An actuary helps businesses to assess the risk of certain events occurring and to formulate policies that minimize the cost of that risk. For this reason, actuaries are essential to the insurance industry. Actuaries assemble and analyze data to estimate the probability and likely cost of the occurrence of an event such as death, sickness, injury, disability, or loss of property.
Using their broad knowledge of statistics, finance and business, actuaries help design insurance policies, pension plans and other financial strategies in a manner that will help ensure that the plans are maintained on a sound financial basis. Actuaries also address financial questions, including those involving the level of pension contributions required to produce a certain retirement income level and the way in which a company should invest resources to maximize return on investments in the light of potential risk.
Most actuaries are employed in the insurance industry, specializing in life and health insurance or property and casualty insurance. They produce probability tables, which determine the likelihood that a potential future event will generate a claim. From these tables, they estimate the amount a company can expect to pay in claims. For example, property and casualty actuaries calculate the expected amount of claims resulting from automobile accidents, which varies depending on the insured person's age, sex, driving history, type of car and other factors.
Actuaries ensure that the price, or premium charged for such insurance will enable the company to cover claims and other expenses. This premium must be profitable, yet competitive with other insurance companies. Within the life and health insurance fields, actuaries are helping to develop long-term-care insurance and annuity policies, the latter a growing investment tool for many individuals. They also deal with investments of life assurance companies, for example the investment of money in government stock, mortgage bonds, ordinary and preference shares, property and other securities. A considerable amount of time is devoted to the evaluation of a company's liabilities in respect of all policies. Actuaries in other financial services industries manage credit and help price corporate security offerings. They also devise new investment tools to help their firms compete with other financial services companies. The duties of most consulting actuaries are similar to those of other actuaries. Some help companies reduce their insurance costs by lowering the level of risk the companies take on. For instance, they may provide advice on how to lessen the risk of injury on the job, which would lower worker's compensation costs. Consulting actuaries sometimes testify in court regarding the value of the potential lifetime earnings of a person who is disabled or killed in an accident, the current value of future pension benefits (in divorce cases) or other values arrived at by complex calculations. Some work in reinsurance, a field in which one insurance company arranges to share a large prospective liability policy with another insurance company, in exchange for a percentage of the premium.
Actuaries are experts in the theory and practice of statistics and specifically of mortality, sickness, retirement and unemployment. They work mostly with numbers and figures. They devise, compile and develop assurance policies; pension and medical aid schemes and perform other specialized functions mainly in the assurance industry. Actuaries have desk jobs, and their offices are usually comfortable and pleasant. They often work at least 40 hours a week. Some actuaries, particularly consulting actuaries, may travel to meet with clients. Consulting actuaries also may experience more erratic employment and sometimes be expected to work more than 40 hours per week.
Compulsory subjects: Mathematics
Recommended subjects: Advanced Programme Mathematics
No South African academic institution offers a complete and qualifying training course for actuaries. To qualify as an actuary one must pass the examinations set by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. This professional body is situated in the United Kingdom. The Actuarial Society of South Africa based in Cape Town manages all matters relating to these examinations.
Studies are done through correspondence and there is no appointed period for completing the examinations. This seldom takes less than 5 years. During this period the actuarial student will normally be employed by a life assurance company or a firm of consulting actuaries.
Guidelines for academic requirements for admission as a student are as follows:
University graduates: The Admissions Committee at its discretion admits applicants who, within the last 4 years, have graduated from an approved university and have:
- passed a course in Mathematics with at least an upper second class pass (70%), or
- studied Mathematics for 3 years as a major subject and obtained at least a second class pass (60%) for one course in Mathematics, or
- passed Mathematics 1, studied Mathematical Statistics or Applied Mathematics for 3 years as a major subject and have obtained at least a second class (60%) pass for one course in any one of these subjects that has been taken as a major subject, or
- passed a university course at a level that would make them eligible for an exemption from any one of the Institute or Faculty examinations in Fundamentals of Actuarial Mathematics, Statistics or Actuarial Mathematics.
Undergraduates: The Admissions Committee at its discretion admits applicants who hold the following qualifications: A matriculation or equivalent certificate with at least 80% in Mathematics. In addition applicants must within the last 4 years have:
- passed a course in Mathematics at an approved university with at least an upper second class pass (70%), or
- passed a course in Mathematics at an approved university and have passed a course in Mathematical Statistics or Actuarial Science with at least 65%.
Some universities offer degrees particularly geared to actuarial studies which may entitle the student to exemptions from certain subjects. Relevant degree courses that can be followed are the BSc (Actuarial) degree and the BBusiness Science (Actuarial) degree which are offered at the University of Cape Town. The Universities of Stellenbosch, Free State, Pretoria, North West and the Witwatersrand offer the BSc and BCom degrees with actuarial subjects.
In addition to paying competitive salaries, it is normal practice for employers of actuarial students to give them assistance in meeting study costs and to grant study leave.
In addition to knowledge of mathematics, computer skills are becoming increasingly important. Actuaries should be able to develop and use spreadsheets and databases, as well as standard statistical analysis software. Knowledge of computer programming languages, such as Visual Basic, is also useful.
Actuaries have great security in terms of employment possibilities due to the fact that the qualifications they obtain are internationally recognized and because of the high demand for actuaries generally.Employers:
Actuarial Society of South Africa
Office 2, 2nd Floor West End Mall
Jan Smuts Drive
Tel: (021) 509-5242
Contact the Actuarial Society of South Africa or Universities offering actual science listed below.