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How much do actuaries make?

by | May 7, 2017 | Getting Started

If you’re considering becoming an actuary, you’re probably wondering how much you can expect to earn. After all, all those exams are going to take a lot of time to study for and you should be compensated for that!

So, how much does an actuary make?

An actuary that is just starting out in the field with 2 actuarial exams passed can expect to make between $46,000 and $71,000. Once the actuary has passed all 10 exams and gained 6-7 years of experience then $125,000 to $190,000 would be reasonable. With 20+ years of experience, some actuaries reach a salary of $500,000 or more.

But these are quite wide ranges! So let’s dig into the details and talk about 8 aspects that causes such large variances, and how you may be able to increase your salary quicker too.

Exam Passing Speed

Passing actuarial exams is a great way to increase your salary quickly. This is because most actuarial employers offer automatic salary increases just for passing an exam.

For early exams, like Exam P and FM, the salary increase may be somewhere between $1,500 and $3,000. As you pass exams that are more difficult (like the fellowship exams), salary increases of $5,000 – $7,000 are common. It can be very motivating!

Also, with more exams passed, you can generally expect to have a higher starting salary. This isn’t always the case as too many exams passed without any work experience can deter some employers from hiring you.

The Company

The company that you’re working for also has an impact on your salary. As is true with companies in every market, some pay better salaries than others.

A company that wants to encourage actuaries to stay with them long term would likely pay a higher salary and provide more benefits than a company that isn’t concerned with this. In the end, having employees that stay for many years will reduce the amount of training needed, ultimately lowering costs.

Some companies may also use higher salaries as a way to attract the best candidates. Having an actuarial team filled with very knowledgeable and competent employees is a big benefit for the employer. The employer would have to be willing to pay their actuaries higher salaries than they could get elsewhere.

Connections

Networking is known to be one of the best ways to get a job in any market, not just in the actuarial field. With more actuarial connections, it’s possible that someone may be able to enter into the field earlier than someone without any connections.

Any time spent in a related position before becoming an actuary is time NOT learning specifics of the actuarial field. That doesn’t mean that it’s not a good decision, it just means that you’re losing years of actuarial experience, ultimately affecting your salary when you do get an actuarial job.

Furthermore, someone with lots of actuarial connections may have more opportunities open to them, and thus can choose to work for the company that offers them the highest salary (if that’s what they’re looking for).

Geographical Location

Location can play a big role in salary. It comes down to two primary factors.

Cost of Living

In a city with a high cost of living, an insurance company that wants to attract quality actuaries is going to have to pay more than they would have to in a city with a lower cost of living. Otherwise, they’d have to settle for mediocre level actuaries or a very high turnover rate (meaning the actuarial quit quickly after finding a better job).

Market Saturation

Some locations are more saturated than others. An insurance company will have to analyse the supply and demand for actuaries in it’s area. If there are lots of actuaries but very few jobs, salaries can be set lower than if it’s the other way around.

Position

Actuaries can go in many different directions with their career. You may have heard that some actuaries eventually become the CEO or CFO of entire companies.

Of course, reaching that level of expertise and experience takes many years and a lot of dedication to your career. It also involves far more responsibility.

Other actuaries decide that they’re comfortable staying at a lower level position.

Neither is right or wrong, but the career decisions that an actuary makes end up having a big impact on salary. Someone that decides to work their way up to a CEO or CFO position will be the one that reaches that $500,000 per year mark that I suggested in the introduction to this post.

Switching Companies

An actuary that moves company to company every 3 to 5 years is likely to have a higher salary than someone that just stays at the same company throughout their entire career.

This is because there is typically a salary increase that comes along with each move. If an employer really wants to hire a new actuary, one of the best ways to encourage the actuary to make the switch is to pay them more than they’re getting at their current job.

Switching companies often has it’s pros and cons though. The actuary could be burning bridges along the way, or may end up moving from a job they loved to a job they ended up hating.

Years of Experience

This is probably an obvious one, but salary tends to increase as an actuary gains more and more experience and broadens their area of expertise.

An actuary can be positioned and specialized in many different areas of a company. For example, there’s group insurance, individual insurance, savings and retirement, and in each of those there will be a valuation area and a pricing area. Actuaries sometimes work in investments, or human resources too.

Many insurance companies that hire lots of actuaries have a “actuarial program” that allows actuaries to rotate (or move) from one position to another every 2-3 years. This gives each actuary exposure to different areas of the company and ultimately allows them to broaden their knowledge and experience.

This type of program really increases each actuaries value to the company and would result in a higher salary.

Technical Skills

You probably already know that having excellent technical capabilities is an quality that actuarial employers look for. So, it’s no wonder that employers are willing to pay a higher salary to employees with these skills.

In the actuarial field there are some tools and modeling software that are used quite often. An example of this is GGY AXIS. It is very specialized and can only really be learned on-the-job. If one is able to gain knowledge in these types of software early on in their career, they’ll be extremely valuable members of almost any actuarial team.

Field of Work

Although actuaries in all fields tend to use the same ideas, concepts, and technical skills, there is actually quite a lot of variance in salary from one industry to the next.

By looking at the DW Actuarial Salary Survey, you can fairly quickly see that Property and Casualty actuaries tend to make the highest salaries assuming all else stays the same.

P&C actuaries primarily work for companies that offer house insurance, renters insurance, auto insurance, business insurance, or professional liability insurance (among others). Basically they deal with anything that is unrelated to human health and vitality.

The reason for the higher pay for P&C actuaries is unknown. It could be that P&C actuaries are in higher demand, that they’re better candidates that justify higher pay, or maybe many P&C insurance companies are just in areas with a higher cost of living.

Likewise, the salary survey also shows that pension actuaries are on the lower end of the spectrum.

These actuaries would work with large employers to figure out the logistics of an employee pension plan. They’d work to determine how much the company needs to invest into the pension fund and how the pension payments would work upon retirement.

Other Non-Salary Compensation

When you first look at the salary amounts listed at the beginning of this post, it’s important to remember that this isn’t the entire compensation that an actuary will get.

They’ll also likely get contributions to a pension plan, life insurance, health and dental insurance, disability insurance, and paid vacation time. These are things that most full-time employees would get in an insurance company.

On top of that, actuaries typically get paid study time (although it’s not near enough to fully study for an exam), all study materials paid for, and exam fees paid for.

Conclusion

There are many different factors that go into an actuarial salary, so it’s difficult to say how much you can expect to make if you become one. But, as you can see, there are ways that you can increase your salary pretty easily throughout your career if that’s important to you.

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