What Does an Actuary Do? 2024 Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Actuaries play a key role in strategic planning for industries like insurance. Explore what you can expect if you choose to work in this position, including the average salary and career path to get started.

[Featured Image] An actuary analyzes financial information for a business.

Actuaries have a strong earning potential and ample opportunities for advancement. Data is crucial for predicting future outcomes, minimizing risk, and protecting businesses and organizations from financial losses. Actuaries are professionals who use mathematical skills to extrapolate conclusions from data that benefit their employer. 

Read on to learn about actuaries, including their average salary, how to become one, and the job outlook to determine if it’s a career you want to pursue.

What is an actuary?

An actuary uses statistics and math to calculate and manage financial risk. They estimate the likelihood of future events and then recommend how to avoid them. Actuaries help to manage risk for businesses like banks, insurance companies, and investment firms. They often use data science and modeling techniques to show these outcomes. Executives will then use the information to develop policies and strategic plans.

What does an actuary do?

Actuaries use databases and statistical software to calculate the likelihood of a particular event occurring, the cost of that event, and if the insurance company has the funds available to cover claims. They tend to work in teams with other professionals, such as data scientists or accountants, and help calculate premiums.

Many actuaries work for insurance agencies, although you may also find jobs with:

  • Private corporations

  • Government

  • Educational and financial institutions

  • Labor unions

  • Nonprofits

  • Retirement firms

As an actuary, you might have a specific concentration, such as casualty, life, health insurance, or pensions. Actuaries who work for insurance companies review and calculate insurance rates for different population sets. Actuaries working with pensions also train in law and help determine the pension payments for employees planning to retire.

Actuary tasks and responsibilities

The specific roles and responsibilities of an actuary vary based on the industry you work in, but some typical tasks include the following:

  • Creating, maintaining, and analyzing custom projection models

  • Developing policies and strategies to protect a company from financial risk

  • Coordinating with other professionals to gather accurate and valuable data

  • Estimating the likelihood and cost of an event, such as a natural disaster

  • Using spreadsheets to track and report on data projections

  • Using statistical skills to create analytics and charts

  • Reporting on findings to executives and other employees

Actuary skills

Actuaries require strong mathematical skills, a love of learning, and various technical and workplace skills. Technical skills represent the practical aspects of your role, while workplace skills contribute to how productive you are in a work environment. Some specific skills that are helpful for success include:

Technical skills

  • Analytical and problem-solving

  • Programming languages and database skills

  • Experience with insurance and financial policies

  • Proficiency in calculus, statistics, and probability

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Workplace skills

Actuaries and AI

Due to artificial intelligence’s (AI’s) ability to consume massive amounts of data and then create conclusions based on that date in seconds, actuaries are on the cusp of seeing the entire industry revolutionized by this new technology. Rather than manually inputting data into databases and then drafting conclusions, actuaries can turn this time-consuming process over to AI software. This allows actuaries to focus on the more high-level parts of their job, including recommendations, risk management, and business development.

Salary and job outlook

According to data from Lightcast™, the annual salary for actuaries averages $127,586.26 [1]. This figure is significantly higher than the average across all US jobs, which was $63,795.13, according to 2022 data from the US Social Security Administration [2]. In addition to solid earning potential, the job outlook is also bright. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, actuary jobs will grow 23 percent through 2032, which is significantly faster than the average for all jobs [3].

Actuary career path

To become an actuary, you’ll need to pursue higher education and certifications that demonstrate your ability to successfully meet the expectations of the role. In addition to a four-year degree, you’ll need an average of seven years of experience to have the opportunity to sit for the actuary exams. It can take up to 12 years to become an actuary.

Once you’ve become an actuary, you have options to continue growing in the role or progress into other career paths that also use statistics and math skills. Some of these roles include consultants or senior accountants before moving into a job in finance as a director or planning manager. 

Read more: 9 Finance Entry-level Jobs + How to Get One

Education and training

To become an actuary, you’ll need a bachelor's degree in subjects like mathematics, statistics, actuarial science, or business. You can also pursue this career with a degree in liberal arts or economics because it doesn’t require a specialized degree. Instead, it’s helpful to approach your education in terms of the skills and information you want to develop. 

Once you’ve graduated, you’ll need to gain experience in an entry-level position or internship. Often, actuaries start in a trainee role and gain knowledge by working under senior-level actuaries. While working as a trainee, your employer may likely fund the training and exam fees required for you to become certified.


Certification is required to work as an actuary. Here are two organizations that offer certifications to obtain:

It can take as many as seven years for an actuary to prepare and successfully pass the associate-level exam and several years after to earn credentials at the next level.

The number of exams you’ve passed will likely influence your salary and job title. Passing more exams as you gain years of experience is critical for increasing your earnings and progressing through your career as an actuary.

If you’re interested in working with pensions, you’ll need to become licensed. You may explore your options from the US Department of Treasury and the US Department of Labor’s Joint Board for the Enrollment of Actuaries.

Getting started with Coursera

Sharpen your actuarial science skills and learn foundational knowledge for a career as an actuary on Coursera. With courses like the University of Illinois’s Financial Analysis—Skills for Success Specialization, you’ll have the chance to learn about what it means to be an actuary and develop skills for your future.

Article sources


Lightcast™ Analyst. “Occupation Summary for Actuaries.” Accessed February 26, 2024.

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