’s Frequently asked questions about the actuarial profession and Queen

Frequently asked questions about the actuarial profession and Queen’s
Actuarial Studies Degree
1. How many qualified actuaries are there worldwide?
There are just under 9,000 qualified actuaries (FIA) worldwide. Take a look at the link below to find
out more statistics about the profession.
2. How long does it take to qualify as an actuary?
The average person will take between 6-8 years to qualify as an Actuary (if they have no exemptions
at the start of their actuarial career). With university exemptions the length of time would be
expected to be less.
3. What areas do actuaries work in?
Traditionally Actuaries worked in the areas of pension consulting, general insurance, life insurance
and investments. However, you will see actuaries working more and more in other areas of the
financial sector such as investment banking where their ability to identify, quantify and manage risks
comes in useful.
4. What types of skills are needed to become a good actuary?
To be a good actuary you have to have good numerical and statistical skills, be a good
communicator, be able to identify and solve problems, be able to manage many tasks at the same
time. One of many quotes by actuaries is given below.
''Actuaries need to have strong skills in maths, statistics and financial methods to assess future
financial uncertainties'' says Professor Pollard. Strong communication skills are also required as, no
matter which area an actuary works in, writing reports, summarising findings and presenting them to
senior management are key tasks. It's having to draw upon both her mathematical and
communication skills that Catherine Nance, Actuary and Director, Financial Advisory Services,
PricewaterhouseCoopers, enjoys.
5. Why choose Queen’s University for Actuarial Science?
Queen’s university is a leading academic and research driven university with an excellent record for
high quality teaching. The School of Management regularly features in the top 10 Management
departments in the UK.
The full-time staff is made up of a balance of experienced Actuaries, Finance Professors. The degree
has been designed with the Institute of Actuaries providing advice at every stage.
6. What is the entrance requirement onto the BSc Actuarial Studies degree at Queen’s?
Queen’s requires students on the Actuarial Studies program to have achieved: VCE/GCE A Level –
AAA to include A grade in A Level mathematics, or Irish Leaving Certificate – AAB2B2B2B2 to
include A grade in mathematics. Candidates offering other qualifications should contact the
Admissions Office for advice.
7. Is the BSc course in Actuarial Studies not too specialised? Will I not have restricted my
future choices too much?
Whilst the BSc in Actuarial Studies does seem very specialised you will be gaining many
transferrable skills should you decide not to become an actuary at the end of you studies. During the
degree you will develop your time management, problem solving, mathematical analysis,
communication and presentation skills. In addition the placement year will give you the opportunity
to develop your interpersonal skills in the workplace environment.
8. What subjects will I study during my actuarial degree?
During the first year of your degree, you will:
• Study the mathematical skills that you will need in order to study the later modules.
• Be introduced to traditional economic theory.
• Learn about a company’s financial reports, and the financial environment and markets
in which actuaries operate.
During the second year of your degree, you will:
• Be introduced to some standard actuarial techniques. This will include an introduction
to annuities and mortality functions, used by actuaries working in life insurance and
pensions, and general insurance models used by actuaries who are estimating claims
experience or pricing general insurance business.
• Develop your understanding of the financial markets, learn how to evaluate
alternative investment opportunities and learn about portfolio management.
• Prepare for your placement year.
During the final year of your degree, you will:
• Study advanced techniques for quantifying movements in financial data series.
• Build on the actuarial skills acquired in the second year of the degree, learn about
survival models and place these in a practical context.
• Learn about the characteristics and pricing techniques of more complex derivative
instruments, used to manage risk and enhance return in the financial markets.
9. How does the placement year work?
During the third year of your degree you will be expected to complete between 9-15 months on
placement with an actuarial firm. This will give you the practical experience necessary to enable you
to fit into an actuarial job more smoothly when you complete your degree. You will begin
preparation for your placement year during the second year of your degree and will complete the
placement during your fourth year with a presentation of how you found your placement to the
second year students.
In addition, some of our students are finding opportunities to work in an actuarial environment
during their summer holidays.
More details on the placement process can be found at the placement website below:
10. What are career prospects like?
Career prospects for actuarial students are very good - the main employers are pensions
consultancies, insurance companies and finance houses. There are high rewards available!
The majority of actuarial positions are in Dublin and London although good job prospects also exist
in Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds and Glasgow. There are a limited but growing
number of opportunities in Belfast.
11. What is the average salary of a qualified actuary?
Nationally, a newly qualified actuary can expect to earn somewhere in the region of £55,000 –
£70,000 depending on the area of practice and the geographical location. 5-10 years post
qualification that figure can rise to £100,000+
12. What is this whole 'exemptions' thing about?
In order to become a fully qualified actuary, trainee actuaries have to take several exams set by the
Institute of Actuaries. Instead of doing these exams whilst working for an actuarial firm, you can do a
substantial number of these exams during the course of your studies at Queen’s. Having a significant
proportion of the professional examinations behind you when you leave University increases your
employability and reduces the length of time studying and working after university.
The Actuarial Studies degree at Queen’s has been granted exemption from all eight of the CT
subjects. In order for students to gain these exemptions they will have to perform in their studies to a
standard set by the Institute of Actuaries. For more details on this see the link below
13. Who are the people who will teach me?
Our staff is made up of a balance of experienced Actuaries, Statisticians and Financial
Mathematicians. Many of us have close links with the actuarial profession and for the Actuarial
Studies degree we have taken on two members of staff who were practicing actuaries with pensions
consultancies and insurance firms. For more details of staff see the link below.
14. How many students are doing the actuarial studies degree
In September 2007 we welcomed 52 new students to the first year of the new actuarial studies
degree. They come from a variety of places with Northern Ireland being the main location. General
information about student life, people and events can be found by visiting the Queen’s university
website. As the degree develops we plan to create a student’s actuarial society and anyone who is
interested in this should speak to a member of staff if they wish to become involved.
15. What kind of help and support is there for me when I study at Queens?
Every student on a course within our Department has a personal tutor. The tutor is the student's first
point of contact when he/she requires advice on academic and non-academic issues, and will help
him/her adjust to University life, particularly in the first few weeks.
Another important role the tutor has is to help students to maintain a strategic overview of their
whole University career. It is usually the tutor who provides a student with a letter of reference
whenever he/she needs it.
Beside the tutor system, the University has an excellent support structure in place to help students
when they encounter difficulties (e.g. family illness, accommodation, financial, etc.).
16. Can I transfer out of the degree if I discover that I really have made the wrong choice
for me?
There may be the possibility to transfer between the degrees of Actuarial Studies, Finance,
Accounting and Economics, although it would have to be discussed with your tutor.
17. What is financial mathematics?
Financial mathematics is the branch of mathematics applied to financial markets, in particular to
equity (shares), bond, commodity and derivative markets. Financial maths is used primarily to price
assets but is also important in risk management and asset management.
The field sprang to life in the early 1970s with the development of the Black Scholes Merton option
pricing formula, which revolutionised finance. This formula was quickly extended by others into a
general theory for the pricing of derivatives. These authors showed that the fair price of an derivative
can be determined by not allowing an arbitrage to take place and that this condition has a deep
mathematical significance related to probability.
Although the theory is based on stochastic models, and there are immediate applications of statistics
and data analysis, part of the explanation for the rapid growth of financial mathematics is that the
field provides fertile grounds for collaboration between researchers with different backgrounds:
numerical analysis and computational methods are required to calculate specific answers; functional
analysis and the general theory of stochastic process have combined to give exact conditions for the
fundamental theorems; and convex analysis is used to investigate difficult constrained investment
problems via the dual functions.
18. What is the difference between actuarial science, financial maths, operations research,
management science and maths with finance, economics, business or management courses?
Courses in actuarial science and financial mathematics address problems relating to financial markets
and in particular focus on issues relating to risk and uncertainty. Courses in economics, operations
research, management science and finance develop skills useful in running a business.
A big advantage of an actuarial science or financial mathematics course is that the finance aspects are
integrated with the mathematical concepts. This is particularly important if you are looking to have a
career in financial markets where some of the mathematical tools being used are new and are based
on difficult concepts.
At the simplest level, actuaries answer questions relating to how finances should be managed given
you do not know for certain what obligations there will be in the future, for example, what premiums
on an insurance policy are needed in order to ensure claims can be covered.
Actuarial science has a long history, going back to the seventeenth century, and is used by pension
funds, life and general insurance companies and banks.
Financial mathematics is a new science, based on mathematics developed to understand rocket
dynamics, and is used primarily by people working in markets for financial derivatives (often
referred to as "rocket scientists"), such as investment banks, commodity traders and hedge funds. A
derivative is a financial asset who's value is determined by another asset, such as a company's share
price. The job of a financial mathematician is to remove the risk of investing in derivatives, given
that the prices of the underlying assets in the future are not known.
Actuaries and financial mathematicians work closely on problems relating to asset management and
financial risk management.