The many ways to describe “actuaries”

Written by Laura Bass: 0b53e31

We have all asked and been asked the question, “what is an actuary?” Some of the other Coaching Actuaries Blog posts have touched on the subject. For example, Matthew Gentile wrote that his standard response is, “I just like doing math” (The Struggles of an Actuary). Well, the other night, my brain was up late, thinking, and it decided on this….

What is a doctor? There are medical doctors, doctors of fine arts, Doctor Who(s), veterinary doctors, etc. Even if you just tried to describe medical doctors what would you say? “They make people better.” But if you really think about, you realize there are a lot of ways a medical doctor can make you feel better. There are cardiologists, dentists, endocrinologists, microbiologists, oncologists, plastic surgeons, urologists, and dozens more. Then, there are specialties within these specific fields. And then there are those who work in the lab, work with the patient, work around the world, and so on and so forth.

Similarly, there are many different kinds of actuaries.

My understanding of the many different kinds of actuaries is certainly incomplete, possibly over-simplified, and maybe even wrong. As I see it, there are dozens of ways to break down the differences between the different types of actuaries. You can go by SOA vs. CAS, consulting vs. reinsurance vs., pricing vs. reserving, etc. From there, there are even more paths to consider, and specifics of companies and individual roles to think about.

Even though this can be confusing to an outsider, and even to the aspiring actuary, it plays an important part. I love interacting with others. I love being part of a group, leading a group, thinking up new ways to do things, creating new projects, tackling challenges, and getting out from behind a desk. I am also incredibly organized, eager to learn, and am extremely likely to put in extra hours off the clock as a result. I think the best way to use my skills and burn my energy is to be a consulting actuary of sorts (or even an underwriter). I have yet to figure out more about what I want to do – and that’s okay.

So, the next time someone asks you, “What is an actuary?”, you can keep it simple with, “I just like doing math”, you can try it out like, “an actuary is a business professional who deals with the financial impact of risk and uncertainty” (thank you, Wikipedia!), or you may even try getting snappy with a retort along the lines of, “I’m kinda like the cryptic perinatologist in the lab trying to save the economy from its next collapse.”

Do you have a favorite phrase to describe actuaries? Please share in a comment or your own blog post! Also, add me on LinkedIn. The more, the merrier!