The first major milestone in becoming an actuary is reaching ASA or ACAS. ASA stands for Associate of the Society of Actuaries and ACAS stands for Associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society.
So, how long does it take to reach ASA or ACAS?
There are 7 actuarial exams to pass, several online courses to complete, VEE credits to get and a one-day course to attend in order to become an ASA or ACAS. For most people it will take about 4 – 5 years to achieve all these tasks, but doing it quicker is possible.
Now, let’s talk a bit more about the differences and look at a game-plan to help you get there as soon as possible.
ASA vs ACAS
Before we talk about how long it’ll take to reach this milestone, it’s important that you understand the difference.
Like I said above, an ASA is an Associate of the Society of Actuaries (SOA). The SOA governs the exams process and other actuarial regulations for actuaries that work primarily with health insurance and life insurance products.
An ACAS is an Associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS). The CAS governs the same types of things, such as exams, for actuaries that work in property and casualty insurance. This could be car insurance, liability insurance, or rental insurance, for example.
The primary difference between an ASA and an ACAS is the actuarial society in which they’ve obtained their associateship credential. There are different exams to pass depending on the society that is pursued. Fortunately, the first 2 exams are the same for both societies.
What can an ASA or ACAS do?
In both Canada and the U.S. reaching ASA or ACAS is major milestone in anyone’s actuarial career. But, it holds more weight in the U.S. than in Canada.
That’s because in the U.S. an Associateship credential will allow you to sign off on actuarial reports and statements. In Canada, you have to have a Fellowship credential in order to do this.
However, even in the U.S., it’s beneficial to continue on to receive a Fellowship credential (FSA or FCAS). This will allow for more career opportunities, a higher salary, and a much better understanding of insurance concepts.
When to decide on ASA or ACAS
Since the first 2 actuarial exams (Exam P and FM) are offered jointly by both the SOA and CAS, you don’t need to decide on which path you’re going to take until your third exam.
Typically by the time someone reaches this stage in their career they’ve been hired in a full-time position. So, if the company that has hired them is in the property and casualty (P&C) insurance industry then pursuing the ACAS credential makes the most sense.
Likewise, if the company that hired them is a life or health insurance company, then it would be logical to purse the ASA credential.
You can’t apply to become a member of either society until you’ve met all the Associateship requirements.
Comparison of ASA and ACAS Requirements
Each society has slightly different requirements that need to be met in order to achieve associateship. Here I’ll compare them.
There are 7 actuarial exams that need to be passed (including take-home Assessment ATPA). The first two (Exam P and FM) are the same for both societies.
The next 4 are different. Currently, The ASA designation requires Exam STAM, LTAM, SRM and PA. Over 2022 and 2023, the requirements are changing. The new ASA requirements will be Exam FAM, SRM, and PA, plus either Exam ALTAM or ASTAM.
The ACAS designation requires MAS-I, MAS-II, Exam 5, and Exam 6.
Studying for about 4 – 6 months for most of these exams would be reasonable. It’s common to fail a few along the way and then rewrite them, so that needs to be taken into consideration too.
Each society has its own set of courses that need to be passed. These tend to be fairly easy but just require you to put in time and effort into completing them.
The SOA requires associateship candidates to pass 8 Fundamentals of Actuarial Practice (FAP) modules. You can find out more details about them here, but the topics covered in each module are below.
Module 1: Introduction/Role of the Professional Actuary
Module 2: Core External Forces
Module 3: Risk in Actuarial Problems
Module 4: Actuarial Solutions
Module 5: Design and Pricing of an Actuarial Solution
Module 6: Model Selection and Solution Design
Module 7: Selection of Initial Assumptions
Module 8: Monitoring Results
It’s reasonable to take about a month to complete each module, especially if you’re working at the same time. But this is an area where you can speed up progress if you’d like to.
Grading is done through online assignments and assessments.
CAS currently only requires 2 online courses, simply called Online Course 1 and Online Course 2. However, a third online course will be introduced in Fall 2022. You can find out more about the current courses here and the upcoming changes here, but the topics covered are as follows:
Online Course 1: Risk Management and Insurance Operations
Online Course 2: Insurance Accounting, Coverage Analysis, Insurance Law, and Insurance Regulation
Online Course 3: Data Concepts
In order to pass these courses there is a 2 hour exam that typically takes about 60 hours or so to study for. If you have experience working in the industry before taking these exams then you’ll find them quite easy to pass.
Validation by Educational Experience credits, or the VEE credits, are required by both societies. CAS only requires 2 (Accounting and Finance, and Economics), whereas the SOA requires one more (Mathematical Statistics).
Typically these credits are obtained by getting good enough grades in university courses, but there is the option to take online courses offered by third parties (not CAS or SOA) in order to obtain the credit.
These are another requirement that aren’t very hard to obtain but just take time to do. About a month to get each is reasonable (if you didn’t obtain them through grades).
If you do need to take courses for these then I’d advise doing it once you already have an actuarial position. Having them won’t help in getting a job so passing exams should be a higher priority.
This is a one-day in-person course on professionalism that you need to attend. It’s very easy to get the credit – you basically just have to show up on time and participate in the group events.
It’s required by both societies.
4 Year Game-Plan for Reaching ASA or ACAS
Like I said above, for most people it will take about 4 years to complete all the requirements for Associateship. This doesn’t include time put towards getting a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree is highly desired by employers but is not actually a requirement to obtain ASA or ACAS.
Your first task should be to pass Exam P or FM. You can go here for help on deciding which one to write first.
Once you’ve passed one, you should start looking for an actuarial job or internship. If you’re not already working in an related field, then you should apply for those types of jobs too. The closer you can get to insurance/actuarial work, the better!
Keep in mind that at this stage, you still aren’t going to be a very competitive candidate for actuarial positions but there is no harm in trying to find one.
At the same time as you’re looking for a job or internship, you should continue to try to pass more exams. The second exam should be Exam P or FM, whichever you didn’t write first.
Improving your technical skills (Excel, VBA, or other programming languages) will help make you a better actuarial candidate. Those types of skills should be learned throughout this entire process. The more you can learn, the more competitive you’ll be in the marketplace.
Passing all 3 exams will probably take about 1.5 years, give or take 6 months. Technical skills can be learned in your spare time, or you could dedicate a month to it. Ideally, you’ll have on-the-job experience using your skills though.
Get an Actuarial Job
By the time you’ve passed 2 exams, finding a job should be your highest priority if you haven’t already done so. Otherwise, you won’t know which society’s exams to pursue.
If you have actuarial internship experience, it makes it much easier to find a full-time job. But, if you don’t have internship experience, don’t worry! You can get similar experience in a stepping-stone position. You can find out more about that here.
The time spent “waiting” to get a job can significantly slow down the speed at which you reach associateship because you probably won’t want to progress further until you find one.
Check out the Actuary Accelerator Community for step-by-step guidance on how to get your first actuarial job.
Once you get your job, then the next steps are fairly straight forward.
Spend about 2 years (give or take 6 months) passing the other 4 actuarial exams required by the society that you’ve decided to pursue.
Then, once those are done, work on passing the VEE credits, online courses, and attend the one-day professionalism seminar. These can all be done simultaneously, so 6 – 12 months is reasonable.
Once all these steps have been completed, you’ll be able to apply for associateship with the SOA or CAS.
If you’re in Canada, you need to obtain ASA or ACAS and have some work experience before you can apply to be an Associate of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries (ACIA). Your ASA or ACAS credential will still be recognized in Canada but most people get the ACIA credential as well.
Here are some other questions you may be wondering about.
How long does it take to get from ASA to FSA? You should plan for about 3 years to go from ASA to FSA. You need to pass 3 actuarial exams within this time and complete 3 online courses, a project called DMAC, and attend a conference called PEC.
When should I start the SOA FAP modules? Start these once you’ve completed at least 5 actuarial exams and have already found an actuarial job. You should prioritize exams but these can be worked on between exams or in your spare time.
What’s the difference between an ASA and an FSA? The difference between an ASA and an FSA is that the FSA has completed all the additional requirements (including 3 additional exams) to achieve a Fellowship designation. ASA is a stepping stone on the path to become an FSA.