CAS vs. SOA. What’s the difference? Which path to choose?
The Casualty Actuarial Society and the Society of Actuaries are American actuarial organizations that standardize and regulate actuaries in the U.S.
SOA vs. CAS: The primary difference is that they each support actuaries in different industries. The CAS provides standards and regulations for actuaries that work in property and casualty (P&C) insurance. The SOA does the same for actuaries that work in life, health, pensions and retirement.
Should you choose CAS or SOA? That’s really a personal preference. Most people decide based on what industry they get their first job in. If your first job is in P&C then it would likely make the most sense to go the CAS route. Otherwise you’ll likely go the SOA route.
So now that you have those short answers, let’s get into the details.
Differences that will impact you
There are, I’m sure, hundreds of differences between how these two actuarial societies regulate the actuarial associates and fellows under them. But, those aren’t going to have much of a personal impact on you.
You will have to follow the rules and regulations of whichever society that you eventually become a part of, but the differences that you’ll probably care most when deciding between the two routes are differences in the exam process, salary, and type of work.
Exam process differences
Each actuarial society has its own set of exams. The CAS exams teach concepts that P&C actuaries will need to know, while the SOA exams teach concepts that life, health, pension and retirement actuaries need to know.
Since CAS is only responsible for P&C actuaries, there is just one ‘track’ of exams. This means that everyone that becomes a Fellow of the CAS (an FCAS) was required to take the same exams.
The SOA, on the other hand, has 6 different tracks that allow the actuary taking the SOA exams to specialize in different areas depending on their interests and/or their position. Each track requires the actuary to take different exams. The different tracks are:
- Corporate Finance and ERM Track
- Quantitative Finance and Investment Track
- Individual Life and Annuities Track
- Retirement Benefits Track
- Group and Health Track
- General Insurance Track
In order to become a Fellow of the SOA (FSA) you only need to complete one of these tracks. You don’t need to decide on your track until after you’ve completed all the preliminary exams and obtained your ASA (Associate of the SOA).
You may be wondering whether it’s harder to become an FSA or an FCAS. It’s something a lot of people wonder!
But truthfully, very few people (if any) have become both an FSA and an FCAS so it’s difficult to say which is harder. Both require one to pass 10 exams, along with some other (usually less difficult) requirements.
By taking a quick look at this actuarial salary survey, it seems that P&C salaries are slightly higher on average. I doubt this has anything to do with CAS itself though. It’s likely just that, for whatever reason, P&C insurance companies pay their actuaries slightly more.
Maybe there’s slightly more demand for P&C actuaries, or maybe many large P&C insurance companies are in cities with a higher cost of living, and therefore higher salaries. It’s hard to say what the difference is caused by.
Nonetheless, I thought it was important to include this here because it is a difference between the CAS path and the SOA path that you may want to consider when you choose (more about that below).
Obviously, one of the biggest differences between the SOA and the CAS is the type of insurance products that you’ll be dealing with.
CAS actuaries will be working with house insurance, vehicle insurance, and insurance for other personal belongings.
SOA actuaries will be dealing primarily with life insurance, health insurance or retirement benefits.
Through your internship experience, you may feel that you enjoy one area of expertise better than another. But that really comes down more to the job itself and the company you worked for.
Your internship jobs could be completely different than your first entry-level job so I wouldn’t necessarily use internship experience as a way to decide between the two options.
But I’ve decided to add this here because it is something that you may want to consider. Maybe you feel that P&C insurance is more interesting to you than life insurance. Or maybe you’d like to get involved with health insurance.
Whatever the reason, the area of insurance that you’d like to specialize in will have an impact on the path that you choose.
When to choose
Fortunately there are 3 exams that will be able to get you exam credits under either the SOA or the CAS path. Those exams are Exam P, FM and IFM.
So that means that you’ll have to choose your path once you decide to write your 4th exam. This is a big decision to make before you’ve even been hired for your first actuarial job (more on that below under ‘how to choose’.
In the past (prior to July 2018) you didn’t need to decide until you were finished all the preliminary exams. Now the choice needs to be made much earlier.
In the U.S., 3 exams is enough to get a job so you’ll probably want to wait until you get your first job before you choose.
In Canada, students have typically passed 4-5 exams before graduating but that may change now that you have to make the SOA vs CAS decision much earlier than you had to in the past.
How to choose
Above I’ve gone into detail about several different things that you may want to consider before choosing to go the SOA or the CAS route. But for most people the decision is made for them by their first job.
What I mean by that is that typically if you get your first job in a P&C insurance company then you’ll naturally write the CAS exams. If you didn’t, your employer would likely assume that you’re going to be leaving the company for a different job fairly soon.
Similarly, if you’re working in a position that would require you to have knowledge of one of the SOA tracks then you’d most likely just start writing those exams.
But, if you don’t have a job and you need to make this decision because you want to write a 4th exam then my best advice would be to consider the things I’ve talked about above. Or, just wait until you get a job if that’s in the near future.
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