What is an Actuary?
An actuary is a profession that combines mathematical, statistical, and financial analysis to measure and manage risk.
Traditionally, actuaries are heavily involved in the management of risk in the following types of companies:
- Life insurance companies
- General (or non-life) insurance companies
- Pension (or retirement) funds
- Reinsurance companies
Actuaries serve these companies through either a consulting practice or direct employment. Actuaries are also employed by a wide range of institutions including consulting firms, investment houses, banks, and governments. Aside from just building financial models, these institutions also recognise the analytical and problem solving skills that the actuary possesses.
With advancements in technology and climate change, actuaries have ventured into new areas such as Environmental Finance and Data Analytics.
Actuary, Actuarial Science, Associate, Fellow?
Actuarial science is a study combining the elements of business, economics, and mathematics, thus allowing decision-making based on informed assumptions and estimations.
A practitioner of Actuarial Science is called an Actuary. There are associations worldwide in which aspiring actuaries can enrol as students. Upon clearing examinations and other requirements which typically takes between 6-10 years, they may achieve two major milestones:
Associateship: This is attained after completing the core examinations and other requirements depending on the association. Candidates who attain these requirements will be eligible for the Associate designation.
Fellowship: This is attained after attaining Associateship and completing specialist examinations along with other requirements depending on the association. Candidates who attain these requirements will be eligible for the Fellow designation. The candidate is now considered a fully qualified actuary.
Why Become an Actuary?
Dynamic Working Environment
Actuaries are involved in almost every financial aspect of business, including development of new products and services, investment management, marketing, administration, and general management responsibilities.
In a fast-changing world, with new risks and the need for more creative ways to tackle them, the working environment of an actuary is dynamic. The profession is intellectually challenging and gives the actuary a great sense of achievement.
Strong Industry Prospects
The insurance industry in Asia continues to be growing with the proportion of middle class expanding in the region. In addition, Singapore’s insurance industry has the potential for further expansion as the MAS intends to make Singapore the leading insurance hub in Asia. This is very promising for actuaries in Singapore and the region.
Not Restricted to an Industry
Traditionally, the actuary’s work is mainly in the insurance industry. However, the skills and talents actuaries can offer do not just reside in just this one industry.
Because actuarial skills are so readily transferable to any business that deals with risk, an actuary can work in many different industries such as banking, finance, and enterprise risk management. Some actuaries are even venturing into environmental risk and data analytics.
Actuarial associations worldwide are continuously revising their knowledge base to ensure that actuarial skills remain relevant.
The actuarial work is often challenging, requiring technical skills from different disciplines and expert judgement. They are well respected throughout the business community and are well remunerated for their work.
After being more qualified, the actuary is allowed to take on more responsibilities, often by being part of the management team. As they bring a unique perspective to assist with the growth of the business and make important contributions, a significant percentage of actuaries do manage to achieve senior management positions.
Support for Studies
To be fully qualified, actuaries need to complete their qualifications while working. Most local and foreign companies that hire actuaries do provide support in the form of:
- Study and exam leave
- Full or partial reimbursement on costs of study materials/exams
- Salary increments upon passing of examinations
Is this the right career path for me?
To begin with, you should have a strong liking and aptitude for mathematics, enjoy problem solving and working with numbers. Academically you will need to be a strong all-rounder, with an emphasis on mathematics.
An actuary’s work is interdisciplinary. It requires knowledge from many different fields to solve real world problems. As such, actuaries must be up to date with relevant knowledge through continuing education and professional development. The learning doesn’t stop even after being fully qualified.
You should also possess curiosity and be well-read on issues relevant to business, economic and social trends. Having good oral and written communication skills as well as being able to work independently and in a team will also prove to be useful in your actuarial career.
What will my career path be like as an actuary?
Typically, when you first embark on an actuarial career, you will be assigned to design and run financial models to generate data and information which will allow the actuary to formulate his or her advice. Computer skills, especially in using spreadsheets, are extremely useful.
You can start in one of many areas - product development, reserving, financial projection, analysis of risks - and will usually move around to gain an all-round exposure.
As you pass your examinations and gain experience, you will usually be tasked to lead projects, analyse results of the computational work, and make recommendations to the actuary.
Upon qualifying as a Fellow, many new opportunities are most likely to follow, including branching into other areas of management which may not strictly be actuarial in nature.
There are also actuarial students who have branched off into other fields before qualifying as Fellow, but putting their actuarial foundation into good use, nevertheless.
As the market grows further, we can expect demand for actuaries to increase even faster domestically and internationally.
How do I become an Actuary?
To become a fully qualified actuary, you will have to pass all the examinations and other requirements set by the association. One does not have to be a fully qualified actuary to take on actuarial-related roles in Singapore. There are job roles that do not require the attainment of associateship or fellowship.
The following bodies are Actuarial Associations (recognised as Category 1 Actuarial Associations by SAS) that functions as an examination entity:
Institute and Faculty of Actuaries
Society of Actuaries
Institute of Actuaries of Australia
Casualty Actuarial Society
Canadian Institute of Actuaries
The Singapore Actuarial Society is not an examining body and does not offer any actuarial examinations.
There are educational institutions worldwide that have integrated the actuarial syllabus (in part) into various diplomas, undergraduate degrees and postgraduate degrees. Being part of these programs and clearing the examinations with sufficiently high grades may grant students exemptions towards the examinations. However, this largely depends on the educational institutions’ arrangements with the associations.
In Singapore, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU) offer programs that have integrated the actuarial syllabus:
- For NTU, this is offered under the three-year Bachelor of Business (Actuarial Science) program which follows the syllabus as set out by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA). Students can qualify for up to six exemptions for IFoA Core Subjects examinations.
- For SMU, this is offered under the Bachelor of Science (Economics) with Second Major in Actuarial Science program which follows the syllabus set out by the Society of Actuaries (SOA). The curriculum meets the objectives listed in Validation for Education Experience (VEE) guidelines under SOA.
Typically, actuarial candidates study for and complete most of their actuarial examinations while working. Fortunately, most employers provide study aid to actuarial students working for them, in terms of study leave and financial incentives for passing the examinations.
The Singapore Actuarial Society plays a key role in the actuarial industry in Singapore and is recognised by the financial regulator, the Monetary Authority of Singapore as being the representative body of the actuarial profession in Singapore.
Find out more about the society’s activities and what role it plays in the industry here.
Join us as a member of the Singapore Actuarial Society here.