Most of us are not aware of what an actuary does and the importance of the role in an insurance company. Undoubtedly, an actuarial job may seem quite boring, but it is one of the most challenging and high-paying jobs. If you are a math or statistics genius, then this may be the perfect career for you. The actuary's main responsibility is assessing/quantifying risk and developing means of mitigating risks. Actuaries are largely known for their work in the insurance and pension fields, where they design financially secure benefit programs to protect customers. Let's take a look at the role, certification process and career advancement of an actuary.

What is an Actuary?
Actuaries are the financial engineers of the insurance industry, specializing in either life and health insurance or property and casualty insurance. Basically, they formulate probability tables or employ highly advanced dynamic modeling methods that predict the probability that a potential event will generate a claim. From these tables, they ascertain the amount of money needed for claims payouts.

Different actuaries have different roles, so they either work for insurance companies or consulting firms. They may be involved with devising a new retirement program for a company or even calculating the impact of cell phone ban laws in automobile losses and determining suitable rate discounts. For instance, in property insurance, property and casualty actuaries compute the number of claims likely to result from natural catastrophes. The actuaries take into account the property's location, construction and several other factors before determining the premium.

Similarly, the figures calculated by actuaries ensure that insurance companies charge sufficiently enough for premiums in order to cover predicted costs. Above all, actuaries have to make sure that the premium charged for that insurance is affordable by the public as compared to other insurance companies. (For more on insurance, see Extended Warranties: Should You Take The Bait?)

Educational Background
If you are interested in becoming an actuary, you are required to earn an undergraduate degree in statistics, mathematics, finance or actuarial science. There are many schools and colleges that offer programs in actuarial science.

Before becoming a fully qualified actuary, individuals must pass examinations given by either the Society Of Actuaries (SOA) or the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) over a period of five to ten years. Students are normally allowed to take the first two examinations while they are still in college. After graduation, students often obtain jobs as entry-level actuaries and work through the certification process while simultaneously gaining some experience in the field. In return, several employers may pay the examination fees and provide extra study time to their employees. As actuaries pass exams, they get compensated with pay raises.

The two actuarial societies provide basic education in the fundamental principles of actuarial science, professional development and continuing education for practicing actuaries. The SOA provides professional certification in life insurance, retirement systems, investment and finance and health benefits systems. The CAS is related to specialization in the property and casualty field. Generally, three of the first four exams in the SOA and CAS examination series are jointly administered by the two societies and, thus, include the same material.

CAS Certification Process

Associate Level (ACAS) You are required to complete 7 exams, attend one course on professionalism and complete coursework in applied statistics, corporate finance, and economics as required by both the SOA and CAS. Normally, 4 to 6 years are required to reach this level.
Fellowship Level (FCAS) You must pass 2 additional exams in advanced topics, such as investment, financial analysis and the valuation of insurance (i.e., advanced ratemaking, individual risk rating plans). Typically, actuaries make it to the fellowship level 2 to 3 years after attaining Associate status.

SOA Certification Process

Associate Level (ASA) You are required to pass initial 4 exams, one course in professionalism, eight computer modules with two corresponding assessments and complete coursework in applied statistics, corporate finance and economics as required by both the SOA and CAS. Normally, 4 to 6 years are required to reach this level.
Fellowship Level (FSA) You must pass 2 additional exams within a chosen specialty: group and health benefits, pensions, investments or finance/enterprise risk management and complete three computer modules and a professionalism course. Typically, actuaries make it to the fellowship level 2 to 3 years after attaining Associate status.

It is important to take note that both Associate and Fellowship exams are extremely tough, and becoming an actuary requires hard work, total dedication and patience when it comes to study and preparation.

Additionally, due to how much computer-based modeling is involved, understanding computer programming languages, such as Visual Basic for Applications, SAS or SQL, is often beneficial.

Employment Opportunities
Actuaries work in all sectors of the economy but they are chiefly concentrated in the financial-services sector, such as investment banks, insurance companies, commercial banks and retirement funds. The state and federal government, corporations and consulting firms also employ them. Non-traditional opportunities exist in the area of financial planning, where the actuary is responsible for reducing financial risks for families and businesses.

Consulting actuaries work with and advise high-level executives, especially in financial services, on matters of risk management and healthcare domains. Actuaries having exhaustive knowledge of the insurance, pension, investment or employee-benefits fields, and can rise to administrative and executive positions in their companies. Actuaries with decision-making capability, progress to management positions in areas of advertising, marketing, accounting, underwriting and data processing.

According to 2006 figures from the U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual earnings of actuaries is $82,800. Actuaries who work as consultants provide advice to clients for a pre-determined fee. Experience, location and demand play a major role in determining the salary of an actuary. Larger cities pay actuaries handsomely due to the higher cost of living and intense competition. Likewise, smaller companies may pay a higher salary to actuaries and provide better benefits due to their demanding role in the company.

Conclusion
Who wouldn't want continuous upward career advancement, paid study time and high pay? If you are a math whiz kid and would like to help people through insurance, then becoming an actuary would be the ideal route to reach the summit of success.

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