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What does an Actuary do?

Actuaries are experts in the theory and practice of statistics. An actuary uses statistical data and mathematical models to analyse the financial risks of a particular business or client. This is especially valuable in the face of real-world problems that involve uncertain future events or financial risk such as calculating the price an insurer should charge customers for various insurance benefits, understanding the impact that different investments have on a pension fund’s expected risk and return, or calculating a bank’s risk due to home-loan customers being unable to repay their mortgage debt.

Actuaries are able to provide realistic solutions to complex problems with a long-term forward view. They are recognised to be pragmatic, innovative and numerate. Other roles of actuaries include designing the benefits of medical schemes and modelling the financial impact of epidemics, e.g., the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa.


What qualifications do I need?

To become an actuary you have to write, or be exempted from, a series of examinations through the Actuarial Society of South Africa or another professional actuarial body. It takes, on average, nine years to qualify as an actuary, of which four are normally full-time university studies and five years part-time studies while you are working. Most employers offer study leave to their actuarial students as well as some form of subsidy towards the cost of further studies. 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.

What subjects do I need?

Mathematics (with a final mark of 80%)
English or Afrikaans Home Language or First Additional Language (with a final mark of 60-69%)
Alpha Maths (recommended)
Additional language (recommended)


Where can I study?

Stellenbosch University 
BCom (Actuarial Science)

University of Cape Town (UCT)
Bachelor of Business Science in Actuarial Science  

University of Pretoria
BSc Actuarial and Financial Mathematics

University of Witwatersrand (Wits)
BSc Actuarial Science and Mathematical Statistics

Where can I get more info?

Actuarial Society of South Africa - www.acturialsociety.org.za
South African Actuaries Abroad - www.sa3.co.za
Association of South African Black Actuarial Professionals - www.asaba.co.za/


Interview with an Actuary

EC du Toit | EXECUTIVE: ACTUARIAL | Lion of Africa Life Assurance Company Limited

EC du Toit | EXECUTIVE: ACTUARIAL | Lion of Africa Life Assurance Company Limited


Why did you choose this profession?
One should choose a profession that you find interesting and challenges your skills, in order for you to grow personally and professionally. I saw the actuarial profession as the perfect fit to accomplish these life goals.

If you have a more unusual career, please explain what it is that you do
Actuaries make financial sense of the future by measuring the probability and risk of future events. Maybe it is best to quote from the Actuarial Society of South Africa (ASSA), the professional body for actuaries in South Africa: “an actuary is a professional who applies analytical, statistical and mathematical skills to financial and business problems. This is especially valuable when facing real-world problems that involve uncertain future events or financial risk”. The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries describe it as follows: “Actuaries use financial and statistical techniques to solve business problems, particularly those involving risk”.

What training did you undergo and where?
There are standard exams (subjects) and training that must be completed in order to qualify as an actuary, either as an associate or a fellow member, which is stipulated on ASSA’s website. The subjects and training courses are also facilitated by ASSA, but exemptions from many of these subjects can be obtained by completing relevant subjects at accredited universities. I attended the University of Stellenbosch (doing a BCom (Actuarial Science) Honours degree) where I received exemptions from some of the subjects – the subjects are provided as part of the degree. After university it becomes more difficult as you need to complete the remaining subjects while focusing on your career. It becomes extremely important to segregate your time between your studies and your career. It is also a requirement to continue developing your skills and thus lifelong learning is facilitated by ASSA though an organised system of continuing professional development (CPD).

Describe a typical day on the job
For me there is no such thing as a typical day at the office due to my role as part of the executive team. It could be a day where I need to focus on technical work such as product development and pricing, determining liability values (reserving), making sure solvency requirements are met or monitoring the actual claims experience versus the expected claims experience. On other days I could be meeting with current and/or potential clients, engaging with the compliance team in terms of agreements, assisting the marketing team with product specific input or setting up new structures within the company.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
Finding a solution: actuarial work, and business in general, is solution driven and when you find the solution to a problem there is a mixed feeling of excitement, relief and the need to do it again – that feeling is what I enjoy most about my work.

What don’t you like?
To be honest, I enjoy all aspects of my work. In any career you need to enjoy what you are doing, there might be aspects that you prefer above others but as a whole you need to love what you do – otherwise it might not be the career path for you.

What hurdles have you had to overcome?
I believe my biggest hurdle up to date has been to build on my capacity to recognize, and to use, emotional information to guide my thinking and behavior (emotional quotient) alongside the technical thinking that is embedded from an actuarial perspective (intelligence quotient).

What’s been the highlight of your career to date?
There have been several highlights over the years, such as meeting several influential individuals, being part of the growth of a company and structuring new ventures. It is difficult to decide on only one.

What are your future goals?
My focus is on business, and it might sound cliché, but in the near future I want to run a company.

In your line of work, is experience as important as formal training?
I have come to learn that formal training, which is extremely important, is only the building blocks of a successful career. Within business there are things that formal training cannot teach you which is only learned through experience.

Is there a type of personality best suited to this work, or certain traits one should have (or not have)?
Personality traits that have been attached the actuarial profession include pragmatism, innovativeness, numeracy, professionalism, technical, problem-solving, detail orientated.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in your career?
Don’t fool yourself in thinking it is an easy road, there will be bumps and pitfalls, but hard work will get you to where you want to go.

Describe your job in three words
Technical, Responsibility, Fun

Interview date: May 2023