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Actuary

Actuaries play a key role in the insurance industry by designing insurance policies, pension plans, and other financial strategies that ensure plans are maintained on a solid financial platform. They gather and analyze data to determine the probability and likely cost of the occurrence of an event such as death, sickness, injury, disability, or loss of property. They often have a broad knowledge of statistics, finance, and business. Most actuaries are employed in the insurance industry and specialize in either life and health insurance or property and casualty insurance. In life and health insurance, actuaries are actively developing long-term-care insurance and annuity policies. In other financial service industries, actuaries manage credit, determine prices for corporate security offerings, and develop new investment tools. In government, actuaries manage social programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Staff actuaries employed by businesses, as well as consulting actuaries, work on a contract basis.

Job Skills

Actuaries need to have knowledge of mathematics, computer spreadsheets and databases, and computer programming languages such as Visual Basic. They must be up-to-date on the most current economic and social trends and legislation. They must also be familiar with relevant trends in health, business, and finance. Actuaries, particularly consulting actuaries, need to have strong interpersonal communication skills.

Income

In 2002, actuaries earned a median annual salary of $69,970. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $39,700, and the highest 10%, who earned more than $137,650. Entry-level salaries usually range from $40,396 to $46,991.

Training and Education

For entry-level positions, employers look for applicants with a bachelor's degree in mathematics, actuarial science, statistics, or a bachelor's degree in business with a focus in economics, finance, or accounting. More companies are interested in applicants who, in addition to a strong technical background, also have educational experience in liberal arts and business. Actuaries can obtain full professional status through either the Society of Actuaries (SOA) or the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS), depending on their area of specialization. The process requires passing four initial exams, and then progressing to either the Associate level or the Fellowship level. Most reach the Associate level within 4 to 6 years, and the Fellowship level within a few more years. Entry-level and beginning actuaries usually rotate through different areas of an organization to gain a broad knowledge, and may eventually advance to administrative and executive positions.

Employment

In 2002, insurance underwriters held about 15,000 jobs. More than 50% were employed by insurance carriers. Others were employed by pension funds and insurance agents and brokers.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, the number of actuaries is expected to increase about as fast as the average. Growth will be due to steady demand by the insurance industry, which will continue to need actuaries to help develop, price, and evaluate insurance products. Employment in life insurance is expected to continue to decline, while employment in annuities is expected to increase. Growth in the health-care field, due to increased regulation of managed health-care companies, will create opportunities for actuaries specializing in this field. New positions are also being created to deal with new insurance risks, such as terrorism. Those who pass the difficult and lengthy examination process will have good job opportunity.