A boring, yet critical, actuarial skill

The cool career choice these days is becoming an actuary. We’re traditionally ranked as one of the top career opportunities. Actuaries have a rigorous exam process to identify top candidates. We are at the leading edge of financial engineering. 20150701_StaffPortraits_16

I am approaching 30 years as an actuary, the last 20 running my own business. Recently, I have been traveling the country attending the latest and greatest in actuarial conventions. So, what is my big advice to the actuaries of the future?

I hate to spoil the drama, but a key skill I see missing or needed in future actuaries is the ability to document. Yes, that’s right: document. I know you didn’t get an actuarial degree and study endless hours to be a scribe. Yet, in today’s actuarial world, documentation is nothing short of critical.

Think of it this way. Imagine the industrial revolution 100 years ago. Ford was engineering factories to create affordable yet reliable automobiles. Imagine if the factories had no documentation, no processes. Each new employee “started fresh”. That would be highly inefficient.

Today, we live in the “information factory”. Specifically, information that manages risk. Just like the automobile factories of old, actuaries must master learning what others did before them, make incremental improvements, and document each step of the process. Soon, it will be your turn to leave the factory, or at least a different part of the information assembly line. When you do leave, it will be essential the next person understand and follow the work you did.

But, documentation is much more than plans for staff transition. In these days where risk mitigation is key, actuaries must not only do their work. But, they must prove to others that the work they did was reasonably accurate. It’s not enough to just give the answer. Also, unlike school days, it’s not enough to “show your work”. Actuaries must also prove and show evidence that their results are reasonable. This requires old fashion documentation. It usually is not fun. But, it does have several advantages:


  1. Most important, your supervisor and your company will benefit greatly.
  2. It will force you to rethink your work. This will likely catch some of your own errors. Which, is one of the main goals.
  3. It can be a collaborative process which allows learning from others.

You may think you don’t have time to document. The truth is, you don’t have time not to.

Documentation is an essential part of the new actuary’s career. It may not seem glamorous. But, like a lot of career twists, it can be what you make of it.