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So, You Want to Be an… Actuary?

An actuary uses numbers and statistics to quantify the costs of various risks or events
How much money can you make?
What type of training will it take?
And what does the job actually entail?
Read on to find out whether this is the job for you
What will I be doing all day?


An actuary uses numbers and statistics to quantify the costs of various risks or events. Actuaries typically work for insurance companies, usually specializing in a specific insurance field, researching, designing, and assessing financial strategies to minimize the risk for the company in the event of damages or natural disaster that they would have to cover.

As part of their work, actuaries determine the premiums for insurance policies by calculating risk factors for the event being insured — such as death, fire, flood, unemployment, or property damage — to give the company an accurate picture of how much risk they assume in insuring this client.

Do I have the personality for it?

Aside from having superior math skills, a good actuary is analytical and good at problem-solving, detail-oriented but also good at seeing the big picture, efficient, conscientious, and organized. An actuary also needs good communication skills, to be able to explain complex concepts to laymen.

What kind of schooling do I need?

Actuaries usually need an undergraduate degree, typically in mathematics, actuarial science, or statistics. Students also must take courses in economics, statistics, and corporate finance. A class in computer programming is recommended as well, as actuaries must be proficient in developing spreadsheets, databases, models, and other analytical tools.

In the US, there are two main credential-issuing actuarial societies, the Society of Actuaries, or SOA, and the Casualty Actuarial Society, or CAS. In order to be credentialed as an associate (ASA or ACAS), an actuary must pass a series of exams, which typically take between four to seven years to complete. Most employers will hire an actuarial graduate after they pass the first one or two exams, and will assist them in their certification process by providing them with study time and paying the cost of their exams and study materials, as well as providing financial incentives for passing exams.

It takes several more tests, in which you can choose to specialize, to become a fully credentialed fellow (FSA — or FCAS).

What can I expect to make?

Salary is dependent on several factors, including experience, specialization, location, and level of management.

The average salary range: $110,000 – $150,000

Starting salaries: $70,000 – $80,000

Average salary for long tenured employees: over $200,000



Binyomin Goodman
Lawrence, NY
Actuary at TIAA, New York City
Touro College
Years in Field: 33


My Typical Day at Work

My job mostly relates to retirement planning. We provide retirement plans for people who work in higher education, hospital staff, and, thankfully, for some forward-thinking yeshivos. My job is to make sure everyone understands what we’re offering, both our own company staff and our clients.

On any given day I may be preparing presentations, creating models to help explain financial concepts to non-actuaries, doing internal training at my company to help explain our products, or traveling to institutions around the country to speak. But for most actuaries, the job involves sitting at your desk with your best friend — your computer. Well, that and going to meetings where you discuss what you are doing at your desk with your best friend.

How I Chose the Profession

I heard about the field from some friends. I liked math and figured if I passed the first two exams, someone would probably hire me. And someone did — the legendary actuary Harry Klaristenfeld!

How I Chose My Specialty

My specialty is retirement planning and annuities — determining the major risks that retirees face and how can they mitigate those risks. (The short answer is to have a lot of money.) But for those who don’t, the answer involves diversifying one’s retirement portfolio among different products (investment and insurance), and asset classes (equities, bonds, guaranteed, real estate).

I was always more interested in the customer experience. I let the other, smarter company actuaries figure out what the company can afford to do while also staying in business, and I focus on making sure our customers’ needs are being met.

What I Love Most about the Field

The wide range of projects I’ve had the opportunity to work on, getting to meet people from all walks of life, and doing something that helps people. And having the opportunity to try my jokes out on people I’ve never met before.

What I Find Most Challenging about the Field

I hope senior management isn’t reading this, but the biggest challenge is when someone from the executive suite has a nonsensical demand and won’t take “no” for an answer.

I’ll Never Forget When

Every now and then at someone will come over to me and make some comment to let me know they’re Jewish. Something like, “Hey, Mr. Goodman, that presentation was a mitzvah!” or “That retirement topic was interesting; does it apply to a Zeidy like me?” Those comments make me smile, and often lead to an interesting conversation.

But my craziest story was the time I got stuck in Dodge City, Kansas, on a Thursday evening. The next plane out was Sunday, and I really had to get out before Shabbos. I rented a car with another passenger, a very religious Mormon, and drove through the night to Denver. That five-hour car ride is one I’ll never forget. I learned that the Mormons are very makpid on maaser, and their “Tomchei Sunday” food delivery for those who need assistance is amazing. And they too have a bit of a shidduch crisis. (No, they don’t marry multiple wives.)

Something I Wish People Knew About Actuaries

They have fun! Seriously. Rarely a week goes by that I don’t do something at work that I thoroughly enjoy. Willie Mays once supposedly said, “I can’t believe they’re paying me to do this.” There are times I feel the same way.

There are probably more jokes about “boring actuaries with plastic pocket protectors” than any other professionals. Because to a certain extent one can be a successful actuary even without having much of a personality. (Although if you have no personality at all, you’d be better off becoming an accountant.) But the more successful actuaries excel at public speaking and are known for being able to explain complex concepts to people at all levels of knowledge. Early in your career it’s more about the technical skills, but to advance, you need good business acumen and soft skills.

How I’ve Seen the Field Change Over the Years

Automation is the biggest change — what used to take days or hours to run can now take minutes. Email communication means you might need to produce answers instantly (“Hey, I’m in middle of a meeting with Client X and he needs to know…”). And working from home was nonexistent when I started. On the human side of things, diversity is much improved, as there are many more females and minorities in the profession.

My Advice for People Starting Out

Listen and learn as much as you can. Ask questions, but not too many, as there’s a fine line between trying to learn and being annoying.

Run a new idea or suggestion by a peer before going to your boss, just in case it’s nonsensical. Better your peers find out you’re an idiot than your boss does. (I can envision some of my peers reading this right now and nodding their heads.)

If you find yourself working for a horrible boss, there is likely nothing you can do to change that so just get out ASAP. I called one of the places I worked for Sodom based on the way they treated people. And I got out quickly. It was the best move I ever made. (Other than marrying my wife.)

Something I would’ve done differently? I probably wasn’t proactive enough earlier in my career. To quote Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” Some others may say that they regret working too many late hours trying to impress impossible-to-please managers; thankfully that was never my issue.


David Fihrer
Toronto, Canada
Actuary at Moody’s Analytics, Toronto
BSC from University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Years in Field: 34


My Typical Day at Work

For the last 18 years, I’ve been with GGY consulting and then Moody’s Analytics, which bought GGY. We are a software vendor providing actuarial software to the life insurance industry. What started out 35 or 40 years ago as a small niche market has grown into a large business, and, today, actuarial software vendors employ a large number of actuaries and actuarial students.

For nearly three years I’ve led the project to support the new International Financial Reporting Standards that will apply starting in 2023. A typical day starts off with catching up on emails with colleagues, as we have resources in Europe that I work closely with. Most of my day is focused on working with our lead developer to prioritize the programming jobs, assisting our client help desk with the more complicated questions, and providing technical and practical guidance for the job specifications of one of our programming jobs, to add new functionality. Then there’s usually at least one call with either the Association of Insurance Companies, one of our larger clients, or one of the major consulting firms to discuss our roadmap for upcoming software releases or some of the more technical aspects of the new Reporting Standards. Any remaining time (if any) would be taken up with managing the team, attending professional development webinars, or general company meetings.

How I Chose the Profession

My parents had two friends who were successful actuaries. As a teenager, I’d speak to them about their jobs, and it sounded like something I’d enjoy.

How I Chose My Specialty

Most actuaries usually specialize in one of the following areas: life insurance, property and casualty, pensions, or investments. When I was starting out, the life insurance field was the largest employer of actuaries by far, and so I ended up there.

What I Love Most about the Field

I love the challenge of solving business problems for clients. For example, we had a small client on a tight budget who could not really afford one of our add-on modules. But they needed that information and were a bit stuck in how to move forward. I was able to show them how to use the current set-up they had to obtain the information. While it required extra computer run time and output plus some manual work, and wasn’t the elegant simplified solution the extra module would have provided, it was still workable. When a client sees that vendors are not just after the next sale but are truly there to provide support, it works wonders to build the relationship.

What I Find Most Challenging about the Field

The biggest current challenge for the industry is that as these new accounting regulations are being implemented throughout the world, there’s an increased demand for actuaries beyond the available supply. This shortage is being felt by all.

I’ll Never Forget When

In one of my jobs, the chief actuary had a reputation for being able to spot something wrong very quickly. I thought it was an exaggeration until my first time going up to the C-suite floor to present something. I’d spent a long time preparing for the presentation, making sure it was correct and I could explain it properly. Well, within the first few minutes of my presentation, he pointed to one number (among at least 100) on the page and said, “That doesn’t look right.” Sure enough, I’d mistyped something. It was a good lesson in making sure that you get someone to review your work before going to senior management!

Something I Wish People Knew About Actuaries

In the US annual survey of jobs, actuary has rated in the top three for quite a few years, due to high levels of job satisfactions, work-life balance, and compensation.

How I’ve Seen the Field Change Over the Years

The biggest changes in the actuarial field have been due to the increase in computing power. This has allowed the introduction of more sophisticated insurance products, such as universal life and variable annuity products with a large choice of investment options, or investment guarantees and health benefit riders enabling policyholders to access their life insurance coverage in times of sickness.

On the analysis side, there is now a greater demand for analytics both in terms of quantity and quality. For example, when quantifying what the risk is to the company for an investment guarantee, each policy can be projected on thousands of different investment return scenarios, which could never be accomplished before. This has allowed actuaries to move from being purely technicians sitting in the back offices spending countless hours doing calculations, to providing more value-added work in analyzing the numbers, helping senior management understand where and how much the risks are and how much capital to hold against these risks. This has led to a very large increase in the demand for actuarial services.

My Advice for People Starting Out

The most important thing is to focus on getting through the exams as quickly as possible. You will have a few decades to develop your career, so make the exams a priority over work, even if it means changing employers.


Relly Raskin
Ramat Eshkol, jerusalem
Actuary at a Petach Tikvah-based insurance company 
 Touro College, BS in Math
Years in Field: 4


My Typical Day at Work

I work for an insurance company in Petach Tikvah, which can be anywhere between a one- and two-hour car ride. Most companies require you to be in the office every day, but I’m lucky to work from home four days a week and go into the office only once a week.

I’m originally from Chicago and moved to Israel shortly after I graduated college. I’d taken two actuarial exams while in college, and I got my first job in an English-speaking office within a few weeks of moving. Once Covid hit and they needed to downsize, I started working at my current job, a totally Israeli, Hebrew-speaking office — which can be challenging!

An actuary’s main job is to analyze and quantify risks in different areas. Usually this means using past data to predict future outcomes, and planning accordingly. I work for a property insurance company, which is the most typical work for an actuary. Our main job is to create premiums and calculate reserves. Creating premiums requires identifying how much risk each policy carries and setting the premium accordingly. To determine risk level, we use factors such as age, car value, insurance history, etc. Calculating reserves, which we do every few months, means calculating how much the company can expect to pay in claims. We use the past data to predict how much we will need to pay in the future and set aside enough funds to cover it.

I work in a team of five actuarial analysts, with a chief actuary supervising us. (Note that in Israel, unlike the US, only an FSA — actuarial fellow — can sign off on reports. Until then, you must work under a qualified actuary.) We usually have a check system under which a different team member reviews my work before I submit it. Every day I meet with my supervisor, and once a week we have team meetings to review any big changes or projects. We also meet with other branches of the company—  the underwriters, claims representatives, and the financial team to discuss what we’ve worked on.

How I Chose the Profession

I’d dreamed of being a dentist since I was a 12-year-old desperate to get braces, but that lasted only until I entered college and took Biology 101, where I quickly learned that being squeamish and getting a job in health care are mutually exclusive. Since I’d always loved numbers and done well in math, I started looking into professions that involved those skills. The actuarial field appealed to me because I only needed three years of college and could then take the rest of the tests on my own time.

The idea of becoming an actuary wasn’t new to me. In high school we had a mandatory career consultation with the school guidance counselor. (Shoutout to Mrs. Rifkind from HSBY!) She asked me about my favorite subjects and what I like to do and suggested I become an actuary. At the time I had my head set on being a dentist, and with the cockiness of a 17-year-old, I completely ignored her advice. Had I listened, I could have saved myself a full year of college.

How I Chose My Specialty

I’m still early enough in my career that I haven’t fully figured out which branch of actuarial practice I want to go into. There are two main fields: property/casualty and life/health. I originally decided to go with the second track, and took all my tests in that area. My first job was based in the life insurance field, and I was planning to continue with that. However, when I found myself looking for a new job, I wound up working in property insurance. I’m not sure yet which one I’ll end up sticking with. In Israel, the split is less distinct because most actuaries take the British exams, which don’t distinguish between property and life. I believe in America it’s less common to switch fields because it requires a whole different set of tests.

What I Love Most about the Field

I love the balance of challenge and routine. It’s a very stimulating job where you can challenge yourself every day. There’s always more to do, another way to look at a problem, or an issue you can solve better. At the same time, it’s usually a very clear cut nine-to-five job. I don’t think about work after hours and there’s rarely an emergency that I have to work overtime for.

What I Find Most Challenging about the Field

One of the major challenges is balancing the full work schedule with studying. Most (maybe even all) actuary jobs are full time, which means that you’ll have to spend your nights learning for the exams. You can choose when to study and take the tests, but it requires a lot of self-motivation to sit down and study after a full day of work, and taking care of the house and children.

Another challenge I’m personally experiencing is working in a language that’s not my native tongue. There’s a lot of misunderstandings, a lot of nuances that go over my head. If I were working for an American company, I’d feel confident challenging myself and climbing higher in my job. I love living in Israel, but ideally I would work remotely for an American company. In the past this has never been a viable option, but maybe now I can find an opportunity since the world has shifted toward remote work.

I’ll Never Forget When

I’m trying to think of something funny that happened at work, but most of the stories have a punchline like, “And then it was negative 1,345 instead of positive!”

Something I Wish People Knew About Actuaries

It’s actually a very doable career. A lot of people hear about all of the tests and get nervous, but as a mother, I find that the tests are much more flexible than graduate school would be.

Another thing is that the job is very versatile. People think of actuaries as working for insurance companies but there’s a huge range of what an actuary can do. Actuaries work in risk analysis, data science and creating predictive models for a huge variety of companies.

My Advice for People Starting Out

Most people starting out want advice about how to approach the exams. I think that the most common advice is to take as many exams as fast as you can, and to complete the process as quickly as possible. I don’t necessarily agree. While getting a few tests out of the way early on helps, it’s okay to take it slow. It usually takes people about five years to complete their ASA if they are moving at a steady pace. Since I work full time and am running a full house, I chose to take a deep breath, slow down, and work at my own pace. Instead of stressing out to make it to the next testing deadline, I enjoy the break and wait for the next round. The month or two before an exam can be very stressful, and I found that it was better for my family if I did it slower. So I’ll be getting my ASA in seven years instead of five, but I put my family first.


Next up: nutritionists and physical therapists


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 899)

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