A degree may open the door to a variety of opportunities and diverse career paths. The degree programs offered at AIU will not necessarily lead to the featured careers. This collection of articles is intended to help inform and guide you through the process of determining which level of degree and types of certifications align with your desired career path.
If you're considering career paths in the financial industry that deal primarily with running numbers, financial reporting, statistical analysis and research and other mathematical problem-solving responsibilities, then two jobs may be of interest: an actuary or an accountant. Both positions involve analyzing and reporting numerical data to help companies make important financial decisions. However, accountants work primarily with financial information like budgets and taxes, and actuaries deal with statistical data. Actuaries may also work within the insurance field, while accountants may work in a broader range of industries.1,4
So how do you know whether you should pursue a career as an actuary or an accountant? Consider the skill sets, job duties and education required for each.
What is an Actuary?
An actuary compiles statistical data and analyzes it to calculate insurance risks and premiums. Scenarios may include the likelihood of an individual making medical claims based on personal health history or the risk of property loss in a particular geographical region.1
If you enjoy working with large sets of information in order to help identify correlations across many different categories, you may want to consider a career as an actuary.
Job Responsibilities and Skills Required
Actuaries work simultaneously with complex datasets; therefore, they must be comfortable with databases and statistics software as well as advanced mathematical operations. Actuaries also communicate findings to supervisors (and potentially larger groups) since their work is used to ensure profitability and may contribute to future financial decisions.1
There are several types of actuaries. Therefore, the specific sector involved can affect the types of data sets worked with, as well as the types of decisions advised. Types of actuaries include health/life insurance actuaries, property and casualty insurance actuaries, pension and retirement benefits actuaries and enterprise risk actuaries.1
If you are considering an actuarial career, you'll first need to complete a bachelor's degree program, preferably in mathematics, actuarial science or statistics. If you're looking at programs that don't offer an actuarial science specialization but another related financial or analytical degree, make sure that the coursework required to complete the degree covers economics, corporate finance, math and accounting, as well as aspects of business management.2
Exams are offered by either the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) or the Society of Actuaries (SOA). . The CAS offers certifications for actuaries in the property and casualty field. Candidates are required to pass seven exams for associate certification. The SOA also grants associate certification after seven exams for actuaries working in health and life insurance and related fields. Many employers expect students to have passed at least one of the two initial exams before graduation.2
Fellowship certification can be earned by the SOA in life and annuities, group and health benefits, retirement benefits, investments and finance/enterprise risk management. Furthermore, fellowship certification can take an additional two to three years of study. However, specialized study tracks for fellowship certification are not offered by the CAS.2
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 22% growth in employment of actuaries from 2016 through 2026, which is greater than the national average of 7% across all occupations.3
What is an Accountant?
Accountants may work in a broader capacity than actuaries and help companies reconcile internal financial data like customer and client transactions, payroll, investments and other expenses. Like actuaries, they may work in a variety of industries or specific roles; however, they are responsible for making sure a company’s or a department's financial records are complete and correct. In certain cases, accountants may be responsible for communicating the content of such records in the form of financial reports or year-end statements, or they may focus on legally required financial documentation like taxes.4
Job Responsibilities and Skills Required
Accountants keep a company's financial records current, analyze costs versus expenses and make recommendations for future decisions and investments. If completing mathematical calculations and ensuring accuracy interests you, then pursuing a job as an accountant may be favorable.
Different types of accountants work with different types of financial records. For instance, Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) may complete and file legally required tax forms, while management accountants and auditors may work to ensure internal financial reports are complete and accurate.4
A bachelor's degree in accounting may be required for entry-level accounting positions, though a master's degree can be preferred for upper-level management roles. For those who plan to take the CPA exam, look into the specific credit-hour and additional state licensing requirements.5
While certain accounting jobs may require a bachelor's degree only, different certifications may help with advancement in a particular area of the industry. For example, accountants may choose to pursue a CPA or CMA certification after gaining entry-level experience.5
Employment of Accountants and Auditors is projected to grow by 10% from 2016 through 2026, which is greater than the national average of 7% across all occupations.6
1. "Actuaries: What Actuaries Do." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/actuaries.htm#tab-2 (Visited 10/11/18).
2. "Actuaries: How to Become an Actuary." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/actuaries.htm#tab-4 (Visited 10/11/18).
3. "Actuaries: Job Outlook." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/actuaries.htm#tab-6 (Visited 10/11/18). This data represents national figures and is not based on school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary.
4. "Accountants and Auditors: What Accountants and Auditors Do." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm#tab-2 (Visited 10/11/18).
5. "Accountants and Auditors: How to Become an Accountant or Auditor." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm#tab-4 (Visited 10/1118).
6. "Accountants and Auditors: Job Outlook." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm#tab-6 (Visited 10/11/18). This data represents national figures and is not based on school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary.
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