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What are your career progression options as an actuary?

by Rebecca Miles | 23 February 2022

Actuarial roles can lead to a number of different possible career pathways, from management and project leadership roles through to technical specialisms. By weighing these options carefully, you can find the right path for you.

Actuarial careers can be highly demanding, requiring advanced financial and statistical expertise to support clients in accurately assessing risks and making sound commercial decisions. However, the challenges of succeeding as an actuary are more than compensated for by the dynamic career opportunities these roles can provide.

As an actuary, you will have the choice of taking your career in different directions over time, with varying pathways available to suit your specific ambitions and skills. Many will choose to pursue senior management roles or project leadership opportunities, while others will opt for a technical specialism, becoming a go-to authority within a specific subject area.

Any of these pathways can lead to rewarding long-term careers and professional rewards. For actuaries considering their future career plans, it is worth assessing each of these options to determine how best to take your personal development forwards.

Management roles

Many actuaries aspire to take on additional leadership responsibilities over the course of their careers, with the aim of moving into a senior management role. This pathway will usually start relatively small, allowing you to gain an increasing amount of responsibility over time:

1. Mentoring or training graduates or interns within a firm

2. Overseeing the organisation’s junior analysts

3. Managing a small team within the company

4. Leading a larger team

5. Becoming the head of a department within the organisation

Although this line of progression is relatively common, actuarial roles will not necessarily have a clearly formalised promotion process - instead, progress will usually be driven by the individual themselves, in line with their own ambition and initiative. Junior actuaries should look to volunteer for additional responsibilities, and have confidence in themselves to offer mentorship for graduates and new starters; by putting themselves in this position, they will be well placed to take any future opportunities to step into more formal line manager roles.

By taking the initiative to follow a career pathway in people management, a successful actuary could expect to be managing a small team within around five years post-qualification. After 10 years, you may be overseeing a larger team of around five to 10 people, and those who successfully progress beyond this point will be able to take on senior leadership roles, with a team structure operating beneath them and more junior line managers reporting to them directly.

Project and client lead roles

Another alternative to conventional management could involve pursuing a role as a project lead, or heading up a client account within your firm. These roles are most likely to be available at larger consultancies or insurers, and will involve overseeing a specific project or account on a long-term basis, making key strategic decisions and coordinating a team of actuaries to deliver the best results.

Generally speaking, a career as a project lead will start when you become part of a specific project or account at a more junior level, and then volunteer to take on additional leadership responsibilities. This may mean taking on a subsidiary role shadowing the project leader for a period of time, paving the way to take the lead on a smaller project of your own.

Over time, you will be able to expand your expertise and move on to leading larger projects; for the most senior client leads, it may be common to oversee five or six major projects at a time. As with top-level management roles, progression in this area is likely to be based on initiative and a willingness to put yourself forward for more advanced responsibilities over time.

By following this pathway successfully, actuaries can expect to be put in charge of a small project of their own within around five years, or acting as second in command of a larger account. From there, they can progress onwards to lead a major project or client account of their own.

Technical expert roles

For those who are not seeking leadership responsibilities but still wish to develop their skills and expertise over time, it may make most sense to position yourself as a technical specialist in a specific actuarial subject area. These technical experts are in high demand, and can be called upon to offer specialist advice on high-value accounts.

Technical specialists will focus on some of the most important areas of expertise for actuaries, including:

  • Pricing

  • Reporting or reserving

  • Risk/capital

  • Systems and modelling

  • General insurance principles

  • Market-specific expertise, such as longevity modelling for life insurance

Becoming a technical expert starts simply with education, and by dedicating time to gaining a large amount of knowledge in a specific area of interest. This will often start when you are still employed at a junior level, and your expert credentials will be enhanced the longer you focus on and gain recognised credentials within that field.

The length of time you will need to study to be seen as a subject matter expert will largely depend on the specific area of study, or the demands of the business itself. As a rule, an actuary can realistically expect to call themselves an expert on a given subject if they have worked on it continuously for around five to seven years, but this could be higher or lower depending on the requirements of your sector.

This on-the-job learning can also be supplemented by technical training in your own time, whether this involves studying software coding languages, or taking on a secondment with another team. Many firms offer additional courses through the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, allowing you to earn qualifications in areas such as data science.

Being seen as a technical specialist is highly desirable and aspirational, and can generate many professional opportunities. In many instances, being a recognised technical expert can also be combined with management responsibilities, but this does not necessarily need to be the case.

Which pathway is right for me?

These are the three most common professional pathways for actuaries to progress their careers, and each offers its own opportunities and points of appeal. There is no single recommended pathway - actuaries are encouraged to choose their own preferred career development goals and follow them.

It is worth noting that none of these pathways are necessarily mutually exclusive - indeed, there is often a lot of crossover between these career routes, meaning some may start down a technical path and end up in management, or vice-versa. Sometimes, actuaries will choose to cross these responsibilities over and fluidly adjust their career path according to their interests, giving themselves a diverse range of options at senior level.

As such, junior actuaries are advised to have conversations internally about their potential career options early on, and find out what kind of opportunities are available. By asking yourself how you want to develop and pursue the goals you would find most fulfilling, you will have a strong chance of creating a long and successful career pathway for yourself.

If you would like advice on the right way to progress your career as an actuary and the various options and pathways available to you, get in touch with Sellick Partnership. Visit our actuarial & data science recruitment services page to browse our latest actuarial roles, or to explore the various resources available for data science professionals.