Moonp1g
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Hi everyone,

I've followed threads on this forum on and off for a few years and I've found the odd nugget of wisdom that has helped me along my chosen career path.

I thought it may be a good idea to give something back to those who are just starting out. If you have any questions relating to the actuarial industry, I'm happy to try to answer them.


As a bit of background, I graduated from a red brick university 6 years ago and was accepted onto a graduate scheme working for a large life insurer just outside of London. I qualified within 3 years and worked my way into management before venturing off to Asia (partly for work reasons, partly personal).

Let me know if there's anything I can help with.
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Kevin De Bruyne
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(Original post by Moonp1g)
Hi everyone,

I've followed threads on this forum on and off for a few years and I've found the odd nugget of wisdom that has helped me along my chosen career path.

I thought it may be a good idea to give something back to those who are just starting out. If you have any questions relating to the actuarial industry, I'm happy to try to answer them.


As a bit of background, I graduated from a red brick university 6 years ago and was accepted onto a graduate scheme working for a large life insurer just outside of London. I qualified within 3 years and worked my way into management before venturing off to Asia (partly for work reasons, partly personal).

Let me know if there's anything I can help with.
What were interviews/etc like?

What kind of skills would you suggest developing for anyone else who wants to be an actuary?

How difficult were all of the exams?
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DetectivePeralta
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What degree did you do? And did you gain exemptions in your degree? How long did you usually work in a week for your first few years while doing exams? How long do you work now?

Thank you for taking your time out to answer questions!
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Moonp1g
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(Original post by SeanFM)
What were interviews/etc like?

What kind of skills would you suggest developing for anyone else who wants to be an actuary?

How difficult were all of the exams?
If you're applying for a place on one of the graduate schemes, there will be several steps to prepare for.

1) Firstly, you'll likely be invited to take some online tests, usually testing your numeracy skills or logic. There are a whole host of practice tests that you can take online for free, so I would recommend practicing some of these.

2) Usually, you'll then be invited for a telephone interview. These interviews are often outsourced by the company you're applying to, to a third party company. What they're looking for here is an enthusiasm for the role, some basic knowledge about the company and the products that it sells, regions that it operates in etc. They are also likely to ask you a couple of questions about your CV, so make sure that you're comfortable elaborating on any point that you've written on your CV.

3) If successful, the largest companies will typically invite you to attend a graduate assessment day. I can't comment too much on the practice in smaller companies, as I don't have experience there. The graduate assessment day may consist of a presentation, group assessment and interview with the hiring manager and perhaps with HR too. For the presentation, make sure to practice with a friend beforehand and try to be clear and articulate. Try to structure your presentation with a clear agenda, introduction and concluding statements. For the group assessment, the key is to avoid being too dominant - try not to shout over others but try to add at least 3-4 constructive points to the discussion. Don't just volunteer to be the note taker!

For the interviews, the questions will often be a mix of competency based questions (e.g. name a time when the goals of a project were changed and how you responded to that) and questions relating both to your CV and knowledge and enthusiasm for the company and role. Questions won't typically be too technical, as they're not expecting you to have any great in-depth actuarial knowledge at this point. Exceptions may be if you've had an internship, where they may dig into more detail on what you did and if you understand why you were doing these tasks.

Actuaries can have a wide range of skills. I've met some who are very technical, highly numerate and good at programming. Programs common to life companies will include Microsoft Word and Excel (knowledge of VBA is a big plus in many companies). Increasingly, actuaries are expected to have good communication and presentation skills.

In terms of the exams, they are due to undergo a radical overhaul within the next 18 months or so. In their current format, many struggle with subjects CT4 and CT8, especially if they don't have a strong mathematical background. You can find out more about the subject content of each exam from the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries website. In terms of the later subjects, you get to specialise on a particular area (usually the same as the area in which you're currently working). Many struggle with the communications exam CA3. As with all exams, the key is to practice plenty of past papers. A lot of students sometimes struggle to balance work with study and a social life, so this may take some adjusting to.

Hope that helps!
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Moonp1g
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(Original post by Trapz99)
What degree did you do? And did you gain exemptions in your degree? How long did you usually work in a week for your first few years while doing exams? How long do you work now?

Thank you for taking your time out to answer questions!
Hi Trapz99,

I studied Mathematics (the 4-year MMath course). I didn't have any exemptions - if I had known I'd go down the actuarial route, I may have spent a little more time studying Stats in my 1st year and less time partying!

If you speak to people within the industry, you'll sometimes hear that employers prefer candidates with fewer exemptions. This does vary from employer to employer though. Those with lots of exemptions are sometimes hard to take on, as they have the expectation of a higher starting salary, despite often not having much on-the-job experience.

Whilst I was studying for the exams, I used to get a maximum of 45 study days off a year. Most employers will expect you to take one study day off a week, rather than saving them up to use for a big block of study days. This is especially true of consultancies. My old company did allow me to take 1 week off for study before the exam, but this isn't always the case for all employers. Hours don't tend to be too long for students, except for perhaps some very busy periods (for example, when producing year-end reports and financials). I got the impression that my company was perhaps more relaxed than most - I tended to work from 9:00 - 17:30 most days. It's also worth noting that your salary will increase with each exam pass, so there's a real incentive to pass exams quickly.

In the couple of years since I qualified, I've noticed a fairly steady increase in the working hours and of management's expectation. Before I left the UK, I would typically be working until about 18:30pm each day - still not too bad on the whole. I did notice a sharp increase in people's expectations of how much I knew and how much workload I could take on.

All in all, working within the life sector is fairly low stress, pretty decent hours for the pay and there are plenty of different areas that you can get involved in. In my 6 years of work so far, I've worked in valuation, investment reporting, asset-liability management and capital management. Each area is interesting in its own way.
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chazwomaq
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What was your starting salary and current salary?
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Kevin De Bruyne
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(Original post by Moonp1g)
If you're applying for a place on one of the graduate schemes, there will be several steps to prepare for.

1) Firstly, you'll likely be invited to take some online tests, usually testing your numeracy skills or logic. There are a whole host of practice tests that you can take online for free, so I would recommend practicing some of these.

2) Usually, you'll then be invited for a telephone interview. These interviews are often outsourced by the company you're applying to, to a third party company. What they're looking for here is an enthusiasm for the role, some basic knowledge about the company and the products that it sells, regions that it operates in etc. They are also likely to ask you a couple of questions about your CV, so make sure that you're comfortable elaborating on any point that you've written on your CV.

3) If successful, the largest companies will typically invite you to attend a graduate assessment day. I can't comment too much on the practice in smaller companies, as I don't have experience there. The graduate assessment day may consist of a presentation, group assessment and interview with the hiring manager and perhaps with HR too. For the presentation, make sure to practice with a friend beforehand and try to be clear and articulate. Try to structure your presentation with a clear agenda, introduction and concluding statements. For the group assessment, the key is to avoid being too dominant - try not to shout over others but try to add at least 3-4 constructive points to the discussion. Don't just volunteer to be the note taker!

For the interviews, the questions will often be a mix of competency based questions (e.g. name a time when the goals of a project were changed and how you responded to that) and questions relating both to your CV and knowledge and enthusiasm for the company and role. Questions won't typically be too technical, as they're not expecting you to have any great in-depth actuarial knowledge at this point. Exceptions may be if you've had an internship, where they may dig into more detail on what you did and if you understand why you were doing these tasks.

Actuaries can have a wide range of skills. I've met some who are very technical, highly numerate and good at programming. Programs common to life companies will include Microsoft Word and Excel (knowledge of VBA is a big plus in many companies). Increasingly, actuaries are expected to have good communication and presentation skills.

In terms of the exams, they are due to undergo a radical overhaul within the next 18 months or so. In their current format, many struggle with subjects CT4 and CT8, especially if they don't have a strong mathematical background. You can find out more about the subject content of each exam from the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries website. In terms of the later subjects, you get to specialise on a particular area (usually the same as the area in which you're currently working). Many struggle with the communications exam CA3. As with all exams, the key is to practice plenty of past papers. A lot of students sometimes struggle to balance work with study and a social life, so this may take some adjusting to.

Hope that helps!
Thank you very much, that was very, very insightful.
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DetectivePeralta
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(Original post by Moonp1g)
Hi Trapz99,

I studied Mathematics (the 4-year MMath course). I didn't have any exemptions - if I had known I'd go down the actuarial route, I may have spent a little more time studying Stats in my 1st year and less time partying!

If you speak to people within the industry, you'll sometimes hear that employers prefer candidates with fewer exemptions. This does vary from employer to employer though. Those with lots of exemptions are sometimes hard to take on, as they have the expectation of a higher starting salary, despite often not having much on-the-job experience.

Whilst I was studying for the exams, I used to get a maximum of 45 study days off a year. Most employers will expect you to take one study day off a week, rather than saving them up to use for a big block of study days. This is especially true of consultancies. My old company did allow me to take 1 week off for study before the exam, but this isn't always the case for all employers. Hours don't tend to be too long for students, except for perhaps some very busy periods (for example, when producing year-end reports and financials). I got the impression that my company was perhaps more relaxed than most - I tended to work from 9:00 - 17:30 most days. It's also worth noting that your salary will increase with each exam pass, so there's a real incentive to pass exams quickly.

In the couple of years since I qualified, I've noticed a fairly steady increase in the working hours and of management's expectation. Before I left the UK, I would typically be working until about 18:30pm each day - still not too bad on the whole. I did notice a sharp increase in people's expectations of how much I knew and how much workload I could take on.

All in all, working within the life sector is fairly low stress, pretty decent hours for the pay and there are plenty of different areas that you can get involved in. In my 6 years of work so far, I've worked in valuation, investment reporting, asset-liability management and capital management. Each area is interesting in its own way.
Thank you for the detailed, informative response. It does seem like a very interesting job from what you said.
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Moonp1g
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(Original post by chazwomaq)
What was your starting salary and current salary?
I started on £29k from memory. I don't think the starting salary has risen all that much (if at all) since I started out. It'll likely be lower than that if you're outside of London though.

Newly qualfied salary varies a lot by industry. I went up to a little over £70k after qualifying, but you'll likely get less than that in some companies (maybe as low as £55k) and more in others (particularly generial insurance or reinsurance areas).

Am on quite a lot more now (c60-70% extra), but in fairness I now live in a city with a much higher cost of living, so it's probably not a fair comparison.

The higher up you go, the greater the variation in salary levels, so I can't really comment on the salary levels for senior management positions.

I wouldn't recommend putting too much focus on future salary level - I think it's much more important to make sure that the industry is a good fit for you. If you get the chance to do an internship, it's a great way to get a little glimpse at what the role might involve.

Happy to give you some idea about what different teams and areas might do, if you're interested.
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Moonp1g
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(Original post by Trapz99)
Thank you for the detailed, informative response. It does seem like a very interesting job from what you said.
No problem!

Just to temper your expectations - it can be very interesting, but as with any job it can be repetitive in places. This is especially true as a new graduate, where you're likely to be doing more of the number crunching. The more experience you get, the more exposure you'll have with project management, report writing, stakeholder management and presentations. I don't really touch spreadsheets or carry out calculations any more. I prefer it that way, but it may not be for everyone!
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Ladbants
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What's the shortest time people can qualify in without exemptions? Thanks
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Moonp1g
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(Original post by Ladbants)
What's the shortest time people can qualify in without exemptions? Thanks
You'll need 3 years of relevant work experience before you can be considered a Fellow - i.e. a fully qualified actuary. This is irrespective of how quickly you pass all of the exams. Most tend to take 4-6 years on average to get through all of the exams.

There are 15 exams in total. It's not unusual to take 4-5 exams in the first year (they're mostly mathematical in nature). The exam structure is due to change in April 2018 I believe, although I think they're sticking with 15 exams. You can find quite a lot of useful information here:
www.actuaries.org.uk

If you're at the stage of sitting the CT exams (the mathematical ones that people tend to take first), be careful. Once the exam system is re-vamped, some of the CTs will be merged. If you've passed or are exempt from one of them, but not the other (e.g. you've passed CT1 but not CT5), you'll still have to sit the newly combined exam (which combines CT1 and CT5 together). Hope that makes sense!
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Betsyboo
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In your opinion which are the top firms to apply to for summer intern/graduate actuarial jobs?


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l'etranger
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When do you bang depressed junkies, extort money from your boss and start an underground fight club?
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Moonp1g
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(Original post by Betsyboo)
In your opinion which are the top firms to apply to for summer intern/graduate actuarial jobs?


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Hi Betsyboo. I'm not sure that there's an ideal firm to apply for. There are a lot of factors to consider. For example, if you join a smaller firm, you're likely to get exposure to a broader range of areas which could be beneficial in the long run. On the other hand, join a larger firm and they're likely to have some kind of rotation programme in place which lets you rotate to other teams within the firm over time.

I would say that when you're first starting out, finding a company that both offers a decent study package and allows some flexibility in your study schedule is important. The exams are likely to be a big focus in your first couple of years.

It also depends on what kind of industry you're looking to get into - pensions, life, general insurance, investment, health, reinsurance etc. Each of these areas are somewhat distinct and the list of leading firms will differ in each case. I personally have experience within life insurance and investment. For the former, the likes of Legal & General, Aviva and Prudential tend to hire 6-10 graduates a year (or more) depending upon their requirements at the time. Consultancies such as the big 4 tend to cover a broader scope that covers multiple disciplines, so they might also be of interest.

Sorry that I can't give a definitive answer!
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Moonp1g
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(Original post by l'etranger)
When do you bang depressed junkies, extort money from your boss and start an underground fight club?
You've obviously never heard of the first rule of fight club L'etranger.

I think you may also be confusing this with investment banking.
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Andy Lau
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(Original post by Moonp1g)
You've obviously never heard of the first rule of fight club L'etranger.

I think you may also be confusing this with investment banking.
I've just finished Alevels and plan to sit CT1 in September this year. I think I can cope with the maths required. Does it give me advantages if I finish CTs step by step before I graduate? I might do work experience during holidays in uni. And besides, where can I find the best resources for these exams without spending PLENTY of money? 150 just for study materials of one module is way beyond my expectation.

P.s. I did triple maths and accounting so some of the concepts like time value of money etc. shouldn't be too hard for me.
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eimmas
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(Original post by Andy Lau)
I've just finished Alevels and plan to sit CT1 in September this year. I think I can cope with the maths required. Does it give me advantages if I finish CTs step by step before I graduate? I might do work experience during holidays in uni. And besides, where can I find the best resources for these exams without spending PLENTY of money? 150 just for study materials of one module is way beyond my expectation.

P.s. I did triple maths and accounting so some of the concepts like time value of money etc. shouldn't be too hard for me.
Just to comment on you saying you "might do work experience during the holidays" - please, don't just focus all your effort on sitting some CT exams and shunning experience. Experience is way more valuable in getting any job, not just in the competitive world of actuarial recruitment, and can really help you stand out from other candidates. You'll get a lot more out of practical work experience which lets you understand any studying you do in context, than you will out of trying to fly through CT exams.

As for the cost of study materials, that really is just something you're going to have to bear the brunt of if you want to sit any CT exams. You'll also have to pay for student membership of the IFoA if you want to sit anything other than CT1. There's also the cost of entering the exams to factor in.

The resources are purchased from ActEd, who provide all the official material for each module, which clearly contains all the content required for the exams and other materials can be purchased depending on your preferences for type of study. You pay money because they offer a fairly comprehensive package of resources. You could probably scrape by on CT1 and CT2 if you make sure you're aware of everything in the syllabus and manage to locate appropriate learning materials elsewhere, but that's a fairly risky strategy (and, as we all know, actuarial work involves trying to mitigate risks...).

The CT exams do escalate in complexity quite a bit for some modules and, personally, I wouldn't have felt comfortable will the level of mathematics required in some modules with just an A level standard of education.

Given the amount of time that can go into a degree education and the fact that university is also about time spent doing other things than just studying, I think you're being incredibly optimistic to think you'll be able to juggle both a degree course and studying for CT exams simultaneously as well as enjoying any kind of social life/downtime. Honestly, please don't think that just powering through a load of exams is going to be more beneficial than getting other experiences out of university (such as being a course rep or being on an executive committee for a society) and work experience.
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arch0wnz
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(Original post by Moonp1g)
You've obviously never heard of the first rule of fight club L'etranger.

I think you may also be confusing this with investment banking.
Is it possible for someone doing an engineering degree (Chemical) to become an actuary or is there a preference for people who have graduated with a Maths/Stats degree?
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jonjoshelvey21
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(Original post by Moonp1g)
Hi everyone,

I've followed threads on this forum on and off for a few years and I've found the odd nugget of wisdom that has helped me along my chosen career path.

I thought it may be a good idea to give something back to those who are just starting out. If you have any questions relating to the actuarial industry, I'm happy to try to answer them.


As a bit of background, I graduated from a red brick university 6 years ago and was accepted onto a graduate scheme working for a large life insurer just outside of London. I qualified within 3 years and worked my way into management before venturing off to Asia (partly for work reasons, partly personal).

Let me know if there's anything I can help with.
whats the pay like? and how were the exams like how hard and how much did you revise?
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