THE idea of becoming an actuary will fill some people with horror, but believe it or not there are many benefits to the profession. For those unaccustomed to the profession, actuaries are people who use financial models to access the financial impact of risk and uncertainty. The work can bring travel, work/life balance and great financial rewards. Getting ahead in the profession, however, is not that simple. Below are my top tips on how to get ahead and stay ahead.
1 BE THICK SKINNED
At any professional gathering you are likely to be taunted with jokes regarding the difference between actuaries and accountants, so build up your own armoury of come-back lines. To an accountant’s jibe of “what is the difference between an introverted actuary and an extroverted actuary? (An introverted actuary stares at his own feet during a conversation, while an extroverted one stares at the other person’s feet)”, you might reply “an accountant is someone who wanted to be an actuary, but didn't have the personality for it.”
2 DEVELOP WIDER BUSINESS SKILLS
On top of the traditional skills, it is no longer enough to be the alpha number cruncher. Increasingly, actuaries are leading and managing businesses. Communication skills have become vital for the actuary that wants to get ahead; in particular, having the ability to translate technical concepts into basic language that everyone can understand will give you a significant advantage. Also, learn about the broader business environment that affects the industry in which you work.
Your training will develop skills in many technical areas that will be useful to future employers. Your employability will increase exponentially with the value you can add to an organisation, so learn as much as you can while you are in training and make yourself as valuable a commodity as possible. Later in your career, you may wish to specialise, but develop a broad base first so that you can make an informed choice about the practice area you’d like to pursue.
3 BE RESILIENT
Actuarial exams have been described by some as the most difficult system of professional examinations that exists. The road to qualification can be a long one for those starting the career without university exemptions or those who do not pass every exam first time. Pass rates are low and first-time success is rare. You have to stay motivated and keep going despite the urge to concede defeat. If you’re doing them at the moment, then stick with it, the rewards will be worth it in the end.
Peter Gatenby is the senior actuarial partner at the UK accountancy firm Mazars. He is a member of the Council of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries.
CAREER PATH | ACTUARY
The average time to qualify as a UK Fellow is currently three to six years. That is a long time to stay motivated. Part-qualified status and associateship is increasingly recognised by employers, and gaining the associateship will be a more achievable milestone for some. Most actuaries gain their qualification by studying while working and employers often offer study packages, including time off to prepare for the examinations, and there are typically rewards for those who pass.
Step 1 - Take an A-Level or a Higher in maths or an equivalent.
Step 2 - Get a 2:1 degree or better in maths, science, statistics, economics, engineering, chemistry or physics – anything that proves you’re numerate.
Step 3 - Find a trainee position. Start your search for jobs and work experience at www.insidecareers.co.uk/act or look up the directory of actuarial employers on www.actuaries.org.uk.
Step 4 - Register as an actuarial student and gain your qualifications through the industry body the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries.
Step 5 - Enjoy a job anywhere in the world.