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Maths will be a big part of the job so ideally you should be studying for a degree with significant mathematical content – statistics, maths, engineering, science and economics are all ideal subjects.

However, any graduate with strong numerical skills can qualify as an actuary. Good communication skills are also key.

Actuaries often need to explain complex technical information to non-technical audiences, so words are just as important as numbers here. Because your own future will be wide open, you will also be the kind of person who’s ready for anything.

We all encounter risk in some shape or form every day. But for businesses like oil refineries, these risks are bigger than most. For example, when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the energy industry faced damage totalling tens of millions of dollars. By assessing and recommending risk management strategies, actuaries help to make sure organisations are ready for anything – something you’ll need to be too. Because anything can happen.

Most people will know something about the professions of accountants, doctors and lawyers. But tell someone you’re an actuary and more than likely they will look at you blankly – never having heard of an actuary.

If, however, they are aware of the work that actuaries do, they are likely to be impressed; being an actuary carries quite a reputation. This is partly due to the difficult exams, but mostly due to the fact that actuaries are experts in a field that is renowned for its complexity and mathematical prowess.

Statistical heart
Actuaries apply financial and statistical theories to solve real business problems. These business problems typically involve analysing future financial events, especially when the amount of a future payment, or the timing of when it is paid, is uncertain. A lot of actuaries’ work might be thought of as ‘risk management’, assessing how likely an event may be and the costs associated with it.

Understanding how businesses operate, how legislation may impact and how financial economics can affect values are all vital skills for an actuary. But what differentiates actuaries is their core mathematical, economic and statistical understanding and their ability to apply this to real financial problems.