The role: Actuaries are tasked with assigning tangible measurements to intangible business risks, uncertainties and potential future scenarios. Actuaries conduct mathematical analyses to quantify the potential implications of various outcomes in situations where there is a potential risk that could affect business outcomes.
“We do a lot of modelling, statistical analysis, we understand probability, the time value of money, and we put all those pieces together to come up with models that allow us to estimate the cost of these things happening in the future,” explained Chris Fievoli, staff actuary, communications and public affairs for the Canadian Institute of Actuaries.
According to Mr. Fievoli, roughly 40 per cent of the organization’s members work in life insurance and another 40 per cent work in the pension and retirement industry. Additionally, a little more than 10 per cent work on property and casualty insurance, such as home, property and auto insurance, and the remainder are employed in various niche fields, such as enterprise risk management.
Beyond statistical modelling, Mr. Fievoli says that actuaries are often involved in financial reporting, asset and liability management and compliance reporting. They’re also increasingly required to demonstrate strong communication skills in order to present their findings in ways that can be easily understood.
Salary: According to online employer review platform Glassdoor, Canadian actuaries earn an average of $119,000 a year, with entry-level staff earning an average of about $63,000 and top earners receiving about $165,000 a year.
According to Mr. Fievoli the most significant factors that affect salary expectations are professional designations, as well as experience. Furthermore, top earners tend to be concentrated in major cities with large financial industries, such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
Education: Actuaries are required to complete a series of exams administered through the Canadian Institute of Actuaries in order to receive their fellowship designation. While there are technically no postsecondary educational requirements, Mr. Fievoli says the vast majority studied actuarial science in university.
Upon completing their preliminary exams, typically while enrolled in a postsecondary institution, Canadians are eligible to receive an associate designation. The designation allows them to join the Canadian Institute of Actuaries as a member, but they can’t work as an actuary until after completing additional exams and earning their fellowship designation.
“It does take a few years after university to become fully qualified,” Mr. Fievoli said. “Once you’ve completed those exam requirements and get your fellowship designation, we also require our members to do 80 hours of continuing professional development every two years.”
Job prospects: Job prospects for actuaries in Canada are strong thanks to two significant factors. A recent, major transition toward international accounting standards is likely to increase demand for actuaries in the insurance industry. Furthermore, new technologies such as wireless sensors and big data are increasing demand for actuaries in auto and home insurance.
“There’s a lot more demand for talent that is comfortable working with predictive analytics and big data,” Mr. Fievoli said. “The one area where future growth prospects are a bit muted may be on the pension side, primarily because defined benefit pension plans have been in decline for a number of years.”
Challenges: According to Mr. Fievoli, most actuaries cite the rigorous examination and qualification process as the greatest challenge of working in the field. “You’re probably writing those exams while you’re concurrently doing a full-time job, so that’s a pretty heavy burden, especially when you’re trying to establish yourself in your career,” he said.
Why they do it: Actuaries often enjoy solving complex mathematical problems with real-world implications. “The work we’re doing is really having an impact on ordinary Canadians that depend on insurance policies and group plans and pension plans to take away a lot of financial risk,” Mr. Fievoli said. “Knowing that we do that sort of work is quite rewarding.”
Misconceptions: While actuaries have a reputation as being just number-crunchers, Mr. Fievoli says the role has evolved greatly in recent years, and now requires strong communication and interpersonal skills as well. “Nowadays they are excellent communicators, even though there is that misconception that we’re just numbers people,” he said.
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