How Does an Actuary Differ from an Accountant?

People interested in careers dealing with money and working with numbers often wonder how an actuary differs from an accountant. Both positions offer careers in the finance industry and deal with statistical analysis. They both include mathematical problem-solving duties and use numerical data to help companies make financial decisions. Despite these many similarities, there are several differences between actuaries and accountants.

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Work Goals or Purpose

The goals or purposes of these two professionals is probably the biggest difference between the actuary and the accountant. An actuary bases his work on what might happen while an accountant bases it on what has happened. An actuary typically works for an insurance company and looks for ways the company can save money. They predict the financial result of things that may or may not happen in the future.

In the case of an insurance company, the actuary will use statistical data on a potential customer to determine what type of financial risk the customer might be to the company. The insurance company uses this data to help determine the customer’s premium. Accountants base their work on numbers that are there or on things that have already happened. In the case of fraud or theft, the accountant determines how, why and by whom.

Career Outlook

The demand for both actuaries and accountants is very good. There are a lot more accountants hired than actuaries, so one would probably have an easier time finding a job as an accountant than as an actuary. As of 2016, about 1,397,700 accountants were employed in the U.S. while there were only about 23,600 accountants employed according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS predicts employment growth of 22% for actuaries from 2016-2026 but a growth of only 10% for accountants during that same decade. This growth potential should result in the creation of 139,900 new accountant jobs and 5,300 new actuary jobs by 2026.


The wages earned by accountants and actuaries is another way an actuary differs from an accountant. The bureau reports that accountants earned wages ranging from $42,140 to $120,910 with an average annual wage of $76,730 as of May 2017. Their average hourly wage was $36.89. Actuaries earned annual wages that ranged from $59,950 to $184,770 with an average annual wage of $114,850. The average hourly wage for actuaries was $55.21. The wage difference between the two professionals is quite substantial.

Education and Examinations Requirements

Becoming an actuary and an accountant both require a bachelor’s degree, but one can become an accountant in four years while it takes three to five years plus an internship to become an actuary. There is testing involved in both careers. Aspiring accountants must pass the four-part Uniform CPA Exam to obtain licensure as a CPA (certified public accountant). Aspiring actuaries must complete ten separate exams before they can be certified as actuaries. To their advantage is the fact that both actuaries and accountants can continue to work in their field while they’re passing the exams.

The one major factor that actuaries and accountants have in common is their interest in money and working with numbers on a daily basis. They both have a vital role in helping their business remain as profitable as possible. Knowing the various ways an actuary differs from an accountant can help an individual choose the career path that best satisfied their interests and long-term career goals.