Fall 2021

Solving the world’s problems one math equation at a time

Being an actuary is a challenging and rewarding career, consistently ranked one of the top three in North America. 

Actuaries use math, statistics, data analytics, and business skills to help ensure the financial security of all Canadians, designing solutions for risks that cannot be borne by individuals. 

Traditionally, actuaries have worked in areas such as life and health insurance, property and casualty insurance, retirement and pensions, and finance and investments, but have been expanding into areas such as artificial intelligence, big data, health care, and climate change. Actuaries qualified in Canada hold either the prestigious Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries (FCIA) or Associate of the CIA (ACIA) designation. 

The ACIA and FCIA designations are recognized globally and enable actuaries to work in Canada, and around the world on programs that help improve the lives of others. “The actuarial career is great for anyone who enjoys analytical problem solving and developing creative business solutions,” says Chris Fievoli, FCIA and the CIA’s Staff Actuary. “It is a top profession, and for good reason: it provides a variety of interesting work, great job security, and competitive compensation.”

What it takes to do the job

As risk management experts and problem solvers, it isn’t just a gift for math that makes an actuary. The actuarial profession has room for lots of diverse talents and backgrounds. Christine Bisson-Roberge, ACIA, elaborates: “Don’t get me wrong, I like math. But most of all, I’m a curious person who needs to keep on learning. I wanted to find a career that would challenge me intellectually and felt this was it – and boy, was I right.”

While actuarial science does require a certain level of skill in mathematics, Narissa Dedhar, ACIA, concurs, affirming that to succeed as an actuary, you must be willing to learn fast and on your feet.

For self-proclaimed numbers geek Damien Lapointe Nguyen, FCIA, the realization that being an actuary required more than just a penchant for numbers came quickly. “The more I progressed, the more I recognized that being an actuary is not only about good analytical skills, but problem-solving and teamwork,” says Nguyen.

Knowing how to communicate effectively is also key. “As someone who has struggled with social anxiety, this one was difficult to learn,” says Dedhar, “but the more I work at it, the better the results I see.”

Once a “nice to have” attribute, knowing how to communicate for workplace success is now one of today’s top skills. As industries collide and actuaries are required to engage with professionals from different walks of life, having strong communication skills is a prerequisite.

Actuaries are also expected to embrace a high standard of professional conduct, often requiring a combination of competency, integrity, objectivity, and a commitment to serving the public. These traits are fundamental and necessary elements to support the application of sound actuarial judgment, regardless of practice area, type of employment, or type of employer.

“Professionalism and public interest are broad concepts, and it can take time to fully grasp them,” explains Fievoli. “For me, observing the importance of professionalism is a valuable reminder that the work of the actuarial profession fills a key social need. As actuaries, it’s something we need to always keep in mind.”

How do I become an actuary?

To become an actuary, you need to do the math. Literally. The typical path to becoming an actuary starts with choosing math in high school and getting your algebra and calculus credits. The CIA is rolling out programs to introduce the profession to youth across Canada to ensure all students can see themselves as an actuary, no matter their background. 

The next step is earning your degree. Many universities offer degrees in actuarial science, but undergraduate degrees in math, statistics, business, and finance, or economics are all excellent preparation for an actuarial career. Schools that offer co-op programs and internship opportunities can help you gain work experience.

Your last step is getting qualified as an actuary through a series of actuarial exams and other requirements. In Canada, the actuarial profession is governed by the Canadian Institute of Actuaries.  

But like anything, the journey towards becoming an actuary takes hard work and commitment. 

On this point, Dedhar expands: “I struggled a few times while becoming an actuary, most notably a few different exam failures, and I started to question whether it was the right path for me.” Today, as an ACIA she assures it was not only the right decision but also the best one. “Where I am now, I can say that this was the path for me, and while there were obstacles, it was worth it. Those failures were a learning experience and part of the journey that led me to a career that I love.”

The challenges of an actuarial career can be multiple, and the problems to solve complex, but for actuaries like Nguyen, Dedhar, and Bisson-Roberge, it’s also the most exciting aspect. 

“For me, the best part of my job is never being bored because there’s always something new coming my way,” says Bisson-Roberge. “Actuaries must keep up with the fast-changing world and be aware of what awaits the future – what an honour to be part of a profession that bears such great responsibility!”

By: Chris Fievoli, FCIA
Staff actuary, Communications and Public Affairs
Canadian Institute of Actuaries