Actuaries typically do the following:
Most actuarial work is done with computers. Actuaries use database software to compile information. They use advanced statistics and modeling software to forecast the probability of an event occurring, the potential costs of the event if it does occur, and whether the insurance company has enough money to pay future claims.
Actuaries typically work on teams that often include managers and professionals in other fields, such as accounting, underwriting, and finance. For example, some actuaries work with accountants and financial analysts to set the price for security offerings or with market research analysts to forecast demand for new products.
Most actuaries work at insurance companies, where they help design policies and determine the premiums that should be charged for each policy. They must ensure that the premiums are profitable yet competitive with other insurance companies.
Actuaries in the insurance industry typically specialize in a specific field of insurance, such as one of the following:
Health insurance actuaries help develop long-term care and health insurance policies by predicting expected costs of providing care under the terms of an insurance contract. Their predictions are based on numerous factors, including family history, geographic location, and occupation.
Life insurance actuaries help develop annuity and life insurance policies for individuals and groups by estimating, on the basis of risk factors such as age, gender, and tobacco use, how long someone is expected to live.
Property and casualty insurance actuaries help develop insurance policies that insure policyholders against property loss and liability resulting from accidents, natural disasters, fires, and other events. They calculate the expected number of claims resulting from automobile accidents, which varies with the insured person’s age, sex, driving history, type of car, and other factors.
Some actuaries apply their expertise to financial matters outside of the insurance industry. For example, they develop investment strategies that manage risks and maximize returns for companies or individuals.
Pension and retirement benefits actuaries design, test, and evaluate company pension plans to determine if the expected funds available in the future will be enough to ensure payment of future benefits. They must report the results of their evaluations to the federal government. Pension actuaries also help businesses develop other types of retirement plans, such as 401(k)s and healthcare plans for retirees. In addition, they provide retirement planning advice to individuals.
Enterprise risk actuaries identify any risks, including economic, financial, and geopolitical risks that may affect a company’s short-term or long-term objectives. They help top executives determine how much risk the business is willing to take, and they develop strategies to respond to these issues.
Actuaries also work in the public sector. In the federal government, actuaries may evaluate proposed changes to Social Security or Medicare or conduct economic and demographic studies to project future benefit obligations. At the state level, actuaries may examine and regulate the rates charged by insurance companies.
Some actuaries are considered consultants and provide advice to clients on a contract basis. Many consulting actuaries audit the work of internal actuaries at insurance companies or handle actuarial duties for insurance companies that are not large enough to keep their own actuaries on staff.
Actuaries must have a strong background in mathematics, statistics, and business. Typically, an actuary has an undergraduate degree in mathematics, actuarial science, statistics, or some other analytical field.
To become certified professionals, students must complete coursework in economics, statistics, and corporate finance.
Students also should take classes outside of mathematics and business to prepare them for a career as an actuary. Coursework in computer science, especially programming languages, and the ability to use and develop spreadsheets, databases, and statistical analysis tools, are valuable. Classes in writing and public speaking will improve students’ ability to communicate in the business world.