Jessica Elkin looks at the surprising similarities and the differences between students and qualified actuaries
Sometimes I lie and tell people that I am an actuary. It's much easier that way. They ask what I do and the words just come out. People always believe me, so convincing has the lie become. Sometimes even I forget that I am not an actuary.
To be clear, when I say it's 'easier', I mean that telling a layperson that I'm an actuary rather than an actuarial student is marginally easier to explain, in the sense that scaling a cliff face just using your arms is easier than doing it just using one arm. The difference is minimal in a sense, but significant at the time. And they're all baffling endeavours to the outsider.
The difference between being a student and being qualified is similarly both minimal and significant. It's minimal in the sense that the student may have worked longer than the qualified actuary, may have a broader range of experience, may even have more technical ability. He or she may be fitter, funnier, better-looking and kinder to animals and the elderly. But you shouldn't use me as an example. I'm not your average student.
So how is it significant? I think a lot of students, and indeed a lot of our colleagues, think of the difference between students and qualified actuaries as being mostly just that tick-box of examinations. And, owing to the above statement about skills and experience, this is understandable. However, that's not all. Or so I hear.
Mind the gap
There must be some difference between being qualified and not qualified. Apart from the salary, of course. I think we can all agree that the salary increase is a good enough reason
to put some effort into it. I decided to have a look on the IFoA website to check up on this, since there is a whole section called "Just qualified".
After congratulating me on qualifying (I try not to let this go to my head), it tells me, "You can now enjoy the many benefits that come with membership of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries." I am already a member of the IFoA and have been since 2011, so that's fairly redundant. It goes on: "We support members throughout their careers, helping them maintain professionalism and career progression through a programme of events and courses backed by an extensive information resource." I'm still at something of a loss.
Not to say that this section of the website isn't useful. It lists out the responsibilities of the qualified actuary with regard to professional skills and continuing professional development, which makes for helpful if dry reading. I wrote about this in the September 2014 issue, in case you want a brief overview that's light on content and heavy on Game of Thrones references.
In theory, qualified actuaries can demonstrate all the skills from all the syllabuses from all the examinations they have passed. Easy, right? However, reading all of those would be a long job. So how about we look at the skills you need to have demonstrated in your work-based skills submission in order to qualify? They fit into broad, digestible categories. We have:
- Technical application of actuarial skills;
- Professional and ethical;
Logic suggests these are the hurdles to overcome, and - eureka! - they do explain a lot. To some extent, the above skills are all covered by exams anyway. But some of the less tangible and difficult to measure skills are hard-won and come with time and ample experience. This explains why work-based skills exist.
It's true some actuarial students have more experience than some qualified actuaries. And it's not that non-actuaries don't have talents in the above areas. It's just that you must demonstrate them in order to qualify. Exams are only a sliver of the pie, but still part of it, to the chagrin of many a slow qualifier.
I reckon that the one that really marks out the difference between a student and a bona fide actuary is judgment - judgment backed up by the weight of experience. Personally, I can barely decide between chocolate and vanilla. But then, I'm not an actuary. No matter what I may have told you.