial sector develops, so too do the skills needed by those working within it. Increasingly, Actuaries need good IT skills, especially in the area of interpreting spreadsheets. Coupled with that are good communication skills because Actuaries need to explain to non-specialists the mathematical models they use, and in pensions they must explain the sums behind any figures that are reached.
Because of the complexity of what they do, training to be an Actuary is hard and takes between three and six years to complete. Training begins when you join a firm and then work to become a qualified member of the Institute of Actuaries in England (or the Faculty of Actuaries in Scotland). The training is split between practical experience gained in the office working with clients, and academic study for the professional exams. Trevor Watkins says most companies looking for Actuarial trainees will not even consider anyone with less than a 2:1. ‘Some universities do specialised courses in Actuarial Science, but companies are increasingly looking for people with Maths, Physics and Engineering degrees. There is a well established hierarchy between taking the exams and moving up the career ladder. Also, as in the rest of the financial sector, there is a well established training procedure with companies normally paying for the training and for the exam fees. Companies will usually give trainees one day off a week in order to study and are spending a lot of money on developing highly talented Actuaries.’
Once trained however, the rewards can be sweet. For a start, the wide variety of roles available is one of the sector’s biggest attractions. Then there are the financial rewards, which can be significant, rising from approximately £30,000 to well over £100,000. There is also the possibility of travelling the world as British-trained Actuaries have no difficulties working overseas. Also, this is a role that is almost recession-proof because, as Watkins attests: ‘too few people understand the calculations, and being able to analyse and interpret the calculations is everything.’
For more information on the Institute of Actuaries and the Faculty of Actuaries go to www.actuaries.org.uk