Is it worth it? An international candidate’s perspective

I received my official ‘pass’ actuarial exam results with a mix of elation and disheartenment.

By then, I was one of the last two students in my batch still pursuing an actuarial career. Though I was proud of my achievement, I couldn’t help but wonder whether committing myself to the long hours of self-study expected in this field was the right decision.

Actually, I’m an (aspiring) actuary

To begin with, actuaries aren’t exactly one of the most known professions here in the Philippines. When my relatives and friends hear about my college course, the usual reactions range from “Does that even exist?”, “Is that like accounting?”, or from those more familiar with the financial industry, “Eww, good luck with all those exams”.

Most study the actuarial science program because they like maths and Google said that actuaries get paid a lot. It might be only until the second or third year that they learn about the Society of Actuaries (SOA) exam path and what an actuary really does. A few stayed optimistic but bowed out after trying to revise for their first exam.

Then came data science, the mythological siren that lured everyone to jump ship with enchanting promises. Good pay. In demand. The dealbreaker? No exams. It was no surprise that the majority shifted focus and started looking for experience through data science internships.

A quick career comparison

In a minor bout of confusion and uncertainty, I did a fair bit of researching and sought input from practicing actuaries and data scientists alike. They were more than eager to share their experiences and passionately touted their respective lines of work.

Actuaries tend to work in the insurance or banking industries, while data scientists come from more diverse sectors. Even so, the two professions end up working together more often than I expected. It is considered a great advantage to have a good measure of background and knowledge in both teams to be able to communicate better.

Although actuaries need considerably fewer programming skills than their data science counterparts, a good actuary is more than just a number-crunching maths whiz. It was exciting how actuarial practitioners incorporated their knowledge of economics, business, finance and law to develop useful models, insights and strategies.

It’s a wide, wild world

The one thing that really caught and sustained my interest in the actuarial field had always been the SOA exams. Though it can be a major turn-off for many, these credentials truly even out the playing field. Similar to an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma, an SOA designation is a globally recognised standard that serves as proof of your skills and competencies.

No matter where you come from, a Fellow here is a Fellow everywhere.

Even if the demand for actuaries has not really picked up yet in your location, keeping a global perspective in mind will reveal and assure that there truly is no shortage of opportunities for actuaries around the world. If you have ever considered working abroad, having a few SOA credentials under your belt would undoubtedly boost your career development.

It’s not fatal

To my fellow candidates, I would like to assure you that starting your actuarial exam journey is not a death sentence to your social and personal life. Consistency is key, and dedicating even just 1-3 hours of your day for quality review would reasonably prepare you in time for your next exam schedule. As students, summer and Christmas breaks are often the perfect time for us to clock in those focused study hours and pass an exam without the stress of balancing it with coursework.

Everyone has their own pace, so just make sure to leave enough time for hobbies, social engagements, and a fun college experience.

Having a genuine interest in the field is a great motivator, but support from family, friends, and like-minded communities are absolutely essential. When PDF files get me thinking about probability distribution functions and my brain simply refuses to absorb yet another formula to memorise, these people would either encourage me to stay focused or force me to take a break when I clearly need it.

Though memes on social media may suggest otherwise, exams really aren’t everything. Although I am still in the early stages of my own actuarial journey, I want to encourage you to keep that curiosity afire. Let us keep abreast of the latest industry trends, develop our technical and soft skills, look for an actuarial internship for professional experience and use of actuarial software, and nurture connections with other members of the actuarial community.

With the explosive popularity of data science, the actuarial path may become the road less travelled, but as the poet Robert Frost said, that made all the difference.

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