What Is An Actuary?

An actuary measures and manages risk.

In today's specialized world, there are many flavours of actuaries.

  • traditional roles
    • funding of pension plans (public and private)
    • solvency of insurance companies
    • insurance product design and profitability
  • nontraditional roles
    • field marketing support

The profession is evolving, looking for ways to remain relevant and to attract new members.

A Good Career Choice?

Yes. For some. Some universities offer courses. However, becoming an actuary requires passing a series of standardized exams and continual education. Being comfortable with mathematics and statistics helps :)

Among 250 US occupations, the Jobs Rated Almanac consistently places "actuary" in the top five.

Ranking Publication Year(s)
#1 1988 (1st edition), 1995
#2 1992, 1999, 2002, 2009, 2010, 2012
#3 2011
#4 2000

Here are the top 10 jobs in the 6th edition: 1-Biologist, 2-Actuary, 3-Financial Planner, 4-Computer Systems Analyst, 5-Accountant, 6-Software Engineer, 7-Meteorologist, 8-Paralegal Assistant, 9-Statistician, 10-Astronomer. Here is the 2012 list.

Becoming An Actuary

This section describes how I became an actuary. The general process is similar today.

You become an actuary after completing a series of examinations. No specific courses are required, but taking an actuarial program at a university does help. The University of Waterloo had the largest program. I attended the University of Western Ontario in my hometown. I graduated in 1984 in a class of 17. I was one of the four who got jobs.

The University of Waterloo offered condensed courses to review the study material.

There were 10 exams, ranging from three to five hours in length. Exams were written in May and November. So you could finish them in five years, though seven to ten was the norm. A typical student would study 60-100 hours per hour of exam. Employers would give three study days per hour of exam. Earlier exams tended to be multiple choice with penalties for guessing at answers. Later exams were essay-style. If you were part of a university actuarial program, you could graduate with two to four exams passed, which gave momentum in finishing the rest.

Passing the first five exams made you an Associate of the Society of Actuaries (ASA). After finishing the 10th, you became a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries (FSA). To become a Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries (FCIA), you'd take Canadian courses where offered and have work experience under an FCIA.

Then life would be grand!


Here are answers to questions I've been asked.

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