What is an Actuary?
The future is uncertain. Some of the events that can happen are undesirable. "Risk" is the possibility that an undesirable event will occur. Actuaries are experts in:
• Evaluating the likelihood of future events.
• Designing creative ways to reduce the likelihood of undesirable events.
• Decreasing the impact of undesirable events that do occur.
The impact of undesirable events can be both emotional and financial. Reducing the likelihood of these events helps relieve emotional pain. But some events, such as death, cannot be totally avoided. So, reducing their financial impact is very important. Actuaries are the leading professionals in finding ways to manage risk. It takes a combination of strong analytical skills, business knowledge and understanding of human behavior to design and manage programs that control risk.Actuaries love what they do. Their work is intellectually challenging and they are very well-paid. Actuaries are key players in the management team of the companies that employ them. In a fast-changing world, with new risks and the need for ever-more creative ways to tackle them, there are constant opportunities for personal and professional growth in an actuarial career, and the pleasure of life-long learning. Most actuaries work in a pleasant environment, alongside other professionals, and enjoy the respect of their peers. This is why the actuarial profession has consistently been rated as one of the top five jobs in the United States according to Jobs Rated Almanac.
Actuaries are the analytical backbone of our society's financial security programs. They are the brains behind the financial safeguards we have implemented in our personal lives, so we can go about our daily lives without worrying too much about what the future may hold for us. These are the safeguards that protect us from life's catastrophes. The insight into risk that actuaries have also helps to ensure that our savings are working hard for us, so that everything we love and cherish can grow and flourish. The work of actuaries benefits all of us.
What is risk and how do actuaries manage risk?
Explaining what an actuary does would not be complete without also explaining risk itself.Risk comes in many forms. Every person and organization faces risk. As experts in measuring and managing risk, actuaries fill a significant need in our society. Their contribution to society's psychological, physical and economic well-being is immense. If the risk management programs actuaries develop didn't exist, our economy would not be able to grow as it does. Consider the following:
1. Would as many people be willing to own a home if fire insurance did not exist?
2. Would a company build a factory that could be destroyed in an earthquake if it were not protected by insurance?
3. Would people spend money today and still be confident about their future if there were no retirement programs or social security?
4. Would the cars people drive be safe if the parts were not rigorously tested to last for many years using mathematical techniques actuaries routinely use?
5. Would parents enjoy risky and adventurous recreational activities such as rock climbing or skiing if their children faced financial disaster in the event of an accident?
6. Would the banks (and the money deposited in them) be safe if their assets and liabilities were not carefully managed to control financial risk?
7. Would the returns on our investments be high if financial institutions such as mutual funds, banks, and insurance companies did not use sophisticated techniques to improve returns without increasing risk too much?
There are many ways to manage risk. While there are some well-established techniques, both academics and practicing actuaries, are constantly inventing new ways to maximize financial results for the participants in our economy, without exposing them to excessive risk. Some popular techniques include:
• Offsetting one risk with another. Under certain circumstances, two harmful events might possess the characteristic that when the likelihood of one goes up, the likelihood of the other goes down. Thus, if we know that when coffee prices go up, soda prices go down, we might want to invest in both coffee and soda stocks, to manage our risk.
• Risk is a matter of perspective. What might be harmful to one party, might be good for another. For example, when the value of the dollar goes down against the French Franc, that might be bad for an American business, but favorable for a French business. By trading off the consequences of an undesirable event with another party who is affected favorably, both parties are made better off.
• Focus on catastrophic risks. Mathematical theory shows that the greatest relief from risk (and consequently, the greatest increase in peace of mind) comes from eliminating the consequences of events that are very unlikely, but result in very big losses. Thus, families should think about what might happen if the breadwinner dies, their house burns down, or they lose all of their savings. They should then implement solutions that reduce the likelihood of these events, as well as manage their financial impact. This might involve purchasing a life insurance policy or investing the savings in many different stocks, to reduce the exposure to any one company's fortunes. Generally, a few simple measures taken to address catastrophic risks have a great impact on our well-being.
• Diversify, diversify, diversify. It is better to take on many small risks than face one big risk. Many small risks generally average out, to give an outcome that is not too extreme in one direction or another. Results become more predictable. Thus, diversification is an important tool in managing risk.
Where do actuaries manage risk?
At this time, the majority of actuaries work in careers that are associated with the insurance industry, though growing numbers work in other fields. They are heavily involved in insurance because that is society's most powerful answer for managing risk. We reduce our risk of financial loss by transferring it to an insurance company that accepts the risk for a price (which is the insurance premium). Actuaries play a key role in designing insurance plans by determining the premium, monitoring the profitability of insurance companies, and recommending corrective action when appropriate. Actuaries working in insurance companies also ensure that insurance companies have set aside enough funds to pay claims and provide advice on how to invest the insurance companys assets.Actuaries work in all sectors of the economy, though they are more heavily represented in the financial services sector, including insurance companies, commercial banks, investment banks, and retirement funds. They are employed by corporations as well as the state and federal government. Many work for consulting firms. Some are self-employed, enjoying financially rewarding careers that also come with the great flexibility of being one's own boss.