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FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions from prospective students:

Does an actuary work with people?
How good should my computer skills be?
What does a potential actuary look like in Grade 12?
How difficult is it to qualify as an actuary? I have heard that the dropout rate is really high.
How long does it take to qualify?
Will there be enough work for actuaries and actuarial students in South Africa?
Is it necessary to continue studying after qualifying as an actuary? 

1.    Does an actuary work with people?

The majority who are perceived to be successful are balanced people who also excel in their human relations. The statement that stereotypes actuaries as impersonal and introverts is definitely not true, although there are some professionals who prefer the “back room” operations of the company.
 

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2.    How good should my computer skills be?

The computer is an indispensable means to an end for actuaries. Any potential actuarial student should be aware that junior actuarial assistants spend about 90% of a typical work day in front of a computer screen when they start out with their careers. It is essential to know a basic programming language together with the normal word processing, spreadsheet and database programmes. These skills are mastered by students enrolled for BSc(Financial and Actuarial Mathematics) throughout the duration of their studies and are developed naturally throughout the degree course structures.
 

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3.    What does a potential actuary look like in Grade 12?

A survey which was conducted among qualified actuaries showed that they:

  • Obtained a distinction for higher grade Mathematics
  • Performed well in Physical Science or Accounting
  • Obtained six or seven other distinctions
  • Were involved in a wide range of extramural activities (sports, culture, etc.)

Candidates came from the top 5% of their class, where the 5% are measured not only according to academic performance.

This study was conducted when higher grade mathematics was still offered as a matric subject. Currently, we strongly recommend that prospective students, if possible, take an AP mathematics course.
 

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4.    How difficult is it to qualify as an actuary? I have heard that the dropout rate is really high.

Although Mathematics is the main (but not conclusive) factor indicating whether the candidate is suitable for an actuarial career, actuarial training is not strictly related to pure Mathematics. One should be able to think logically, structurally and in a problem-solving manner and be able to communicate effectively with a wide range of audiences.

It is true that a number of candidates, who obtained a distinction for Mathematics in Grade 12, unfortunately do not possess the required attributes. This could be due to a number of reasons. It is not enough for an actuary to memorise formulae; an actuary compiles a correct original solution to a unique problem.

The drop-out rates for actuarial programmes at universities are high. Although these rates are high, students who drop out of the course generally do not drop out of tertiary studies. Most students continue with another degree that is mathematically or financially minded. Many students also choose not to continue with the actuarial qualification but still have very successful careers in the finance and insurance industries. Many others pursue other career options, but since all the students who study the course are strong academic candidates they are invariably successful in their further studies.
 

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5.    How long does it take to qualify?

It takes, on average, 9 years to qualify as an actuary, of which 4 are normally full-time University studies and 5 years part-time studies while the candidate is working. Most employers offer study leave to their actuarial students as well as some form of subsidy towards the cost of further studies.

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6.    Will there be enough work for actuaries and actuarial students in South Africa?

There will always be a shortage of highly-trained human resources – especially in mathematical disciplines. The qualified actuaries in South Africa are highly sought after and do not have any trouble finding top positions. The profession is also expanding into new areas all the time, which brings with it new job opportunities. Following the 2008 financial crisis, many banks have started employing more actuarial students because of their unique skill sets.
 

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7.    Is it necessary to continue studying after qualifying as an actuary?

It is of great value for an actuary to conduct formal research. We at the University of Pretoria welcome such studies. An actuary with an MBA, MSc or PhD will just distinguish himself from his or her peer group. Qualified actuaries have to complete CPD (Continued Professional Development) every year to remain qualified. CPD training is monitored by the Actuarial Society of South Africa.

It is essential for an actuary to undergo management training after qualification. However, a full MBA-type course is not necessary. Various universities offer management courses that effectively provide for the actuary’s needs.
 

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Last edited by Samantha PretoriusEdit