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  • How much math do YOU do?

    I asked a FCAS in a job interview how much actual math he does on a daily basis in his jobs. He said he adds, subtracts, multiplies and divides, but that he hasn't done any integration since he was studying for exams. On the other hand, I've walked past other fellows' offices and seen their whiteboards covered with complicated math problems.

    So here's a question for all of you out there who are actually working as an actuary. How often do actually do any math beyond the basics?

    I hear people talk about how they're attracted to the idea of a whole career of solving math problems, but somehow I keep getting the impression that its actually a career of knowing which function to use in excel.

  • #2
    Originally posted by Stodd View Post
    I asked a FCAS in a job interview how much actual math he does on a daily basis in his jobs. He said he adds, subtracts, multiplies and divides, but that he hasn't done any integration since he was studying for exams. On the other hand, I've walked past other fellows' offices and seen their whiteboards covered with complicated math problems.

    So here's a question for all of you out there who are actually working as an actuary. How often do actually do any math beyond the basics?

    I hear people talk about how they're attracted to the idea of a whole career of solving math problems, but somehow I keep getting the impression that its actually a career of knowing which function to use in excel.
    If you are truely want to ask actuaries (i.e. ASA/ACAS +), I imagine the answer would be close to none unless they work in academia / write exam questions. Even as an analyst, you will most likely not do any integration. What model are you planning on setting up, to price for example, that will invovle integration that you cannot set up a different way with a lot less complexity? I imagine people working on hedge funds, etc. might have to? But is that what you are going into?

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    • #3
      No i'm not biased one way or another. I'm hoping to go into P&C. I enjoy the math, but I also enjoy the efficiency provided by having software do the legwork for you. I'm only asking out of curiosity to see if there are very many people that do a lot of math outside of their exams. I think a lot of people who don't yet work as actuaries don't have a very good idea of what a typical day at work entails.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Stodd View Post
        No i'm not biased one way or another. I'm hoping to go into P&C. I enjoy the math, but I also enjoy the efficiency provided by having software do the legwork for you. I'm only asking out of curiosity to see if there are very many people that do a lot of math outside of their exams. I think a lot of people who don't yet work as actuaries don't have a very good idea of what a typical day at work entails.
        Pulling data from a warehouse, using Acces/SAS to bucket it, using Excel to summarize / draw conclusions. Sometimes you have to go outside the box.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by NoMoreExams View Post
          Pulling data from a warehouse, using Acces/SAS to bucket it, using Excel to summarize / draw conclusions. Sometimes you have to go outside the box.
          I am still an actuarial student, but this is a huge part of the job. Yes, you have to know how to create formulas in Excel, and as convoluted as they get, mathematically they never go beyond the 5th grade level.

          The upper level CAS exams are a better indicator of the job - simple math, a lot of knowledge and details. Filing is an example of a task that requires no math at all; it is simply complying with state regulation. Many actuarial tasks are almost completely unrelated to math.

          The most complex math I see where I work is done by modelers who are analyzing sparse data. They use distributions out of the prelims, but the computer does most of the work. They just plug and chug values, use some judgment, and print reports out. They aren't actually calculating.

          Generally from what I've seen, the people who hope for heavy math get really disappointed and irritated with the career. If you are content being a business professional who deals with rates and reserves, you'll love it.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by alekhine4149 View Post
            I am still an actuarial student, but this is a huge part of the job. Yes, you have to know how to create formulas in Excel, and as convoluted as they get, mathematically they never go beyond the 5th grade level.

            The upper level CAS exams are a better indicator of the job - simple math, a lot of knowledge and details. Filing is an example of a task that requires no math at all; it is simply complying with state regulation. Many actuarial tasks are almost completely unrelated to math.

            The most complex math I see where I work is done by modelers who are analyzing sparse data. They use distributions out of the prelims, but the computer does most of the work. They just plug and chug values, use some judgment, and print reports out. They aren't actually calculating.

            Generally from what I've seen, the people who hope for heavy math get really disappointed and irritated with the career. If you are content being a business professional who deals with rates and reserves, you'll love it.
            Exactly right. There's more "math" on the modeling teams but they all basically emphasize creative ways of solving a problem which is usually a characteristic of people that are good at math. If you want to do proofs on Banach spaces, go into academia

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            • #7
              This post just seriously broke my heart. I graduate in two and a half weeks and now I find out that I'll just be a regular businessman. I'm so disappointed.

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              • #8
                I was also under the impression that actuarial science would be a math-heavy field even in day-to-day work. This is quite disappointing as I enjoy using mathematics alot and is the main reason I chose this path.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by iammzz View Post
                  I was also under the impression that actuarial science would be a math-heavy field even in day-to-day work. This is quite disappointing as I enjoy using mathematics alot and is the main reason I chose this path.
                  Enjoy using it in what way? Have you done the really heavy maths? People that have an aptitude for math and only get a Bachelors don't seem to understand what it takes to be a mathematician. Graduate schools aren't easy, neither are PhD programs, neither is trying to find a position after. Neither is trying to get tenure. I have a friend who got a PhD from Harvard, postdoc at Univ. of Chicago and she struggled with finding a tenured position at a university she wanted. This is your competition in the real ''''' '' Math.

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                  • #10
                    I believe that a thorough understanding of math is required for day to day but that doesn't mean that you will actually be doing it. However, you can't truly understand the methods you are utilizing without understanding where they come from. I doubt many high level actuaries actually do pen and paper calculus on a day-to-day basis but they need this background to understand the background and limitations of the models they apply.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by ajsnyder85 View Post
                      I believe that a thorough understanding of math is required for day to day but that doesn't mean that you will actually be doing it. However, you can't truly understand the methods you are utilizing without understanding where they come from. I doubt many high level actuaries actually do pen and paper calculus on a day-to-day basis but they need this background to understand the background and limitations of the models they apply.
                      Yes, this is very well put. One reason it's useful to hire people who are good at math is that they have the same thought processes that are useful in being a spreadsheet monkey. A lot of people just can't handle this type of thinking, but they have good people skills and can become marketing reps. Insurance companies need quantitative thinkers.

                      The point about understanding is true. You need an intuition for correlation and independence to understand GLM, for instance. You need to understand that adding additional considerations will always increase variance. You need to know why you are removing 4 data points from 3 years back, etc.

                      You will be paid well to do all this, but it still is mostly focused on the business side of things. You may look at a graph and say, "Well, we expected losses to go up once they passed that new law last spring." Such things aren't mathematical, but they are actuarial.

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                      • #12
                        That is a major disappointment. Any jobs you know of that actually require a lot of math? I've been looking into the jobs statistician and operations research analyst, but I don't know if they also mostly rely on software to find the answers.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Happychick90 View Post
                          That is a major disappointment. Any jobs you know of that actually require a lot of math? I've been looking into the jobs statistician and operations research analyst, but I don't know if they also mostly rely on software to find the answers.
                          Being a mathematician. What do you mean "a lot of math?" If you want to do math, go do research. Do you honestly think people in the business world sit there and do integrals? The closest is probably people working at hedge funds, the so called quants I guess who work in the financial engineering field. But even there, from what I understand there's a lot of relying on software. They develop a model, run millions of simulations, and test their theories but it's very cuthroat and it requires you to know a LOT of math. If you (not you specifically) are finding actuarial exams tough, you most likely will not make it.

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                          • #14
                            Even if your job did require a lot of calculus, there are so many incredibly robust software applications, anybody who employed you would be wasting their money to ask you to do it by hand. Even wolframalpha.com, a free website anybody can use, can handle really complicated double and triple integrals.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Stodd View Post
                              Even if your job did require a lot of calculus, there are so many incredibly robust software applications, anybody who employed you would be wasting their money to ask you to do it by hand. Even wolframalpha.com, a free website anybody can use, can handle really complicated double and triple integrals.
                              I guess when I said doing integrals, I didn't mean anything from Calc. 1 and 2. My thoughts were more in line with ... gauge integrals i.e. taking a measure-theoratic approach to dealing with non-standard functions, etc.

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