The word “actuary” appears for the first time in 18th century in England: “expert who calculates risks and insurance premiums”. The Larousse dictionary defines him today as a “specialist who makes statistical calculations for insurance.” This is a somewhat narrow view, he should instead be considered as a specialist in risk management in insurance companies. He conducts studies to mathematically model these risks (development and pricing of insurance contracts, evaluation of financial products, investment choices, financial risk management). He also controls the legal, accounting, tax and commercial aspects in which he intervenes.
Historically, actuarial studies have emerged as soon as the problem of organizing and financing a system of insurance on life arose. Today, the work of the actuary has extended to all insurance systems (pension and insurance plans, personal insurance, fire insurance, accident and miscellaneous risks). Required to take part in the management of substantial funds collected by insurance companies, the actuary must also have some knowledge of quantitative finance.
Created in 1891 by the French Institute of Actuaries, the title of “actuary” was originally intended for professionals successfully passing a qualifying examination. Since 1930, a degree has also been issued by way of training by the University of Lyon (ISFA) and, gradually, by several universities and Grandes Ecoles, including ENSAE in 1985. The actuarial movement in France is managed today by the Institute of Actuaries. In 2015, it had 3000 associated or qualified members. There are about 200 newly trained actuaries every year. The Institut des Actuaires groups all French professionals with the title of actuary. ENSAE is one of the institutions recognized by the IA as a training center for actuaries. ENSAE courses as well as the final year project are validated for this purpose.
The Actuarial major allows ENSAE students to acquire a solid methodological base and present their application to the Institute of Actuaries to become an associate member.
Historically, the core business of the actuary was the pricing of insurance contracts and provision for commitments related to these contracts. In casualty insurance, nearly 70% of the companies’ liabilities consists of provisions for outstanding claims. Their impact on the income of insurance companies makes their assessment strategic. That is why senior actuaries in insurance companies are led to hold managerial and senior positions. For this, they must have advanced knowledge in statistics, computer science and insurance.
The risks of natural disasters and the industrial risks of large groups increasingly affect the liabilities of non-life insurance companies. The use of reinsurance products has become a necessity for the solvency of companies. It is thus clear that actuaries also naturally find their place in insurance and reinsurance companies to establish risk-sharing mechanisms.
The inversion of the insurance production cycle leads companies to collect large sums of money and manage them intelligently. The amount of assets managed by life insurers at the end of 2014 amounted to over 1,900 billion euros (source: FFSA). The actuary has a privileged place to occupy in asset-liability management and asset allocation trades. These jobs require a very good knowledge of portfolio management tools and financial mathematics. The development of retirement savings plans over the last fifteen years in France has brought out job opportunities and prospects for actuaries.
Actuarial firms, internal audit departments of insurance companies and the regulatory authority (ACP, Prudential Control Authority) finally offer cross-functional positions to actuaries in the field of control and auditing.
In summary, the actuary degree allows to occupy high-level positions in insurance companies. It provides the basic knowledge required for a career oriented towards education and research in assurance.