Career Prospects in Actuarial Science

Due to an ageing population (baby boom generation) there has been more attention to pension and insurance in the last couple of years. Demand for specialists in these sectors has therefore increased and the economic growth in Asia has led to a worldwide shortage. Studying and working in actuarial hence offers good (international) career prospects.

I studied Econometrics in Maastricht and Economics in Glasgow from 1999-2004. Thereafter, I worked and lived in 3 different countries and completed 3 postgraduate studies. In this article I will give an overview over these studies, what working in different countries implies and the differences between working in consultancy, an insurance company and as a contractor. I will also offer some useful links at the end of the article.

Actuarial Overview

The diagram below shows the different specialisations within actuarial science:

Specialisms in actuarial science

I worked in pension and life actuarial. Both pension and life actuarial are related to the life-status of the policyholder(s). Pension products are more flexible because the pension fund is able to adapt the premium and indexation level and the claims/payments take place over a long time span. Insurance products are usually more complicated as they are company and policyholder specific: e.g. different kinds of profit sharing exist, requiring option valuation techniques.

Consultancy, insurance company or contractor?

Before deciding which company suits you best, it is important to determine if you are best suited to a consultancy or insurance company environment. When you have worked for a couple of years, you can decide to start contracting.

Consultancy
+ Variety. Working with different clients at different locations;
+ Focus on knowledge sharing. Many internal presentations and training sessions;
– Dip-in and dip-out. Consultancy assignments are usually short-term (maximum 6 months) and therefore it is more difficult to get to know a client well, and to develop a specialism;
– Consultants are often employed to fill in gaps. They do not always get the most exciting jobs;
+/- Career development at a later stage is dependent on sales, which does not suit everyone.

Insurance company
+ Colleagues from various educational backgrounds and hence easier to blend in (also less competitive);
+ Depth and specialization opportunities;
– Risk that you outgrow a role after 2 years. Internal career progression is not always straightforward;
– Work experience is very specific to a certain area.

Tip: Some insurance companies provide traineeships lasting 2 years where you work in a different department every 6 months. This allows you to get to know a company well and get exposure to several fields.

Contractor
Usually only possible after a couple of years of work experience. A specialism may be required.
+ Good pay. Qualified actuaries can earn around €/£ 1.000 a day or more;
+ Less “politics”. Your task is to perform a (usually technical) piece of work and therefore the personal/social aspect will be less important;
– Uncertainty. There will be spaces of time with less work;
– Contractors are normally used for jobs that are left over and these are not always the most challenging.

International opportunities

Due to a worldwide shortage of actuaries, working abroad is rather easy. I worked in the following countries:

The Netherlands
+ Cosy (‘gezellig’). Dutch people like to share their private life with colleagues. They speak about hobbies and their home situation.
+ Little hierarchy/sharing responsibility. Dutch companies have a flat structure;
– There is not a lot of social interaction with colleagues or other professionals outside work.

Ireland
+ Relaxed working environment, large focus on sport and pubs when socialising;

– Hierarchical structure, a lot of respect for experience and rank. In the Netherlands it is not uncommon to criticise the opinion of your supervisor: In Ireland this is less common. On the other hand this makes things easier because it is clear who makes the decision. However, centralised decision making can slow down your work.

London
+ Good learning environment (lots of conferences and evening events). Ideal for networking and gathering information. Furthermore, England is the front-runner in Solvency II;
+ International environment. London, like Maastricht, is a very international city. It is very easy to meet other expats and there is plenty of arts and culture;
– Competitive: large scale immigration of well-educated people results in a competitive work environment;
– International: most expats only work for a couple of years in London. Therefore it is more difficult to establish long term friendships.

Tip: the actuarial rules and terminology between countries differ significantly. I recommend spending considerable time reading the local legislation when you are working abroad so you are able to get familiar with the local vocabulary quickly.

Postdoc studies

I can recommend studying while working as it broadens your scope, is good for your CV, and extends your network. The disadvantage of studying while workingis that it requires discipline, and that it restricts your social life. I have studied:

Actuarial science
Focus on pension funds and insurance companies, not very handy for other financial institutions such as banks. Fortunately, there has been more focus on practical applications (cases) and risk management. Disadvantage is that there is little international coordination due to different products and regulations. There are national societies that organise events.

CFA
Focus on asset and portfolio management and therefore applicable throughout the financial world. Ethics plays an important role in the curriculum and exams. The society used to be American but it is changing to a more international environment. In total there are 3 annual theoretical exams. There are local chapters that organise events.

FRM
Relatively new risk management programme offering a low threshold (e.g. low membership fees). The training is focused on risk management for banks, but can also be applied for other financial institutions. Like CFA there are local chapters that organise events.

Links

Dutch actuarial society: AAG: http://www.ag-ai.nl/
English actuarial society: FIA: http://www.actuaries.org.uk/
CFA: https://www.cfainstitute.org/ Pages/index.aspx
FRM: http://www.garp.org/
FSA handbook, English regulation: http://fsahandbook. info/FSA/html/handbook/
International actuarial links
http://www.math.uconn. edu/~valdez/IntActLink.htm

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This article was published in PerVectum 1-2011-2012, page 22-25 of the link below:

http://scope-vectum.nl/sites/default/files/pdf/PV1_1112(2).pdf

About Servaas Houben

I am a Dutch actuary and worked in the Netherlands for the first 4 years of my career. Thereafter, I worked for 2 years in Dublin and 4 years in London. I am now heading the actuarial department of ENNIA in Curacao.
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