Monday, 14 September 2015

Snippet on Actuarial Science and its Career Opportunities

As I was answering a question asked about actuarial science in my email, I realised it may be useful to share my reply with whoever interested to know more about this course. Hope it helps. So here it goes...

Since you are an actuarial science (for my kids - will be going to University in next few years), can you share with me, what type of career an actuarial science graduate like you do (i.e. option in career) and is it reasonably rewarded in Malaysia? Is the job fun?
I am a CPA(M) and CFP, I have no regret taking it as it gave me the flexibility to become an auditor, corporate finance adviser, merchant/investment banker, CFO, Head of Investor Relations, etc.  My only knowledge about actuarial science is that they work in Insurance company, or banks (as risk management) etc. Anyway, is the syllabus tough?
My answer:
As for type of career an actuarial grad can pursue, it is almost boundless. If you look at the number of students studying actuarial science just in Malaysia alone, you may be quite surprised (I myself was surprised too with the high number). Many of them were driven by the potential financial rewards earned if they managed to pass the professional qualifications, myself partially included. Most actuaries primarily work in insurance industry (life and general) as you rightly stated, with some work in banking industry with the risk management side, whilst others mostly involve with consulting works, enterprise risk management, pension & employee benefits, finance and investment. 
But I think the main reason why many students opt for actuarial science degree is due to the flexibility this degree can offer. A lot of them eventually decide not to pursue further actuarial papers and venture into other finance-related fields such as CFA, CFP, FRM etc. How? Actuarial science deals with various areas such as accounting, finance, economics, insurance, probability and statistics, plus some flavour on computing. Whilst actuarial studies involve certain modules in CFA (investment management, corporate finance etc.), CFA will never learnt what actuaries studied. Actuarial science appeals to many students also due to its meritocracy basis. The more number of actuarial papers you manage to pass, the higher your salary can get. Once you're qualified, you would never need to worry about making decent living. 
Whether the job is fun relies very much on whether you like doing the job. Even within insurance industry, there are life and general insurance. Life actuaries deals mainly with products reviewing, pricing and capital adequacy of the insurance companies; whilst general actuaries deal with pricing and reserving. There are also investment actuaries who deal with investment performances of the insurance companies, with the primary objective aligned to the nature of insurance business. The job opportunities are not just constrained to being an actuary (although being an actuary is a lucrative job on its own), but many actuaries went on to become CEOs/CROs of companies/banks/insurers. Having said the rewards one can potentially reap, there are drawbacks as well. 

It is not easy to qualify as an actuary since it takes approximately 100 study hours for each paper and this only apply to the early modules. The advanced modules would probably take up to 200-300 hours of study. This is not to be intimidating, but I just want to illustrate the hard work (short term sacrifice) that one needs to put in for long term unlimited upsides.
The syllabus itself is mentally stimulating and can be challenging to a certain extent, since the essence of actuarial syllabus is to quantify risk and solve problems (even unprecedented ones), but what motivates me is this "If others can do it, so can I!" As I mentioned earlier, the journey to attaining actuarial qualification is very much merit based. Hard work counts more than sole intelligence level here. 

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