What do actuaries do?

Actuaries apply mathematics, statistical methods and risk theory to calculate insurance premiums. They assess the insurance company’s ability to pay its claims by tracking payment statistics. They also:

  • Evaluate the risks that expose the insurance company to claims and puts a monetary value to those risks
  • Are responsible for assisting insurance company executives in managing their portfolio risk through the use of sophisticated mathematical models
  • Analyse insurance rates for things such as cars, homes or life insurance
  • Estimate the amount of money needed to be set-aside for claims that have not yet been paid and forecasts the potential financial impact of catastrophes


Personality Traits

Do the following statements accurately describe you?

  • You have keen analytical, project management and problem-solving skills
  • You are a “numbers person,” with a strong interest in specialised mathematics such as calculus, statistics and probability
  • You have solid communication skills (oral & written) and are comfortable using a variety of computer applications
  • You are self-motivated and ambitious, yet work well within a team atmosphere

If you answered yes to these statements, then a career as an actuary might be the perfect fit!


Learning Path

No South African academic institution offers a complete and qualifying training course for actuaries. To qualify as an actuary you must pass the examinations set by the Actuarial Society of South Africa which manages all matters relating to these examinations. Studies are done through correspondence and this seldom takes less than 5 years. During this period you will normally be employed by a life assurance company or a firm of consulting actuaries.

The actuarial profession is open to individuals in other careers. You can join the actuarial profession and write the examinations with any mathematical based degree. Some universities offer degrees particularly geared to actuarial studies which may entitle you to exemptions from certain subjects.

For entry into all the learning paths for this occupation you need a National Senior Certificate – Degree Entrance, with Mathematics and English as subjects. Please check the specific entry requirements at the institution of your choice. There are various routes to become an actuary.

  1. The first learning path allows for entry into the occupation directly after completion of a general three-year BSc degree with subjects such as Actuarial Science and Mathematical Statistics.
  2. The second learning path allows for a directed BSc degree in mathematical related sciences such as Mathematics and Mathematics Statistics.
  3. The third learning path allows for a directed BSc degree in Actuarial Science.
  4. The fourth learning path is to become an actuary after you have completed an honours degree in Actuarial Science or Mathematical Sciences. You need to enroll through the professional body (The Actuarial Society of South Africa – ASSA) as a Fellow of the Actuarial Society of South Africa – FASSA and pass a series of roughly 16 exams.

Universities have exemption agreements with ASSA to allow students who perform well to obtain exemptions for many subjects. These exemptions allow graduates to continue with the next level of professional subjects directly through ASSA. Typically you will spend four years of full-time study at an accredited university.


Employment Avenues

Employment opportunities for actuaries are expected to increase. The increase will be due largely to heightened risk awareness and the possible financial consequences of large catastrophes. There is already a growing demand for professionals who are skilled at managing programs that control risk and can forecast and help organisations prepare for when a disaster strikes.

If you speak one or more foreign languages, there are also possibilities to work internationally. Actuaries have great security in terms of employment possibilities due to the fact that the qualifications they obtain are internationally recognised and because of the high demand for actuaries generally.

Employers include:

  • Insurance and pension brokers
  • Full-time executive appointments in mining and industry
  • Government departments
  • Private companies with insurance and pension plans
  • Self-employment (private consultant)
  • Life assurance companies


Professional Regulation

To become an actuary you have to write a series of examinations through the Actuarial Society of South Africa (ASSA) which is a professional actuarial body and an internationally recognised training and accreditation institution. To become a Fellow of Actuarial Society (FASSA) you must pass your examinations, or be granted exemption from them and also attain a satisfactory level of work-based skills. To qualify as an actuary in South Africa, you need to complete the subjects prescribed in the syllabus of the Actuarial Society. Exemptions from many of these subjects can be obtained by completing relevant subjects at accredited universities. Assessment of the final Fellowship stage of the qualification is conducted by the Board of Examiners appointed by the Actuarial Society. This usually takes between three and six years.

To become an Associate actuary (AMASSA) you must have passed all the relevant examinations or examination models and have completed a learning log showing the acquisition of work-based skills over a period of one year.