Requirements to become an actuary

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Helen Hall has been an actuarial adviser for four years. She is now in the final stages of completing 15 professional examinations through the Faculty and Institute of Actuaries to become a fully qualified actuary.

How would you describe your role as an actuary?

We help companies to make sense of their futures, ensuring there is a financial safety net in place to cover any risks that exist. I specialise in helping general insurance providers to look at the risks they are accepting from customers. I calculate the probability of something going wrong and I use financial computer models to make sure companies have enough money to cope with a future event. Taking into account these expenses, we help insurance companies decide what premiums people should pay for their cover. It's highly technical, suiting people who love manipulating numbers.

Do you mainly work on behalf of client companies?

Our team provides advisory services to numerous insurance companies, so there's a lot of client interaction. We analyse information and then communicate the findings. Our models are adjusted to suit the specific requirements of each business, so it's a tailored service. About 40 per cent of my time is spent at client premises. I spend three weeks every three months at each client's office.

What personal skills are important to become an actuary?

Lateral thinking and a mathematical mind are important, as are communication skills. You need to be confident compiling written reports and translating technical information. Thoroughness is vital – you provide businesses with a fresh pair of eyes, so you can't afford to overlook anything.

How difficult is actuary training?

The actuarial examinations are pretty intensive and you spend a lot of time studying to make sure you pass them – it eats into your own leisure and social time. In the early stages, it was around 15 to 20 hours a week, but it's worth it when you reach the end. It requires individual drive and commitment, and the support of your company. People around me have motivated and inspired me. They've been through it too, so they sympathise with the lengthy process.

What do you like most about your career as an actuary?

There's an interesting mix of people and a great team spirit. I work from a number of different locations, which means that I get to sit with different colleagues wherever I am. In addition, the company operates a hot-desking policy so I use a different desk in the office every day. It breaks down barriers and makes communication easier.

What is the greatest challenge?

Clients naturally have lots of demands and don't always appreciate that you're working on more than one project.We encounter many different management styles, so switching between companies keeps us on our toes. Every client needs to feel you are treating them as your priority.

Helen's route to her career as an actuary

  • Degree in Maths with Management.
  • Graduate actuary adviser.
  • Actuarial examinations with the Faculty and Institute of Actuaries.

Helen's actuary tips

  • Start with an open mind. You don't need any initial knowledge of the job, but be prepared to apply yourself.
  • Be realistic about the examinations and don't get too disheartened.
  • Raise any issues or concerns you have with your employer as soon as they occur – don't brush concerns away.

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Salary of an actuary

  • Starting salaries for graduates are between £19,000 and £24,000.
  • A newly qualified actuary will earn around £44,000, rising to over £100,000 for a senior manager in a large company.

Requirements to become an actuary

  • It is possible to become an actuary with A levels/H grades, but most entrants have a degree, often in subjects like maths, actuarial science, economics, statistics, or physics.
  • Training combines work with part-time study for the Institute of Actuaries or the Faculty of Actuaries examinations. It usually takes three to six years to qualify.
  • Most actuaries start by working for a professional services firm, an insurance company or an underwriting agency. There are opportunities with general insurance companies, banks, industrial and commercial companies and the Government Actuary's Department.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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