Disclaimer: The comments below are personal opinion and do not reflect the views of my employer, UBC, the Canadian Institute of Actuaries (CIA), the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS), or the Society of Actuaries (SOA).
Hi! My name is Kenneth and I graduated with a Double Major in Mathematics and Economics. I am a pension analyst and am currently working towards becoming a fully qualified actuary. I have completed two co-op terms in pension consulting and received a full-time offer upon the completion of my co-op. My comments will mostly come from the perspective of pension consulting since that is my area of expertise.
What is an Actuary?
“Actuaries are business professionals who measure and manage the financial implications of future events—pro and con, certain and uncertain, probable and improbable.
Actuaries measure and manage risk.
With a deep understanding of mathematics, actuaries forecast possibilities and develop plans to manage financial risks. Applying a blend of math, statistics and business knowledge, they serve as trusted financial and business advisors. Actuaries inform and make decisions that lead to profits, savings, stability and success.
With actuaries’ help, businesses can grow and provide greater value; leaders can make strategic decisions based on a clear understanding of risks; and people can prepare for the future with greater confidence.”
Source: Society of Actuaries
1. The traditional fields are: Health & Group Benefits Consulting, Life Insurance, Property & Casualty (P&C), Pension Consulting, and Investment.
2. Vancouver has more opportunities in consulting with significantly fewer opportunities in P&C, and Life Insurance. Most Canadian insurance firms are based in Toronto/Waterloo.
3. Salary information: https://www.dwsimpson.com/salary.html
a. Salaries are usually overstated in surveys so take it with a grain of salt.
Completion of actuarial exams is probably one of the first things employers look at. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of courses at UBC that help prepare you for the exams so you will definitely have to put in some effort outside of school to pass them. As far as I know, emphasis is usually placed on whether you have passed an exam rather than your actual score or the number of times it took for you to pass. If you are set on the actuarial path, do not be disheartened by failures. It is normal for candidates to fail actuarial exams (passing rate is ~40%). Be aware that CAS and SOA have different exams except for P, FM, and MFE.
Grades in School
Most job postings I have seen asked for a GPA minimum of 3.0 - 3.25, although a higher average to stay competitive is likely required. I would encourage students to apply to jobs even if they have bad grades since it is usually not a deal breaker. Other factors such as actuarial exams and soft skills are also assessed and taken into account during the hiring process.
Relevant Courses / Course Selection
1. Try to obtain all VEE credits (required for ASA & ACAS) at UBC to avoid having to take additional exams after graduation
a. Check the public listing of acceptable courses for VEE credits (https://www.soa.org/Education/Exam-Req/edu-vee.aspx).
b. Some VEE-approved courses have pre-requisites. Make sure you have all the pre-requisites done.
2. MATH302/STAT302 is helpful for exam P.
3. From a consulting actuary perspective, there is no single syllabus that directly translates to the work I do. However, I have taken a combination of Statistics, Computer Science, Mathematics, Economics, and Finance and I have found those to be enjoyable. My advice would be to take what is most interesting to you and would involve some sort of project/team-based work to help you develop soft skills.
4. Technical writing and business writing courses are useful since it is common for us to have to draft reports and write formal letters to clients.
Getting an Internship
It is important for students to have an internship/co-op before graduation especially since the actuarial field is competitive. Even if you are not enrolled in the program, it is definitely worthwhile to take a term off school to gain some work experience in the field. Here are some tips to help you get your first internship:
1. Actuarial Exams
a. As mentioned above, this is one of the most important things employers look for. Although most job descriptions ask for a minimum of 1 SOA exam completed, I would recommend having at least 2 exams completed to stay competitive.
2. Career Fairs/Employer Information Sessions
a. Never underestimate the power of face-to-face interaction at these types of events. I was offered an interview because I had left an impression during the UBC Career Fair.
b. Make use of all UBC resources to check if any actuarial employers are coming to UBC (http://students.ubc.ca/career/events). Math/Stat departments usually do a good job of sending out emails to students if actuaries are coming to UBC for a talk.
c. Keep your resume/cover letter up to date and bring multiple copies to these events. Even if employers are not hiring, it shows your enthusiasm and they will likely keep your resume on file.
d. There is an annual fair that actuarial employers attend. If possible, try to attend the fair since I have heard that a lot of students get hired at this fair. More information here: http://www.anea-asna.ca/
3. SOA Directory
a. The SOA keeps a listing of all actuarial job postings and employers. Use this as a reference and go to the company’s main website to look for internship opportunities: http://jobs.soa.org/home/index.cfm?site_id=367
4. Contacting Actuaries
b. The SOA has a directory with a list of all registered actuaries. Try building connections with them by having an informational interview to find out more about their work.
5. Technical Skills
a. Although a lot of things can be learned on the job, having basic proficiency in the Microsoft Office Suite (especially Excel and Word) is vital.
b. Having basic programming skills (VBA) and knowledge in database, although not required, will be useful for most jobs.
c. Some employers require applicants to have experience with SAS or R.
6. Soft Skills (with relevance to consulting actuaries)
a. Communication – There are many scenarios in the world of pension consulting where you will need to have strong written and oral communication skills. Examples include presenting results in front a board of trustees, discussing client work with internal client teams, or drafting an actuarial report for the provincial government.
b. Time management – It is very common for actuaries to be juggling multiple deadlines at once while having to study for an actuarial exam. Having good time management skills and being able to prioritize is definitely important to be successful and to avoid being overwhelmed.
c. Adaptability – In consulting, there are many surprises that might disrupt your workflow. A sudden urgent project might come up; information needed to proceed may be delayed. It is important that you are able to adapt to these changes and plan accordingly.
d. Attention to details – a lot of the work we do can impact multiple lives. It is thus important for us to pay attention to even the smallest data errors.
e. Dedication to the profession – the path to becoming a fully qualified actuary is not easy and requires dedication. It could take 6 – 10 years to pass all the exams and you will have to study while working full-time.
7. Resumes, Cover Letter, and Applications
a. Have a group of friends to review your resume and cover letters before submitting your applications.
b. Job postings could disappear in less than a week, check the career websites every 2 - 3 days and submit your applications ASAP. Being even just a day late could mean that you have missed the first round of interviews.
c. Apply, apply, apply! On average, I have applied to 3 - 4 jobs per week for a period of 9 months before I got my internship. With each application and interview, I learned a bit more about what employers were looking for and was able fine-tune my application.
Other Useful Links
1. http://actuaries.ca/ - Canadian Institute of Actuaries website
2. http://www.beanactuary.org/ - This website is a very good starting point which is designed for aspiring actuaries wanting to learn more about the profession.
3. https://www.soa.org/member/ - Society of Actuaries website
4. https://www.casact.org – Casualty Actuarial Society website
5. http://www.actuarialoutpost.com/actuarial_discussion_forum/ - actuarial forum that discusses anything from employment opportunities, to exam tips.
Want to learn more?
As a UBC alumnus, I understand that UBC students do not receive a lot of guidance or support on the actuarial path. If you would like to find out more about the actuarial exams, the actuarial field in general, or pension consulting, I would be happy to share my experience. I can be reached at email@example.com.