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Frequently Asked Questions

1. How many qualified actuaries are there worldwide? 

There are just under 9,000 qualified actuaries (FIA) worldwide. Take a look at the link below to find out more statistics about the profession. 


2. How long does it take to qualify as an actuary? 

The average person will take between 6-8 years to qualify as an actuary (if they have no exemptions at the start of their actuarial career). With University exemptions the length of time would be expected to be less. 


3. What areas do actuaries work in? 

Traditionally actuaries worked in the areas of pension consulting, general insurance, life  insurance and investments. However, you will see actuaries working more and more in other areas of the financial sector such as investment banking where their ability to identify,  quantify and manage risks comes in useful. 


4. What types of skills are needed to become a good actuary? 

To be a good actuary you have to have good numerical and statistical skills, be a good  communicator, be able to identify and solve problems, be able to manage many tasks at the same time. One of many quotes by actuaries is given below.  ''Actuaries need to have strong skills in maths, statistics and financial methods to assess future financial uncertainties'' says Professor Pollard. 

Strong communication skills are also required as, no matter which area an actuary works in, writing reports, summarising findings and presenting them to senior management are key tasks. It's having to draw upon both her mathematical and communication skills that  Catherine Nance, Actuary and Director, Financial Advisory Services,  PricewaterhouseCoopers, enjoys. 


5. Why choose Queen’s University for Actuarial Science and Risk Management? 

Queen’s university is a leading academic and research driven university with an excellent  record for high quality teaching. The School of Management regularly features in the top 10 Management departments in the UK.  The full-time staff is made up of a balance of experienced actuaries, Finance Professors and lecturers. The degree has been designed with the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries providing advice at every stage. 


6. What is the entrance requirement onto the BSc Actuarial Science and Risk  Management degree at Queen’s?

Queen’s requires students on the Actuarial Science and Risk Management program to have achieved: VCE/GCE A Level - A*AA (A* in Mathematics) or AAA to include A grade in A Level mathematics plus an A at AS-Level. Candidates offering other qualifications should contact the Admissions Office for advice.


7. Is the BSc course in Actuarial Science and Risk Management not too specialised?

Will I not have restricted my future choices too much?  Whilst the BSc in Actuarial Science and Risk Management does seem very specialised you will be gaining many transferrable skills should you decide not to become an actuary at the end of you studies.

During the degree you will develop your time management, problem solving, mathematical  analysis, communication and presentation skills. In addition the placement year will give you  the opportunity to develop your interpersonal skills in the workplace environment. 


8. What subjects will I study during my actuarial degree? 

During the first year of your degree, you will: 

  • Study the mathematical skills that you will need in order to study the later modules and be introduced to annuities.
  • Be introduced to traditional economic theory.
  • Learn about a company’s financial reports, and the financial environment and markets in which actuaries operate.

During the second year of your degree, you will:

  • Be introduced to some standard actuarial techniques. This will include an introduction to assurance and mortality functions, used by actuaries working in life insurance and pensions, and general insurance models used by actuaries who are estimating claims experience or pricing general insurance business.
  • Develop your understanding of the financial markets, learn how to evaluate alternative investment opportunities and learn about portfolio management.
  • Prepare for your placement year.

During the final year of your degree, you will: 

  • Study advanced techniques for quantifying movements in financial data series. 
  • Build on the actuarial skills acquired in the second year of the degree, learn about survival models and place these in a practical context.
  • Learn about the characteristics and pricing techniques of more complex derivative instruments, used to manage risk and enhance return in the financial markets.

9. How does the placement year work? 

During the third year of your degree you will be expected to complete between 9-15 months on placement with an actuarial firm. This will give you the practical experience necessary to enable you to fit into an actuarial job more smoothly when you complete your degree.

You will begin preparation for your placement year during the second year of your degree and will complete the placement during your fourth year with a presentation of how you found your placement to the second year students. 

In addition, some of our students are finding opportunities to work in an actuarial environment during their summer holidays.


10. What are career prospects like?

Career prospects for actuarial students are very good - the main employers are pension consultancies, insurance companies and finance houses. There are high rewards available!

The majority of actuarial positions are in Dublin and London although good job prospects exist throughout the UK and Ireland. There are a limited but growing number of opportunities in Belfast. 


11. What is the average salary of a qualified actuary? 

Nationally, a newly qualified actuary can expect to earn somewhere in the region of £45,000 - £65,000 depending on the area of practice and  the geographical location. 5-10 years post qualification that figure can rise to £100,000+. 


12. What is this whole 'exemptions' thing about? 

In order to become a fully qualified actuary, trainee actuaries have to take several exams set by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. Instead of doing these exams whilst working for an actuarial  firm, you can do a substantial number of these exams during the course of your studies at  Queen’s.

Having a significant proportion of the professional examinations behind you when you leave University increases your employability and reduces the length of time studying and working after University. 

The Actuarial Science and Risk Management degree at Queen’s has been granted exemption from subjects CT1 through to CT8 of the professional exams. This is the most exemptions offered by any UK university offering an Actuarial degree.  


13. Who are the people who will teach me? 

Our staff is made up of a balance of experienced actuaries, Statisticians and Financial  Mathematicians. Many of us have close links with the actuarial profession and for the Actuarial Science and Risk Management degree we have taken on two additional members of staff who were practicing  actuaries with pensions consultancies and insurance firms. For more details of staff see the link below. 


14. How many students are doing the actuarial Science and Risk Management degree?

In September 2007 we welcomed 52 new students to the first year of the new actuarial studies degree, 39 joined us in September 2008 and 41 in September 2009. Each year we plan to take in around 40 students coming from a variety of places with Northern Ireland being the main location. 

General information about student life, people and events can be found by visiting the  Queen’s university website. As the degree develops we plan to create a student’s actuarial  society and anyone who is interested in this should speak to a member of staff if they wish to  become involved. 


15. What kind of help and support is there for me when I study at Queens? 

Every student on a course within our Department has a personal tutor. The tutor is the  student's first point of contact when he/she requires advice on academic and non-academic issues, and will help him/her adjust to University life, particularly in the first few weeks.

Another important role the tutor has is to help students to maintain a strategic overview of their whole University career. It is usually the tutor who provides a student with a letter of reference whenever he/she needs it. 

Beside the tutor system, the University has an excellent support structure in place to help  students when they encounter difficulties (e.g. family illness, accommodation, financial, etc.). 


16. Can I transfer out of the degree if I discover that I really have made the wrong choice for me? 

There may be the possibility to transfer between the degrees of Actuarial Science and Risk Management, Finance, Accounting and Economics, although it would have to be discussed with your tutor and your Adviser of Studies. 


17. What is financial mathematics? 

Financial mathematics is the branch of mathematics applied to financial markets, in particular  to  equity (shares), bond, commodity and  derivative  markets. Financial maths is used  primarily to price assets but is also important in risk management and asset management.  The field sprang to life in the early 1970s with the development of the Black Scholes Merton option pricing formula, which revolutionised finance.

This formula was quickly extended by others into a general theory for the pricing of  derivatives. These authors showed that the fair price of an derivative can be determined by not allowing an arbitrage to take place and that this condition has a deep mathematical significance related to probability. 

Although the theory is based on  stochastic models, and there are immediate applications of  statistics and data analysis, part of the explanation for the rapid growth of financial  mathematics is that the field provides fertile grounds for collaboration between researchers  with different backgrounds: numerical analysis and computational methods are required to  calculate specific answers; functional analysis and the general theory of stochastic process  have combined to give exact conditions for the fundamental theorems; and convex analysis is  used to investigate difficult constrained investment problems via the dual functions. 


18. What is the difference between actuarial science, financial maths, operations research, management science and maths with finance,  economics, business or management courses? 

Courses in actuarial science and financial mathematics address problems relating to financial markets and in particular focus on issues relating to risk and uncertainty. Courses in  economics, operations research, management science and finance develop skills useful in  running a business.  A big advantage of an actuarial science or financial mathematics course is that the finance aspects are integrated with the mathematical concepts.

This is particularly important if you are looking to have a career in financial markets where some of the mathematical tools being used are new and are based on difficult concepts.  At the simplest level, actuaries answer questions relating to how finances should be managed given you do not know for certain what obligations there will be in the future, for example, what premiums on an insurance policy are needed in order to ensure claims can be covered.

Actuarial science has a long history, going back to the seventeenth century, and is used by pension funds, life and general insurance companies and banks.  Financial mathematics is a new science, based on mathematics developed to understand  rocket dynamics, and is used primarily by people working in markets for financial derivatives  (often referred to as "rocket scientists"), such as investment banks, commodity traders and  hedge funds. A derivative is a financial asset who's value is determined by another asset, such  as a company's share price.

The job of a financial mathematician is to remove the risk of  investing in derivatives, given that the prices of the underlying assets in the future are not  known.  Actuaries and financial mathematicians work closely on problems relating to asset management and financial risk management.