Estimate Financial Impact of Risk and Uncertainty for a Living

Mar 1, 2008

I stumbled across a data table from the Social Security Administration that shows the probability of death. It’s an actuarial life table estimating the probability that you will die within one year given your age.

What is an Actuary?

Actuaries measure risk and then project how much it will cost a company or a person. There are of course many different types of actuaries, but I think they’re best known for their work with insurance companies. You know the coverage numbers on your health, auto, life, and home owner’s insurance? No doubt those numbers are the result of actuarial science.

Actuary, the Movie

Along Came PollyWhenever I think of actuaries, I can’t help but think of the movie Along Came Polly. It’s about an actuary (Ben Stiller) who takes only very calculated risks and yet he finds his life falling apart. A girl named Polly (Jennifer Aniston) comes along who is polar opposite and the actuary’s life is suddenly flipped.

Anyways, the movie is a complete exaggeration of the profession (I hardly think anyone would ever turn to their actuarial algorithm to calculate whether a relationship will end happily), but nevertheless, its an extremity of the truth.

Back in college, when I was figuring out what the heck to do with my life, I was considering actuarial science. I even took one of the exams, because after all, actuaries can make six-figure salaries. My girlfriend (and now wife) at the time made this comment that stuck with me. “I wouldn’t want to place monetary value on life for my job.”

I haven’t looked back at the profession much since. Do I really want to know things like the probability of my death? Probably not, but if you’re into risk management, then actuarial science might be for you.

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