Man looking at documents and calculator. What is an Actuary.

What is an Actuary?

Actuaries help solve problems by managing risk. An actuary job requires strong analytical, mathematical, and organization skills to be successful. With a wide range of high paying positions available in a variety of disciplines, becoming an actuary can be an extremely satisfying career. Here’s a look at what an actuary does, the positions available, the education opportunities, and average salary of actuary jobs. 

Job Description of an Actuary

Actuaries are business people, mathematicians, statistical analysts, and financial theorists. By wearing all of these hats, actuaries help both companies and individuals understand the financial risks of the future. What does an actuary do? The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries describes actuaries as “problem solvers and strategic thinkers with a deep understanding of financial systems.” An actuary helps organizations—from insurance companies to employee benefit divisions—understand how likely particular events are to happen in the future, how to minimize the occurrence of unwanted events, and reduce negative impact of those unwanted events if they do occur. 

Many actuaries find their career to be one that allows plenty of time for a family life, the ability to use both creative and analytical thinking, and a certain level of individualization in your particular career path. Good communication skills are needed as actuaries must be able to relay complex information to clients. However, if you’re looking for a position that allows plenty of interpersonal contact, being an actuary may not be for you. 

Education Required for Actuarial Positions

Becoming an actuary is not easy. Actuarial science degrees are available at the bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD level. At the bare minimum you must have a bachelor’s degree and pass a battery of tests to become certified in your field. However, most companies -- even for an entry level position -- prefer employees to have at least a master’s degree. 

Master’s degrees are appropriate for actuaries, actuarial specialists, or an actuarial services director, among other positions. If you enjoy research or ultimately want a professorial position, it may be in your best interests to go for a doctorate. PhD candidates can also enter into positions such as consultants, executives, or professors of statistics, quantitative methods, etc. 

Actuarial Potential

Actuary careers come in many different shapes and sizes. The Department of Mathematics at Purdue states that actuaries can find positions in “insurance companies, consulting firms, government, employee benefits departments of large corporations, hospitals, banks and investment firms, or, more generally, in businesses that need to manage financial risk.” Depending upon your education, specialties, and certifications, you may have the opportunity to do anything from teaching to managing to helping decide how a pension fund will function. 

Earnings and Job Growth of an Actuary

Actuary jobs steadily remain one of the top jobs, and an actuary salary continues to rank high on the list as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), average actuary positions make a salary of $97,000 a year. Entry level positions generally start in the $50,000 vicinity. The highest 10% of salaries were greater than $180,000. 

In addition to a great salary, the job growth rate for a career in actuarial science is 18%. While this may not seem like much, it is actually an extremely high growth rate -- much faster than average, according to the BLS. Most actuaries are very dedicated to their career, and revel in the intellectually stimulating environment it provides.