A career as an actuary can lead all the way to heading an international insurance firm - though it requires 20 to 30 years' experience and gathering a few key essentials along the way. The actuarial profession provides a defined career path and ample opportunities to those who are analytical and possess strong mathematical skills, good communications skills and a strong business sense. An actuary is a financial engineer who develops and applies mathematical models to produce solutions addressing problems in finance and insurance. By analysing past events and assessing current risks, the actuary calculates for uncertain future events, hence improving financial decision-making in the insurance and financial services industries. Besides insurance companies, there are a number of organisations that need actuarial professionals. They range from consulting firms, investment banks, fund management companies, and commercial and retail banks to health service providers, accounting firms and even the government and universities. 'Every year, actuarial science graduates are quickly absorbed in the employment market. There is definitely a huge demand for them,' says Peter Luk, founding president of the Actuarial Society of Hong Kong. By their own statistics, there are fewer than 1,000 actuaries working across Asia. With the rapid change and development of financial economies in the region, this number is expected to increase. The increase in use of actuaries has not just happened overnight, but has its roots back in the 1980s. 'Thirty years ago, there were only two to three actuaries in Hong Kong. 'At present, we have 200 qualified professionals with another 200 plus taking examinations to get formal recognition. The other markets - Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and China - have been and are still tapping top talents trained here in Hong Kong,' Mr Luk says. For those interested in pursuing a long-term actuarial career, it might be ideal to get a first degree in mathematics. 'It is not a must; we do have a lot of executives come from various academic training, like engineering, or investment management,' says Mr Luk. 'However, it is essential for them to acquire basic mathematical skills.' Apart from academic training, they will need to pass a series of professional examinations to be qualified, usually within a timeframe of four to seven years. While pursuing the examinations, actuarial professionals work on their careers, either as an insurance/pension actuary, a risk manager or an asset/investment consultant. A typical career progression would see an actuary in an insurance firm become a chief financial officer and chief executive officer, as they possess both the in-depth product and industry knowledge required for such senior roles. To excel in the profession, articulate communications skills are a high priority. 'Mathematical skills can be easily replaced by technology. However, to be able to communicate well and effectively with your peers, and internal and external clients, is much more important,' Mr Luk says.