The most important decision actuaries make

Changing jobs is common. Changing companies is common. But, changing industries is rare. So, actuaries and other young professionals need to wisely choose their industry. Industries go in long cycles. Choosing an industry on its way down creates an uphill career challenge. Choosing a growing and hot industry is like riding a wave. You may fall off one but another is coming to carry you home.

What are the industry options for actuaries? There are many. However, the main options include Property/Casualty (P&C), Life/Annuity/Health, and Pension. What determines which industry actuaries choose? Usually the exam process.

I’m familiar with the SOA and CAS requirements. The P&C decision often is made after 3 exams. Choosing the new exam S (or previous equivalents) takes actuaries through the P&C path. Choosing MLC rather than S may close doors on the P&C path. The SOA is trying to change that by their newly adopted General Insurance track. Currently, that option is too new to evaluate.

Once the ASA level exams are completed, pension actuaries must choose the Pension track. Likewise, Life/Annuity/Health actuaries must choose their FSA specialty. Within an industry, it’s common, and often encouraged to pursue pricing, valuation, ERM and other disciplines. But, industry changes are not common.

I started as a Health actuary. After testing the waters for 2 years, I decided to switch to Life and Annuity. Those changes are possible early in careers but become difficult changes later. Fortunately, I had not made commitments in my exam path that prevented that change.

Actuaries and other professionals invest enormous time and money in college education and certification. Take time to research the industry that is the right fit for you. Realize which exams you take has long term implications. Discuss these issues with older professionals who know you. Seek counsel.

If you know actuaries who are at this critical decision in their careers, encourage them to carefully consider their options. It is easy to make a hasty short term decision that is not optimal long term.