No one has it all, but as an actuary, you could come close. Actuaries help people and businesses avoid financial catastrophe. But that important work doesn't mean you have to spend years in school, or give up on family or social life. Get a bachelor's degree and pass a few certification exams, and you could enjoy a high income, predictable hours, job security and career flexibility.
As an actuary, you could take home serious cash. How serious? Try a median annual income of $93,680 as of May 2012. That’s triple the $34,756 you'd make in the average job. At $55,780, even the bottom 10 percent of actuary earners made more than average. The top 10 percent cleared $175,330. If you’re aiming for that upper tier, consider education, experience, region and industry. When you land your first job and have less training, you'll start at the lower end. Pass some certification exams, and watch your income grow. If you're adventurous, consider relocating to a state with above-average incomes. In Kansas, actuaries earned the highest median, at $138,670. New York ranked second, at $134,560. Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts were also in the top five, with annual averages ranging from $113,520 to $117,510. By sector, the federal government paid the most, at $115,560 a year. Other fields breaking the $100,000 barrier included insurance agencies and brokerages, insurance carriers, employee benefit funds and management-consulting firms.
If you’re looking to balance work and family life, a career as an actuary could be the ticket. Sure, actuaries in consulting and investment banking can have unpredictable schedules, with travel and long hours. But most actuaries have desk jobs and steady hours in an office. In insurance and reinsurance, where most actuaries work, hours typically run from 8 to 4 or 9 to 5. During large projects, actuaries may have to add extra hours for a week or so, but for the most part, you can find time to study for exams and have a social life.
Actuaries are in huge demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says it expects 27 percent more actuarial jobs from 2010 to 2020, compared with 14 percent gains across all jobs. The fastest growth -- 58 percent -- should happen in consulting services, where actuaries manage company benefits plans. Insurers will need actuaries to decide on new plans, and health insurers will hire actuaries to help them understand new federal laws. What's more, property and casualty carriers will want actuaries to deal with the fallout of climate change. Still, the high pay and comfortable working conditions mean you should expect competition. To stand out, pass at least one actuarial exam, and complete a college internship.
To pick up skills you can take to other jobs, be an actuary. You’ll learn analytical skills, which help you see trends, and computer skills with programming languages, spreadsheets, databases and statistical analysis. Plus, you’ll gain math skills such as calculus, statistics and probabilities. Because actuaries work on teams, you’ll develop great people skills. Those experiences make it easier to move into other businesses, including banks, marketing companies, benefits management businesses and government and regulatory agencies.
An actuary's job earns you the pay that comes with a professional degree or title, without actually getting that advanced education. You do need a bachelor’s degree, typically in math, statistics, business or actuarial science. Beyond that, most training is on the job. It can take up to six years to get certified through the Casualty Actuarial Society or the Society of Actuaries, but most employers pay for study materials and tests. They also give you paid time off to study, and hand out raises or bonuses for each exam you pass.
- Be an Actuary.org: What Is an Actuary?
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012: Actuaries
- Purdue University: Department of Mathematics: What Is an Actuary?
- University of California, Berkeley: CAL Actuarial League: Why Be an Actuary?
- PricewaterhouseCoopers: What We Do: Actuarial
- Be An Actuary.org: Non-Traditional Trajectories
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: How to Become an Actuary
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: May 2012 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
- The Society of Actuaries: The Future Actuary: Work-Life Balance as an Actuary
- John Hancock: Evolution in the Actuary Profession
- Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images