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Monday, March 14, 2005

Actuaries

Actuaries are professionals who analyse the financial impact of risk, particularly looking ahead far into the future. Actuaries use skills in mathematics, economics, finance and statistics to study uncertain future events, especially those of concern to insurance companies, employee benefits such as medical insurance and pension plans, and social welfare programs such as social security and Medicare.

The main and classical functions of actuaries are to compute premiums for insurance and reserves. Reserves are similar to liabilities and indicate how much should be set aside now to provide for future payouts. If you inspect the balance sheet of an insurance company, you will find that the liability side consists mainly of reserves.

In some countries, becoming a fully certified actuary requires passing a rigorous series of exams, which takes several years, much of it after college and while working. For instance, in the U.S. the exams are given by the Society of Actuaries and the Casualty Actuarial Society. These align with the two major branches of actuarial work. The first deals with life matters such as life insurance, annuities, pensions, disability and medical insurance. The second, which in some countries is called general insurance, deals with property and casualty (or liability) matters such as autos, homeowners, commercial property insurance, workers compensation, title insurance, medical malpractice insurance, products liability insurance, directors and officers liability insurance, and other types of liability insurance.

Usually an actuary's job will involve quantifying how much a sum of money or financial liability will be worth at different points in the future. Since this is not a deterministic process, stochastic models are used to determine a distribution and the parameters of the distribution. This work may relate to determining the cost of a financial liability that has already occurred, or development or re-pricing of a new product.

Recently the scope of the actuarial field has widened to include investment advice, and even asset management.

Actuaries will typically be employed in insurance companies, consulting firms (i.e. firms that sell actuarial advice and analysis to other companies), or government departments, such as the Government Actuary's Department in the UK. Many belong to one or more professional bodies, which include:

  • the Casualty Actuarial Society, Society of Actuaries and the American Academy of Actuaries in the US;
  • the Institute of Actuaries in England and Wales; the Faculty of Actuaries in Scotland;
  • the Institute of Actuaries of Australia in Australia; the Canadian Institute of Actuaries;
  • the Deutsche Aktuarvereinigung e.V. in Germany;
  • the Actuarieel Genootschap in The Netherlands;
  • the Royal Association of Belgian Actuaries in Belgium;
  • the Danish Actuarial Society; the Society of Actuaries in Ireland in Ireland;
  • the Hungarian Actuarial Society in Hungary;
  • the International Actuarial Association;
  • the International Association of Consulting Actuaries;
  • the Groupe Consultatif of the European Union.

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