Salary and conditions

  • Typical starting salaries for graduates fall generally within the range of £25,000 – £35,000. Starting salaries vary according to location. For example, salaries are likely to be higher in the London area.
  • Typical salaries for newly qualified actuaries in insurance companies may vary between £40,000 and £55,000. Salary progression is dependent upon the individual, performance, and the development of a career path. Increments are usually paid for examination success.
  • Typical salary at senior level/with experience, e.g. after 10-15 years in the role: over £60,000. There is a wide range of salaries for experienced actuaries, but high financial rewards and excellent benefits packages are common.
  • Salaries in excess of £100,000 are typical for senior actuaries.
  • Working hours typically include regular extra hours, but not necessarily weekends or shifts. In traditional areas of employment, long hours are less likely for more junior staff, e.g. graduate trainees, as they will be devoting time to study for professional examinations.
  • Self-employment and freelance work are possible but very unusual, as most actuaries are employed by large financial institutions.
  • Flexible working conditions can be negotiated with some employers, e.g. part-time work and career breaks, but this is usually dependent on the employer and individual’s circumstances.
  • Jobs are quite widely available in most large towns and cities of the UK, although London has the largest proportion of jobs.
  • Actuaries are usually expected to maintain a smart business dress code but this varies between employers.
  • Examinations are an important part of an actuarial student’s training, and study during this period may impact on your social and personal life.
  • Opportunities to travel vary between employers. For example, an insurance company with offices around the UK and/or outside the UK may require actuaries to travel from time to time. Visits to corporate clients may also be necessary, e.g. for those working in reinsurance. The amount of travel varies according to the type of actuarial work and the regional area.

Job description

Actuaries evaluate, manage and advise on financial risks. They apply their knowledge of business and economics, together with their understanding of probability theory, statistics and investment theory, to provide strategic, commercial and financial advice. The core of actuarial work lies within pensions and insurance, where professionals are most likely to start off. Some actuaries may move on to investment banks at a later stage.

Actuarial work can be diverse and ranges from highly technical roles developing complex financial products in investment banks or pensions and insurance companies to consultancy roles for those seeking a client-facing career.

Actuaries need to apply their mathematical, economic and statistical awareness to real situations in the financial world and be able to communicate the difficult topics to non-specialists. Strong communication skills are becoming an increasingly important part of the actuarial profession, and it is essential that actuaries are able to discuss complex topics in a simple way to assist their clients effectively.

Actuarial trainees may begin work as trainee pensions consultants or risk analysts while at the same time studying for professional exams. Senior actuaries can be found in consulting firms as partners, in large banks as chief risk officers or in board-level positions in insurance companies and other financial services organisations.

Typical work activities

Actuaries apply financial and statistical theories to assess the likelihood of a particular event occurring and the possible financial costs.

Specific tasks vary but work may include:

  • analysing statistical data in order to calculate, for example, accident rates for particular groups of people;
  • using mathematical modelling techniques and statistical concepts to determine probability and assess risks, such as analysing pension scheme liabilities, to price commercial insurance;
  • monitoring risk within trading positions in investment banking to ensure excessive risks are not taken during the fast pace of trading;
  • presenting reports, explaining their implications to managers and directors, and advising on risk limitation;
  • advising on issues such as the selection of investment managers or the administration of pensions and benefits;
  • working with IT professionals to develop systems to ensure compliance with the requirements of regulatory bodies;
  • communicating with clients and carrying out relationship management, including with investment managers, financial directors and external stakeholders;
  • supervising staff;
  • working with mergers and acquisitions on some occasions.

Specifically, actuaries in their day-to-day work may be responsible for the following:

  • developing new financial products;
  • conducting valuations of assets and liabilities;
  • advising on investment strategies and assessing the profitability of an investments portfolio;
  • calculating funding rates and considering assumptions for pension scheme liabilities;
  • analysing risks related to locations for catastrophe claims;
  • measuring, monitoring and mitigating portfolio and enterprise risks;
  • overseeing asset and liability modelling, product development and profit testing;
  • preparing presentations, reports, valuations and quarterly updates.

Actuaries may also be involved with the acceptance of proposals for new policies, with legal and taxation matters affecting life assurance, or with the investment of funds.

Entry requirements

Although this area of work is open to all graduates with strong numerical skills, the following degree subjects may increase your chances:

  • actuarial science or actuarial mathematics;
  • mathematics or statistics;
  • economics;
  • engineering;
  • business or finance;
  • science, e.g. physics and chemistry.

The majority of UK entrants to the profession are graduates with a first or second class honours degree. Some employers require specific degree subjects or an MSc in Actuarial Science. Graduates must have a minimum of grade B in A-level mathematics and a grade C in another A-level subject.

Employers of actuaries typically look for a 2:1 or above, ideally in a numerate subject such as mathematics, statistics or economics. Eligibility of other qualifications, including those from outside the UK and Ireland, can be checked with the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, also known as The Actuarial Profession. Entry with an HND only is highly unlikely.

Details of postgraduate diploma and MSc courses in actuarial science accredited by The Actuarial Profession are available on their website. The Directory of Actuarial Employers in the UK and Ireland has a list of companies that may offer sponsorship for postgraduate study.

A degree, postgraduate diploma or MSc in actuarial science may give exemption from core technical subjects and allow qualification in a shorter time. It is also possible to get exemptions having studied a numerical degree such as mathematics or economics, provided modules include some focus on statistics and probability. Details are available from The Actuarial Profession .

Although pre-entry experience is not a requirement, talking to people in the job and, if possible, acquiring some work experience will prove invaluable. Some companies offer work placements or internships for students interested in becoming actuaries. Internships and placements can potentially be helpful in securing a graduate job, however this is dependent on the organisation. It is also useful to speak with people in the profession by approaching them at careers events or work shadowing where possible.

Candidates will need to show evidence of the following:

  • a high level of numeracy;
  • good communication skills, including the ability to convey complex information to clients;
  • analytical and creative problem-solving skills;
  • IT skills;
  • the ability to write clear reports;
  • the ability to take responsibility;
  • self-discipline and determination and an appreciation of the demands of studying while working;
  • sound judgement and a genuine interest in business;
  • genuine commitment to an actuarial career.

The Financial Mathematics Exam , offered by The Actuarial Profession to university students and people working in financial services, provides a useful starting point for those considering a career as an actuary. A Certificate in Financial Mathematics, often referred to as CT1, is awarded on successful completion. The certificate also goes towards completing the professional qualification.

For more information, see work experience and internships and search courses and research.