Why become an actuary

A Key Reason to be an Actuary - You Love Maths

I always knew I had a talent for mathematics. When I was 9 or 10 years old, we had a weekly times tables competition and if you beat the teacher, you won £5.

I beat the teacher that often she banned me from taking part.

I can easily say this was one of my proudest academic moments during my time in school.

Growing up in rural Ireland I never knew what an actuary was. It wasn’t until a careers class during my 6th year of school where I was flicking through a university prospectus, I stumbled upon the Actuarial Science and Risk Management degree.

I always struggled to find a career where I could pursue my passion for mathematics and reading the prospectus, I was highly intrigued and thought I’ve finally found a real-world application for my skills in mathematics.

Continuing my research, I was captivated by the idea of an actuary being able to ‘predict the future’ using statistics and the power that numbers and data really have in the world. From that day forth my mind was made up, I wanted to become an actuary.

How Hard is it to Become an Actuary?

‘Predict the future’ has been phrase that has stuck with me.

The ability to predict the future is down to the skills and knowledge that being an actuary allows you to acquire. I think of Liam Neeson’s famous quote from the movie 'Taken':

 “But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.”

reasons to be an actuary

The skillset learned as an actuary may not be as deadly but are powerful in their applications. One of the biggest reasons to be an actuary is the skills that it allows you to learn and develop.

What is the Role of an Actuary?

A career as an actuary allows you to develop your mathematical, analytical and problem-solving skills. You are also able to develop your financial and economic knowledge.

The knowledge and skills you develop as an actuary are highly sought after and allow you to climb the career ladder and to be employed in highly respected positions.

There is an existing stereotype that actuaries are just number crunchers with poor communication skills, and I can admit I held this belief before starting university.

This cannot be any further from the truth as during my placement year I had the pleasure of working with actuaries who had fantastic analytical skills but also were such great communicators.

Actuaries are definitely more than number crunchers and the community of actuaries is one of the main reasons to be an actuary. Especially now with platforms such as LinkedIn, we are able to connect with actuaries across the globe which we never would have otherwise. LinkedIn has really opened doors and has allowed me to explore the work of actuaries across the globe and has allowed me to find many interesting actuaries.

A post that really hit home was the “61 Tips for Young Actuaries’ by the former IFoA president Tan Suee Chieh. He published his 61 tips while I was on placement and a lot of them hit home, particularly those about the foundational years and I will definitely keep in mind when I start my first position as an actuary post-graduation.

One aspect I really enjoyed during my time on work placement was model building and modelling skills are now a staple of the modern actuarial profession. Models give an actuary the ability to perform tasks more efficiently and produce results of greater accuracy. Models allow an actuary to get creative and express themselves through the model.

An actuary is a storyteller through their models and, thankfully for me, actuaries tell their story through numbers and not words. Our raw data and assumptions are our outline. Our spreadsheets in excel are our chapters and we proofread our work by checks and reasonability of results. Models allow actuaries to be creative something that cannot be said for other careers involving mathematics.

Someone who has really drawn my interest in the last few years is Warren Sharp. Although not an actuary by profession, he has previously worked for Big Four accounting firms and is currently a leader in American football analytics. Using data analytics and skills in modelling, skills very similar to those of an actuary, he is able to break down a game based massively on power and athleticism into simple numbers, to predict the outcome of NFL games and to find value in betting lines, which of course is heavily favoured towards the bookkeepers.

He was able to take the skills he has learned and apply them to something he was incredibly passionate about and make it his full-time career. He consistently beats the markets and NFL teams are now even coming to him to help them better understand the world of analytics. Is he one of the top reasons to be an actuary? Well, he’s someone that I think actuaries can take inspiration from, and hopefully someday when I’m qualified, I’ll be able to combine the skills I have learned with my passion for sports.

Many would say the actuarial profession is dying and is becoming irrelevant in the ever-evolving world of technological advancements.

I agree that the traditional actuarial role may be becoming less relevant, but new technology brings a chance for the actuarial profession to evolve and to develop the traditional lines of work or even expand into new fields of work. I would even use Warren Sharps story as an example of the endless possibilities a career as actuary can create.

My Top Reasons to be an Actuary 

Blockchain

There are many reasons to be an actuary and one exciting field is blockchain. The possibilities it brings are endless and we are currently only scratching the surface in the ways we can incorporate blockchain. Currently we see blockchain starting to be used in smart contracts and claim handling and is definitely a field where actuaries should be learning more about as it could be integral to the future of the profession.

Wearable Technologies

Another field which will become more prominent in the future is wearable technologies. I recently purchased a fitness watch and the more time I have spent using it the more I have become enamoured with the possibilities that the data it collects can bring. My watch is able to constantly track my heart rate and how active I am. Smart watches are becoming more and more developed with every iteration and some can now perform ECG’s.

In the future we could see wearable technologies and smart contracts working together, we could see the scenario where a smart watch could detect a heart attack and the watch can call for emergency services and this information is recorded through blockchain and an immediate payment of health insurance cover can be made. All these new possibilities make a career as an actuary even more enticing and is one of the many reasons to be an actuary.

Making a Difference

The biggest fear I have about my future as an actuary is the future of the professional exams.

I know the exams are essential to develop the understanding of the principles that actuaries use but will my focus on being a fellow of the IFoA be at a detriment to my ability to learn more about the future as I am learning about the principles of the past? 

Will other professions being such as data scientists become more important as they are constantly learning new coding languages and more about the technological future?

Will actuaries lose their importance in predicting the future because we are stuck in the past?

While reading Tan Suee Chieh’s ‘61 Tips for Young Actuaries’, tip 52 really stood out to me “Make a difference”. This sentence made me reflect upon the actuaries’ code, in particular looking at “Competence and Care- Members must carry out work competently and with care.” Carrying your work with care is something I feel should also be interpreted as caring for those who our work as actuaries can benefit.

Actuaries over the years have been able to create many products and services that helped so many people. This is most evident in the pensions industry as our work can help those in less fortunate financial positions have no worries in their retirement. A lot of actuaries now work in positions within sectors where shareholder wealth is prioritised, and our code of care can be lost. Working in the pensions industry is the most rewarding work an actuary can do and someday I hope to use my skills that I will learn from being an actuary to help those in the professions who put others before themselves.

While on placement at CNP Santander, I learned how our insurance products helped so many, especially coming to the end of my placement where many of our policy holders were left unemployed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We were able to help with payments of many essential day to day costs through our products, helping those who otherwise would have struggled without them. I also think of a time where we found that policyholders of one of our products in Poland weren’t finding value in our product, so we increased our claim payments by 50% to help our customers. The ways our skills as actuaries can help others is massively overlooked and is something actuaries can take pride in. Throughout my time spent on placement, I gained reassurance that my work can help those that do find themselves in hardship and doesn’t just help the rich to get richer.

Be a Part of the Future

Lastly, one of the top reasons to be an actuary is that while we are entering a time where the future of the profession is uncertain and we will see more change in the coming years than there has been in the history of the profession, I think that’s what makes a career as an actuary even more attractive. I know that, by nature, actuaries can be risk averse and are prudent in our decisions but now is a time for actuaries to really take advantage of the emerging technologies and new opportunities as society becomes more data driven. It is a chance to step outside the comfort zone of the traditional methods and fields of work and take a risk to learn new skills and apply these skills alongside our knowledge to emerging fields of work. 

I hope my top reasons to be an actuary have resinated with you. As ice hockey’s greatest ever player Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. 

“This is a guest article written by Conor McGee. Conor can be found on LinkedIn here.”

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