What’s the Difference: Accounting vs. Actuary

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an accountant working at her desk with a laptop and spreadsheets

Graduates with a bachelor’s degree in accounting or math are prepared for many career possibilities. These individuals clearly have a passion for numbers. Now the questions arise: What can they do with that passion? What other skills do they have that would help shape and affect their career satisfaction? Two potential professions for graduates with a bachelor’s degree in accounting or math are accountants and actuaries.

Most people know the key responsibility of an accountant in an organization: provide a systematic, comprehensive recording of financial transactions. What is less known is what an actuary does and how rewarding the profession can be, especially for those who enjoy problem-solving and risk management.

In contemplating an accounting vs. actuary career, graduates would do well to consider factors such as education, day-to-day responsibilities, and career outlook.

Educational Requirements

For accountant positions, a bachelor’s degree in accounting is generally preferred. For actuary positions, a bachelor’s degree would more typically be in an analytical field, such as math, actuarial science, or statistics. Actuary candidates can also benefit from more diverse experiences, such as a background in business, economics, and accounting.

Beyond a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree like the online Master of Accountancy from Ohio University provides candidates with competencies that allow them to excel in their field. For example, for future actuaries, a master’s degree in accounting provides advanced technical knowledge in quantitative analysis and data evaluation, both skills that are invaluable in this career path. Some employers may also prefer to hire candidates who have a master’s degree in accounting or a related field. An advanced degree may prove beneficial in securing coveted, higher-paying positions.

Certification Requirements

After completing a bachelor’s or master’s degree, a graduate may choose to pursue a professional designation from a certification organization or professional association. Each certification has different requirements. One of the most popular is the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification, which is licensed through each state or jurisdiction and involves passing the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination. Other certifications include the following:

  • Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
  • Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
  • Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)

There are two professional associations where candidates can earn associate and fellow actuarial credentials: the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) and the Society of Actuaries (SOA). The process for attaining these credentials can be lengthy and includes exams, fellowships, and continuing education requirements.

Daily Responsibilities

While accountants and actuaries both work with numbers, their daily responsibilities are different. The daily responsibilities of an accountant may include the following:

  • Evaluating or auditing financial operations to make recommendations that improve business practices, including reducing costs and improving profits
  • Handling financial statements and reporting this information to regulators, tax agencies, or oversight agencies
  • Managing, preparing, and calculating taxes
  • Coordinating and organizing financial records

In comparison, actuaries typically focus on risk management, including enterprise risk management. As a result, they usually work in the insurance industry, where they analyze data, predict consumer behavior, and help determine the appropriate premiums to charge for different policies.

There are also opportunities for actuaries in financial and banking services, marketing, and employee benefits. Government organizations employ actuaries in the areas of pension policies, health care, and Social Security.

The daily responsibilities of an actuary may include the following:

  • Developing recommendations and proposals based on statistical, financial, and data analysis
  • Determining the probability of an event or action and the corresponding impacts
  • Evaluating insurance policies to minimize risk and increase profitability
  • Creating reports of findings that detail how calculations were made

Job Outlook

There are positive job prospects for candidates with education and training in accounting and actuarial work, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The high demand for both of these professions can be attributed to the significant education and training commitment required. Employers believe that candidates with master’s degrees and certifications will subsequently not need significant training for their position.

Job growth for actuaries is expected to increase by 22 percent — more than triple that of all occupations — from 2016 to 2026, while job growth for accountants and auditors is expected to increase by 10 percent.

One notable difference between these two professions is the number of job opportunities. In 2016, there were only 23,600 actuaries in the United States compared with 1.4 million accountants and auditors.

As regards compensation, the 2017 median salary for actuaries was $101,560, compared with $69,350 for accountants and auditors.

Which Direction to Take

When considering an accounting vs. actuary career, there are benefits to both of these valued professions. Regardless of which direction a candidate takes, one clear advantage that will help them achieve career success is further education and training. The online Master of Accountancy from Ohio University helps prepare students by providing them with the knowledge, skill, and business acumen to excel in accounting and actuarial careers.

Learn More:

Find out more about how Ohio University’s online Master of Accountancy program strives to prepare students for success as financial professionals.

Recommended Reading:

Ohio University Blog, “Career Outlook: How to Become a Financial Controller”
Ohio University Blog, “Understanding Accounting Position Titles and Department Hierarchies”
Ohio University Blog, “What Is Management Accounting?”

Sources:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accountants and Auditors
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Actuaries
Casualty Actuarial Society
Investopedia, Accounting
Investopedia, Career Advice: Accounting Versus Actuary
Investopedia, Government Actuary
Society of Actuaries, What Is an Actuary