October 2014

Expanding Horizons for New Entrants to the Actuarial Field

By Jim Trimble

I just finished my fifth year at the University of Connecticut, after working over 30 years in industry. This change has been terrific for me. I have really enjoyed sharing my experiences with the future of our profession, and I have been very impressed with the quality of the students, their enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge. Our future is in great hands!

In the five years I have been at UConn our program has about doubled in size, which I believe is comparable to the growth rate experienced by many other actuarial programs. The SOA and CAS have done a good job of marketing our profession and attracting high quality students to our field. Various surveys ranking actuary as the top job, or at least one of the top jobs, have certainly helped our profession attract these students as well. However, from my observations, demand for new actuarial graduates has not kept up with this supply.

I do believe that the vast majority of students who perform well in class, pass one or two actuarial exams while in college, and work as an intern between their junior and senior years do receive job offers, and, in fact, very often multiple job offers. However, it is instructive to think about whom that excludes. Many companies hire their summer interns in the fall, meaning the fifth semester of an undergraduate student’s college career. This works fine if he/she joined the actuarial program as a freshman, and had an opportunity to take actuarial exams before the end of his/her sophomore year.

What are the actuarial job prospects for those students who don’t discover the actuarial career until later in college? Perhaps they entered college as an “undecided” major, and joined the actuarial program in their junior year, maybe as a transfer student from another college that doesn’t teach actuarial courses. Perhaps they graduated with a math or similar degree, but didn’t learn about our profession until their senior year. Similarly, what are the prospects for a career changer who starts to take exams after graduating from college? What are their actuarial job prospects, after they pass, say, two actuarial exams?

The students described above, of course, will not have internship experience when they graduate. As a result, unfortunately, the actuarial job prospects for even very high caliber students in these categories are surprisingly low, even with actuarial exams passed. Many companies are able to fill their employment needs with a supply of graduates with exams passed and internship experience, so candidates without both are easily overlooked, having difficulty getting interviews, much less jobs. Also, I remember years ago when companies would sponsor foreign students who needed visas. Today it seems many companies are unwilling to sponsor foreign students, since they can fill their hiring needs without the added expense and “administrative hassle.”

My impressions seem to be borne out by a recent survey that the Cultivate Opportunities Team of the SOA Board recently sent to “promising candidates.” Among other things, these are candidates who passed at least two actuarial exams, passed at least half of the exams they sat for, and passed the most recent actuarial exam they took, within the last five years. We wanted to find out why these candidates, who have demonstrated the ability to pass the exams are leaving our profession. The most common answer, given by slightly over half the respondents, was “Couldn’t find employment in the actuarial field.” I suspect many of these candidates fall into one of categories of students I described in the preceding paragraphs.

That leads me to ask: what can be done to expand the horizons of the actuarial profession for these new entrants? In other words, what can we do to get non-traditional employers to value the skills and knowledge these candidates have attained? Ideally, it would be great if we could find such employers who are willing to offer these candidates jobs and exam support, so that they could continue to pursue the actuarial credentials. What other employers are likely to do this? Do you have any ideas or experience you can share in this regard? I would love to get a good discussion going on the E&R section LinkedIn group for an exchange of ideas on this important issue. If we do nothing I see a future where the only graduates hired into our profession are those that “knew” they wanted to be an actuary when they entered college. Obviously, these are often great candidates. However, as the father of three successful adult children who are all in professions different from what they thought they would be doing when they entered college, I certainly hope it doesn’t get to that!

Disclaimer: The views above are those of the author, and may or may not reflect the views of his employer or the views of other members of the SOA Board of Directors.

Jim Trimble, FSA, CERA, MAAA, is director of the actuarial science program at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Conn. He can be reached at James.Trimble@uconn.edu.