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MORE ON CIA ACCREDITATION IN MONTREAL GAZETTE:
Actuaries deal with more than just numbers
Getting qualified is a long, arduous process, and requires an ability to see the big picture
BY MEGAN MARTIN, SPECIAL TO THE GAZETTESEPTEMBER 29, 2012
If you had trouble with high school algebra or calculus, odds
are a career as an actuary wouldn't be your cup of tea. But for some
mathematical Olympians out there, analyzing complicated formulas and
calculations in order to determine risk is just another day at the office as an
"It's hard to truly define what actuaries do because their role is pretty varied," said Chris Fievoli, resident actuary at the Canadian Institute of Actuaries (CIA). "I still don't think there's a perfect definition, but the textbook description is that actuaries use specialized math, financial theory and business acumen to detect and assess the probability and the financial consequences of potential events." If you think that description is complicated, imagine the actual work involved. "It's not for everyone," Fievoli said with a laugh. "It's not the kind of profession you enter into casually; it's very challenging and demanding."
The qualification process is very tough and it takes on average five to seven years to complete all of the required examinations administered by either the Society of Actuaries or the Casualty Actuarial Society. These exams are separate from the university education most actuaries have; meaning that five-plus years of examinations would typically be undertaken postuniversity. "You really have to be committed," Fievoli added. Two of the most common places to find practicing actuaries are insurance companies and pension plans. "Take insurance companies, for instance. With a life insurance policy, the company has made a promise to pay a certain amount of money when there is a claim," Fievoli explained. "But there's a lot of uncertainty around that, so based on their analyses, actuaries estimate the costs and funding estimated to be necessary to fulfill the promise of payment in the future; in other words, based on potential sets of circumstances, actuaries determine how the company must manage its funds in order to make the payment down the line." In addition to insurance, actuaries can also be found working in areas such as workers' compensation and actuarial evidence, whereby they determine the value of assets being divided in divorce settlements.
"We're trying to grow our presence in what is called enterprise
risk-management now as well," Fievoli said. "That's where we go into a company
and evaluate the risks that the company faces and try to build a framework
around it to help the organization manage those risks." Despite their range of
specializations, actuaries aren't easy to come by. "We're a relatively small
profession. In fact if you live in a city that doesn't have a number of
insurance companies, you may never have heard of an actuary," Fievoli said. "Our
organization, the CIA, only has about 4,000 members." Most people know at
least one doctor or lawyer, but not everyone knows an actuary, he added.
Possibly tied to these small numbers are a few misconceptions about the
profession, chief among which is the notion that actuaries can be bad
communicators because their focus is on technical skills and analysis. "But
being able to communicate our analysis is extremely essential to what we do,"
Fievoli explained. "It's absolutely necessary to have a balance between
analytical skills and communication. That's what makes a great actuary."
If any of this is sparking thoughts of a potential career or degree change for you, it should be noted that the path to becoming an actuary is about to change slightly. The CIA is launching a program this fall whereby students at accredited universities, of which there are 10 in Canada, can be granted exemptions from certain actuarial exams based on passing a select number of courses with certain requirements. "We're very fortunate in Canada to have good actuarial programs in many institutions," Fievoli said. In and around Montreal, the accredited schools include Concordia University, UQAM and Université Laval. "What we're looking for in actuaries is a strong math background, of course, but it takes more than that," he said. "It's people with the ability to look at the big picture in the long term, consider many different elements and make subsequent conclusions; it's about a lot more than just numbers."
For more information about a career as an actuary visitwww.actuaries.ca
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