What is an actuary?
You probably know there’s an occupation called “actuary”, but I’m pretty sure you have no idea of what an actuary does unless you are an actuary. Even myself, who have been studying actuarial science for almost four years, still can’t explain clearly what an actuary is.
When people ask me about my major, the conversation usually goes like this:
- People: What are you studying at school?
- Me: Actuarial Science.
- People: Oh science!
- Me: No, not science. It’s ACTUARIAL science.
- People: That sounds cool. What’s that?
- Me: Hmm, well, it’s the combination of math, statistics and some finance.
- People: What can you do after you graduate?
- Me: To be an actuarial analyst.
- People: Oh analyst!
- Me: Well it’s ACTUARIAL analyst. I’ll probably find a job in an insurance company.
- People: Oh you sell insurance products!
- Me: No no. We analyze data, make assumptions, build models and use them to measure and predict risks.
- People: It still sounds like an analyst. Anyway, good luck to you!
So what is an actuary? I suggest you google it if you’re interested. You shouldn’t be expecting me to give you the right answer, given the fact that I have failed so many times.
I guess this might be one of the reasons why Society of Actuaries (one of the most prestigious professional organizations for actuaries) is emphasizing on communication skills for all its members. If we can’t even explain what we do, how are we going to explain our work to non-actuaries?
Communication skills needed for actuaries
The most important communication skill required is the ability to translate the technical and quantitative information into simple and comprehensive words, which non-actuaries can understand. Actuaries should always be aware of the purpose and the needs of the audience.
For example, actuaries like to use lots of numbers or statistics to present results. If they don’t explain clearly what the numbers represent, the audience, who are non-actuaries, will get confused. However, when the audience is also an actuary, it’ll be more efficient and effective by using “actuarial” words.
Active listening is another important skill. One-way communication will never work. Actuaries have to make sure they hear the intended messages so that they can make the correct next move. On the other hand, as a communicator, actuaries also have the responsibility to ensure that the listener gets the correct message.
Why did I choose to study actuarial Science?
The reason why I chose actuarial science is because I was running out of options. I didn’t even know what actuarial science is when I was deciding on my major. At that time, I knew clearly that I didn’t want to become a lawyer or a doctor. And I’m not artistically-minded so I can’t study arts. I wanted to study chemical engineering but my parents said no. Therefore, there’s only one option left, which was Math.
Fortunately, math has always been my favorite subject since primary school. My cousin recommended me to study actuarial science. I did ask her what was that, but she said she didn’t know. She heard that actuaries are in large demand and have a very decent pay (I must tell you, this is a RUMOR!). And unsurprisingly, I got convinced by that.
Do I regret about my choice?
Yes and no. Yes in a sense that I have to spend five to ten years or even longer to complete all the actuarial exams. This means I have to either give up my sleep or my social life in order to squeeze time for preparation of exams. And most likely, I’m going to sacrifice both.
However, I like actuarial science so far. I’ve done five actuarial co-ops and I like all of them. If you let me choose again, I’ll probably stick to the same choice. I guess I’m one of the lucky ones who find out what they like to do is what they are doing.
If you haven’t found out what you like to do or you don’t like what you’re doing, why not try actuarial science? Maybe you’re the next lucky person, just like me.