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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872 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.

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