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Actuarial Science Majors Dominate the Current CAS Pipeline for Candidates and Members … is this a Good or Bad Thing?

Throughout the summer, the CAS has been poring over data to try and explain where our 8% annual growth rate of new members is coming from and what commonalities there may be amongst our new members.

In terms of CAS members (defined as ACAS or FCAS), what we found was that approximately 10% to 20% of all members who graduated in the 80s, 90s and 00s had self-reported as actuarial science majors. Over the last decade, this number has jumped to 40% for those who graduated in the early part of the 2010s and is now closer to 55% for those newest members.

We see a similar trend occurring with our candidate population, where the majority of our candidates are coming from North American universities (United States and Canada) that have formal actuarial science degree programs.

In almost all cases, the biggest shift, not surprisingly, is a reduction in math and statistics majors over the decades as our candidates and members instead gravitate to actuarial science majors.

So, why is this shift happening and what do we believe the impacts could be in the long term for the CAS?

Let’s address the first question: Why do we think this trend is occurring? I’ll highlight a few possible reasons:

  • In 1988, the actuarial profession garnered an unexpected spotlight when the Jobs-Rated Almanac named “actuary” as the best job out of 250 entries. This alone would have sparked interest for those who saw the article, including university officials and faculty at the time who did not have a focus on actuarial science (for full transparency, I saw this article, switched my major to actuarial science in 1990, and graduated from the University of Illinois with an actuarial science degree when few of these majors existed back then).
  • Over time, more and more universities began offering formal actuarial science majors or offering classes to augment math majors with actuarial science as part of their curriculum.
  • Throughout the same time, as employers had a need for increased actuarial talent in their companies, one of the easier ways to recruit for talent was to go to universities with actuarial science majors and filter candidates on GPA, the number of exams they had passed, and the existence or non-existence of an actuarial internship. This rubric for recruiting became successful, and it likely became a source of “geographical bias” in the industry as companies looked for actuarial talent in the most efficient and effective manner possible. For more on this, see CAS Board Director Kuda Chibanda’s article “False Positives: Avoiding Pitfalls in Your Diversity Hiring,” in the March-April 2020 Actuarial Review.
  • Over 20 years ago, the CAS launched a campaign to develop the current CAS University Liaison model, and we now have dedicated volunteers on over 300 campuses who spread the word on property-casualty insurance and the benefits of the CAS. Our data would show that we are likely over-proportioned to having university liaisons in schools with actuarial science majors, and our CAS Student Central database shows that those who are members of such are likely to be studying actuarial science.
  • Throughout much of the last decade, both the media and employers have shifted their impressions of actuarial science. For the media, “actuary” is no longer the darling of the top-rated jobs, with “data scientist” seemingly taking its place. And employers are now seeking the best data and analytics talent to join their companies, which has caused more like-minded analytical types to steer away from actuarial science.
  • Recent testimonials have revealed how challenging it may be for someone wanting to become an actuary but not pursuing an actuarial science degree. These types of candidates are finding it challenging to sell their skills appropriately amongst a crowded set of resumes, and employers are balancing recruitment dollars to most efficiently find the best talent for their organizations. As for career changers, they may face the biggest challenges yet as a significant amount of recruitment happens at the university level or because employers are looking for those with actual P&C actuarial experience.

There may be other reasons for these trends, but they paint a realistic picture of what is happening to our profession. They compel us to consider what the unintended consequences may be on the CAS and our community going forward.

The biggest consequence can be boiled down to one topic: a potential lack of diversity in our community. Looking through the lens of race and gender, we are aware that the CAS and other actuarial organizations need concrete efforts to address diversity, but we may also be victim to a lack of diversity of thought. In our growing membership, more than half of our newest members have gone to universities offering actuarial science degrees. We need to attract skills, not necessarily specific majors. Skills for successful actuaries span a multitude of concentrations — actuary is the quintessential multidisciplinary profession, as my former professor Rick Gorvett was fond of saying. These skills do not need to be obtained through actuarial science degrees, or even math and statistics for that matter.

The CAS Board of Directors thinks that diversity of candidates and of thought is something that requires some attention, and they want to develop tactics to draw in more future members from different universities, different majors and different careers. A few tactics that the CAS Staff and Board are currently considering include the following:

  1. Revisiting the CAS University Liaison footprint and identifying new universities to target, both in and outside of North America.
  2. Helping students who are in universities without actuarial science majors build skills-based resumes that will resonate with prospective employers in the P&C and risk management space.
  3. Shifting the way that we talk about the CAS and the P&C actuarial profession to focus more on skills and the kinds of problems our members solve both today and into the future.

What other ideas might you have to help the CAS consider a more diversified pipeline of future members? Please email Mike Boa at mboa@casact.org with your ideas or comments.