Everything You Need to Know about FSA Exams

Everything You Need to Know about FSA Exams

Definition of an Actuary

It is common thought that an actuary is a graduate in the field of Actuarial Science. It is also common thought that an actuary’s job is to calculate insurance premiums and analyze risk(s). However, the work of an actuary is not limited to premium calculation; neither is the title gained by completing a degree. An actuarial science student has to complete a sequel of professional papers within the specialized area of practice to earn the title of an actuary. Consequently, there are several routes that an aspiring actuary could take, such as life, health, and general insurance. Students could also train to become pension actuaries, finance and investment actuaries, risk actuaries or resource and environment actuaries.

The Journey of an Actuary

Actuarial Science is a developing area of study in many parts of the world today, and many students are enrolling for the program in registered universities. The initial step to becoming an actuary is by attaining a Bachelor’s degree in a recognized institution. Moreover, the areas of study must include courses in algebra, statistics, finance, calculus, economics, computer science, and accounting. The knowledge acquired from these courses is potent for sitting actuarial exams, besides applying in the workplace.

A determined student can begin pursuing actuarial exams while taking the Actuarial Science degree. The first two exams, offered by the Society of Actuaries (SOA), are usually the best exams to start with. This is because those first two exams majorly test on areas such as probability and financial mathematics that are also taught in class, hence much easier to a student who has, especially, pursued subjects in line with the aforementioned units. In addition to pursuing professional papers, an aspiring actuary should equally work on their technical skills in computing and programming, primarily focusing on Excel proficiency. These skills are necessary for the workplace and are highly required by employers during interviews. After successful completion of an Actuarial Science degree, a student should apply for internship positions to gain work experience and hands-on practice of knowledge acquired.

Aspiring actuaries should then work on attaining their first level actuarial position which requires one to pass several professional exams. The number of reviews needed for one to qualify as an associate actuary depends on the examining body that one enrolls in. Our focus will be on the exams offered by the Society of Actuaries. The Society of Actuaries requires one to pass twelve components with an emphasis on predictive analytics within seven subjects. Also, Validation of Educational Experience subjects is included in the track of one attaining the associate designation. After passing the preliminary exams, the student has to sit for a series of online modules inclusive of the Fundamentals of Actuarial Practice that cover real-world issues around insurance, case studies and projects. Successful completion of these standard requirements qualifies one for the ASA designation.

However, the journey doesn’t end there for an associate aiming for the fellowship position. The student has to sit upper-level exams that test on topics such as risk classification and management, plan design, valuation, and rate-making. There are six specialization tracks that a student can opt for in their journey to becoming a fellow. Specific exams, modules and seminars characterize each of these tracks and only after successful completion will the student attain the fellow designation. Each of these tracks will be discussed further under the exam section. Moreover, the Society of Actuaries provides another classification which is the Chartered Enterprise Risk Analyst credential. This can be achieved as one pursues the fellowship designation by completing the Finance and Enterprise Risk Management track.

Once a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries has attained the actuary position, they should work harder towards achieving a management position. This means moving away from general technical work to more areas of decision making. Moving up the ladder means being tasked with more responsibility and one is likely given a small actuarial team to supervise. Moreover, a higher position means a higher salary and more recognition as an actuary. At this point, an actuary gathers expertise in the area of specialization while making more sound decisions towards business planning.

The International Actuarial Association (IAA)

The International Actuarial Association is a global association comprising of local professional actuarial associations. The essence of the Association is to create unity in the direction and supervision of duties performed through the member associations. Established in 1895 and renamed IAA in 1968, the body enhances coordination of activities within the Actuarial profession given that the primary responsibilities are handled by professional associations such as the Society of Actuaries. Besides, the member associations bring together students and actuaries from local countries, providing a link between professionals in all member countries. Overall, the work of IAA is focused on research programs aimed at developing the academic and professional sectors in matters of actuarial science.

The Society of Actuaries (SOA)

Founded in 1949, the Society of Actuaries is a worldwide professional organization that is a full member of the International Actuarial Association. Moreover, SOA is the largest global professional actuarial association with more than 26,000 members in 78 member countries. SOA aims for actuaries to be recognized as global leaders in their profession via education and intensive research in managing risk to provide solutions for organizations and the public. The association assists actuaries from all areas of practice in their academic route, including provision and supervision of quality exams. Consequently, the body offers three designations namely two associate-level positions which are the Associate of Society of Actuaries and the Chartered Enterprise Risk Analyst with the topmost designation being the Fellow of the Society of Actuaries. All in all, the classifications are earned after passing a series of rigorous examinations managed by the Association.

Fellow of the Society of Actuaries (FSA)

A Fellow of the Society of Actuaries is qualified to make financial decisions regarding several areas of practice, namely health insurance, life insurance, pensions, investments among others. The fellow is required to apply mathematical concepts and techniques to provide solutions for financial issues. Moreover, the Fellow is expected to show a complete understanding of the specific area of practice, also earning the right to vote in elections.

The Journey to Fellowship

For one to attain fellowship, one has to successfully pass through the associate stage, which means passing a series of exams before settling on a fellowship track. Six specialty tracks exist under the Society of Actuaries, and each has defined exams, modules and seminars. However, some of the tests are common among all the tracks.

Corporate Finance and ERM (CFE) Track

This track drives the focus of a student on the application of enterprise risk management and business management in organizations to assist in managing risks. By completing this track, a candidate also earns the CERA credential. Consequently, to make the title of a fellow under this track, one has to pass three exams, four modules, and one seminar. Candidates are allowed to choose the examination order although SOA recommends a particular order for sitting the exams.

  • Enterprise Risk Management Module (ERM): candidates gain the ability to develop and analyze economic capital models.
  • Enterprise Risk Management Exam: candidates familiarize themselves with topics that allow them to measure, manage and allocate risk using modules and metrics.
  • Foundations of CFE Exam: the use of risk management techniques are implemented while using real-world models and simulations.
  • Financial Reporting Module: concepts and terminologies relative to financial statements and regulatory capital requirements are covered under this module.
  • Strategic Decision Making Exam: entails the exposure to lessons learned from risk-taking experiences within other organizations.
  • Advanced Topics in CFE Module: this module allows students to apply the Extreme Value Theory to work while candidates go through a ten-year strategic planning exercise. Also, students use Opportunity Engineering in helping senior managers to make strategic decisions.
  • Decision Making and Communication (DMAC) Module: universal module across all specialty tracks
  • Fellowship Admissions Course (FAC): this course is applicable across all Fellow specialty tracks.

Quantitative Finance and Investment (QFI) Track

Candidates that aspire to work in the area of investments take this track to excel in situations which require intensive investment decision making to be made. On successful completion of the three exams, three modules, and one seminar taken under this track, the candidate thrives in the areas of hedging, pension plan and company portfolio management among other areas. Also, a candidate gains the ability to manage asset liability and variable annuity products. SOA recommends a particular order for sitting the tests.

  • Financial Modeling Module: an intensive overview of financial risk models, derivatives and mitigation methods is studied under this module.
  • QFI Core Exam: the Option pricing theory, financial derivatives among other securities is covered in the exam alongside essential fundamentals of mathematics and economics.
  • QFI Advanced Exam: candidates, are expected to grasp advanced option pricing methods alongside liability management and manufacturing.
  • ERM Module: candidates are exposed to risk management approaches.
  • Investment Risk Management (IRM) Exam- this is also referred to under the Enterprise Risk Management Exam.
  • Financial Reporting Module: the concepts, terminologies and resources related to financial reporting are explored, and their essence on actuarial work is applied extensively.
  • Decision Making and Communication (DMAC) Module
  • Fellowship Admissions Course (FAC)

Individual Life and Annuities Track

This specialty track is intended for actuaries that desire to focus on life and annuity products. Successful candidates ensure stability in organizations by designing, pricing, and reserving complex products. Moreover, candidates gain knowledge in the use of valuation and experience assumptions as well as emerging financial and valuation standards. SOA recommends a specific order for the three exams, four modules and one seminar tested in this track.

  • Regulation and Taxation Module: candidates acquire knowledge on the impact of the law on policy design, pricing and reserving.
  • Life Pricing Exam: candidates can explain the relationship between product features, their risks and selection of pricing assumptions.
  • Life Finance and Valuation Exam: candidates gain the ability to apply valuation principles of annuity products issued in insurance companies.
  • Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) Module
  • Life Risk Management (LRM) Exam: also classified under the Enterprise Risk Management Exam.
  • Financial Economics Module: candidates are introduced to utility theory, empirical anomalies and corporate finance as applied in insurance companies.
  • Decision Making and Communication (DMAC) Module
  • Fellowship Admissions Course (FAC)

Retirement Benefits Track

Actuaries taking this track work with employer-sponsored retirement benefit plans. They assist employers in designing and funding of these plans as well as ensuring regulatory compliance on the same. Moreover, they offer advice on the investment of assets. In Canada, a candidate is expected to sit three exams, four modules, and a seminar while in the United States, a candidate sits four exams.

  • Social Insurance Module: the candidate acquires the ability to coordinate employer-provided benefits with insurance programs for the countries of residence in which the candidates work.
  • Financial Economics Module: included topics under this track are utility theory, corporate finance and basic healthcare economics. Candidates also explore stochastic models and their application to hedging.
  • Funding and Regulation Exam: this is a requirement for Canadian candidates only. Candidates can select actuarial assumptions that are appropriate in valuing pension benefits as well as regulatory policies for retirement plans.
  • Enrolled Actuaries (EA) Exams: this exam is recommended for candidates in the United States. Candidates learn how to select actuarial assumptions and to calculate minimum and maximum required contributions.
  • Design and Accounting Exam: different versions are offered for both Canadian students and U.S students. Students gain knowledge of analyzing factors that are necessary for making actuarial assumptions as well as the evaluation of different plan types.
  • Enterprise Risk Management Module: candidates are required to profoundly economic capital models that will assist them in choosing appropriate risk management approaches.
  • Retirement Plan Investment and Risk Management (RBIRM) Exam – also entailed in the ERM exam.
  • Decision Making and Communication (DMAC) Module
  • Fellowship Admissions Course (FAC)

Group and Health Track

Actuaries who desire to focus on group benefits and health insurance usually take this route in their journey to fellowship. The group and health actuary acquire understanding in the areas of legislation, technology, and overall changes in the market. A total of three exams, four modules and a seminar are pursued in this track.

  • Financial Economics Module: students learn the application of corporate finance in the healthcare industry with a basic understanding of the utility theory. Candidates also apply economic principles to the healthcare industry while analyzing healthcare alternatives.
  • Health Foundations Module: a detailed understanding of the healthcare system is offered under this module. Although the lessons are at a micro level, students explore terminology and coding that assists them in quality researching while obtaining healthcare data.
  • Group and Health Core Exam: different versions are offered in Canada and the United States. Candidates understand how to price products and describe them under different healthcare plans.
  • Group and Health Advanced Exam: the candidate, can evaluate the effectiveness of disease management programs. Also, students can formulate and evaluate carrier reserving techniques.
  • Pricing, Reserving and Forecasting Module: the candidate masters techniques for managing functional areas in the control cycle of a health care company.
  • Group and Health Specialty (GHS) Exam: the candidate gains an understanding of risk management for individual long-term health contracts.
  • Decision Making and Communication (DMAC) Module
  • Fellowship Admissions Course (FAC)

General Insurance Track

The property-casualty field is a developing area of study, and SOA is providing a global opportunity for interested actuaries to take this track. The General Insurance track prepares candidates with the practical experience needed to offer solutions to companies worldwide. Consequently, a candidate is required to sit for four exams, four modules, and a seminar.

  • Introduction to General Insurance Exam: candidates gain a broader understanding of the general functions of a general insurance company. This role includes underwriting claims, controlling risk, reinsurance functions, among others.
  • Ratemaking and Reserving Exam: students can apply commonly used approaches to rate making. Catastrophe models and trend calculations are also profoundly covered.
  • Financial and Regulatory Environment Exam: candidates develop insights into financial reporting standards. Students earn the ability to apply rules of practice in the regulatory and legal environment of Actuarial practice.
  • Advanced Topics in General Insurance Exam: candidates gain a more in-depth understanding of loss development models, credibility modeling, risk margin analysis and reinsurance pricing.
  • Applications of Statistical Techniques Module: candidates acquire hands-on experience analyzing data sets based on real-world situations. Students also analyze data using the R package as applied in data analysis.
  • Financial Economics Module: students focus on how individuals and firms save and invest money.
  • Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) Module
  • Decision Making and Communication (DMAC) Module
  • Fellowship Admissions Course (FAC)

Changes in the FSA Curriculum

The Society of Actuaries is currently updating the Fellowship track curriculum given that the Associate level curriculum is also changing.  The revised exams and modules will be released from late 2019 through 2021.

  • Corporate Finance track: there will be no changes for the exams in this track although a new module titled Introduction to Corporate Finance will be gradually introduced. Also, the CFE module will include a few advanced topics.
  • Quantitative Finance and Investment track: a few topics will be restructured within the three exams, and the financial modeling module will also be revised. A new scenario modeling module will replace the current financial reporting module.
  • Individual Life and Annuities track: there will be a few changes in this track in that the three exams will have new names and a new module will be introduced. The Introduction to ILA Module will replace the Financial Economics Module.
  • Retirement Benefits track: there will be no restructuring for the exams tested under this track though one module will be created, which is the Pensions Projections Module.
  • Group and Health track: the new Health Economics Module will replace the Financial Economics Module. Also, the Group and Health core and the Group and Health Advanced exams will be replaced by Design and Pricing and Finance and Valuation exams, respectively.
  • There will be no restructuring for the General Insurance Track.


Important Months and Dates

The Society of Actuaries offers exams during January, March, May, July, September, and November. Consequently, the organization allows registration for reviews to be completed a month before the chosen exam month. For instance, if a student picks March as the time to sit the exam, then the registration should be completed by the end February. Exact time and dates change annually depending on the country of residence, including paper and pencil dates and computer-based exam dates.  Moreover, exams are done within two to five hours, and modules can take a couple of weeks to complete. It is advisable to attend tuition classes before reviews as well as multiple hours of study.

Scholarships and Grants

The FSA exam fee lies in the range of USD 325 to 1125 USD for each exam attempt. Given these financial requirements, most students seek scholarships and grants offered by organizations such as SOA.

  • Student Exam Fee: full-time students can apply for discounts on fees for particular exams.
  • Academic Exam Fee reimbursement
  • Examination Fee Discount Program
  • Diversity Exam Reimbursement Program: The CAS and SOA Joint Committee offer this program as a reward for students who pass the first two exams.
  • The Actuarial Foundation Program: these include the Actuarial Diversity Scholarship, Caribbean actuarial scholarship, and the Curtis Memorial scholarship to name a few.

Career Prospects for Fellows

Each path chosen by a Fellow leads to a long term career depending on the track. For instance, an actuary in general insurance will handle matters of property insurance in that field. In addition, as shown by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the wages of a successful actuary lie between USD 58,910 and USD 114,120. The higher a student’s advances in terms of study levels, the higher the wages. This shows that the seemingly endless study hours and exams are eventually worthwhile.

Bottom Line

The journey to attaining the title of an actuary is entirely complicated but achievable. The Society of Actuaries offers candidates an active network to draw knowledge from, among other exclusive benefits. Candidates are exposed to a variety of publications and research tools that assist them during employment as well as exposure to professional networking communities. Members are eligible to enjoy volunteer experiences impacting the business community while shaping their leadership abilities. Consequently, successful completion of FSA examinations guarantees an actuary a stable long-term career in every Actuarial dynamic of the corporate world.

Note: Anyone with a background in the STEM courses can pursue the actuarial professional papers. A degree in Actuarial Science is not a requirement for pursuing the Society of Actuaries exams. The exams are, however, much simpler to a candidate with an Actuarial Science major.

For study materials on actuarial exams, click on the following link: https://analystprep.com/actuarial-exams/