Actuaries are highly regarded, intensely trained professionals who use mathematical tools and skills to measure the probability and risk of future events, and their financial impact on a business, individuals and/or society as a whole. They are both problem solvers and strategic thinkers, with a deep understanding of financial systems. Working at the technical heart of a company, they analyse data, build mathematical models to evaluate and assess future developments, and communicate their findings to non-specialists. Actuaries work in a diverse range of fields, including the insurance industry, consultancy, corporate finance, and banking.
Why a career as an actuary?
Actuarial careers generally appear very high in lists of best rated jobs due to excellent job satisfaction, status, career prospects etc. (for an example, see here). Some of the reasons for this are as follows (source).
- An actuarial career is financially rewarding. The average graduate salary in the recruitment market is about £33,000, with senior leading roles paying in excess of £100k (in excess of £200k for senior partners for instance).
- Actuaries enjoy a good work/life balance. Compared to other financial professions such as banking, an actuarial role enables you to balance a rewarding career with your other interests in life.
- An actuarial career can take you anywhere in the world. An actuarial qualification is internationally recognised and even standardised between many countries, allowing for great opportunities to travel and explore.
Where do actuaries work and what do they do on a daily basis?
About a third of the UK actuaries work for insurance companies (life, health and general insurance, and pensions). They typically work in areas such as product development, developing pricing strategies, asset and liability management, reserving, capital modelling and (financial) risk management. Another about a third work for financial consultancy firms, and in that role an actuary typically provides services in the above areas to their clients. The final third of UK actuaries work in a large variety of other sectors, including investment management, corporate finance and banking. Generally you find actuaries in any sector where (financial) risk management plays a role!
Our MSc Actuarial Science programme
Our MSc Actuarial Science programme was established in 2011 with the aim of providing a thorough training in the mathematical tools and skills an actuary needs. This includes topics such as
- Markovian models and pricing techniques relevant to life insurance
- Risk models, ruin theory, risk measures, premium principles and further techniques relevant to general insurance
- Modern theory of market consistent pricing (mathematical finance), such as the Black and Scholes asset pricing model, the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM), interest rate models, credit risk models, option pricing etc.
- Risk management techniques
- Relevant topics from Statistics such as Time Series and their applications, Generalised Linear Models, Survival Analysis etc.
- Relevant software suites such as R and Excel.
There are eight course units to study over two academic terms (Sep-Jan and Feb-Jun), and a dissertation/project in the summer term (Jun-Aug). The course teaching is delivered through lectures, tutorials, case studies, seminars and project-based work. You can find an overview of all eight course units on the programme here.
After graduation from this programme you are in an excellent position to take up a graduate level actuarial role or more generally a financial risk management role. Indeed this the route most graduates from the programme take. It is also possible to carry on in academia and study for a PhD.
Staff running the programme
Within the School of Mathematics there are several members of staff that carry out research in Actuarial Science. This group also runs the MSc Actuarial Science programme, does the majority of the teaching and supervises the dissertations. Several members have experience in industry. In particular Jon Ferns FIA is a fully qualified actuary who had a rich career in the pensions industry in the North West before he recently joined our School. In addition to the IFoA, the group has links with NWAS (the North West Actuarial Society) and several companies in the insurance industry and related.
Accreditation and exemptions
Our MSc Actuarial Science programme is accredited by the IFoA, the UK's chartered professional body for actuaries. From the academic year 2019/2020 onwards our programme will offer the following exemptions in the IFoA's revised Curriculum 2019: CS1, CS2 (Actuarial Statistics) and CM2 (Actuarial Mathematics). (Reaccreditation for Curriculum 2019 is currently pending).
If you are not familiar with the concept of exemptions, a brief explanation is as follows. The IFoA offers an educational programme for gaining professional qualifications, ultimately leading to a Fellowship (i.e. a fully qualified actuary). For gaining these qualifications a candidate has to pass a number of professional exams. A graduate from our MSc programme holding one or more of the above exemptions is (indeed!) exempted from sitting the corresponding professional exam(s). For more information, see the Students page of the IFoA website.
It is worth noting that due to international standardisation, it is typically possible to use IFoA exemptions in professional actuarial studies abroad as well.
Dissertations, industrial links and internships
After two semesters with taught courses, in the final three months of the MSc year (June, July, August) students do a piece of independent research type work under direct supervision of a member of staff. The findings are written up in a report called a dissertation. Plenty of support is provided throughout this process (for most students this is a new activity).
The research can be based on relevant actuarial research literature, but a special feature of our programme is that it can also be based on a collaboration with an industrial partner on a problem of particular interest to them. These collaborations allow students to apply their skills to a very relevant 'real world' problem, and to have an ongoing conversation with the industrial partner about their progress. Previous partners for such collaborations include Mercer, Police Mutual, Willis Towers Watson, JLT Group and Aegon.
Furthermore we have a special relationship with the company Royal London. Every year they offer a number of paid internships of a special form to our students, which are awarded on a competitive basis. During such an internship, a student spends part of their time working on a project towards their dissertation (like all other students, also still under our supervision) but they also get to experience daily actuarial work in the Royal London offices (in Wilmslow). These internships provide a unique opportunity to combine researching a 'real world' problem with obtaining valuable work experience. About half of the students who have taken part in this scheme in the past were offered a job at Royal London after their internship.
Entry requirements for the programme
This programme requires students to have a sufficiently strong background in Mathematics from their UG degree, with in particular a sufficient level of Probability Theory and Statistics, and normally a good upper second class degree classification (or equivalent for overseas degrees) is required. You do not necessarily need to have studied Mathematics though, it can for instance also be a Science or Economics degree with a strong quantitative component or some other degree with substantial mathematical content.
Since Probability Theory and Statistics both play such a key role in the courses on the programme it is crucial that you have seen enough material from these two fields, equivalent to the first two years of a good UG Mathematics degree. For reference of the material you should have seen you could look at the syllabuses of our UG courses Probability 2 and Statistical Methods.
Note that this programme was primarily designed for students that have not studied Actuarial Science before. Even though some study of Actuarial topics is of course not necessarily a problem, we are committed to delivering value for money and we can therefore not accept students whose previous studies significantly overlaps with this programme. Though we endeavour to recognise such situations, especially for lesser well known overseas degrees this may not always be very easy and it is ultimately the applicant's own responsibility to prevent this. If you have any doubts, make sure to double check the syllabuses of the courses on this programme and of course feel free to get in touch to discuss!
Fees and funding
Information about the fees for this programme can be found here. There are a variety of funding opportunities available including loyalty bursaries for University of Manchester students (worth £2000) together with an additional 10% reduction for University of Manchester students with a first class degree, and the UK government's postgraduate loan scheme. Contact the admissions team for further details of these opportunities.
How do I find out more?
If you would like to learn more about working as an actuary, an excellent source of information is the website of the IFoA. If you have any questions about our MSc programme, or about studying in Manchester in general, then please don't hesiate to get in touch with us, we are very happy to talk to you and to help you!