Becoming an actuary: to specialize or to professionalise?

Becoming an actuary: to specialize or to professionalise?

Dr. A.E. van Heerwaarden AAG
18 juli 2023


In my academic job I often struggle with ethical issues. Is it unfair to be more strict with one student than with another? Can I quickly decide on an exemption when I formally should consult that critical colleague? How can I properly monitor the course quality when I am not a specialist on the course topics? Is it allowed to spread the word that the UvA produces the best-trained actuaries?

Phew… the latter issue is in fact my true conviction, but the ethical question is whether I can state it without having made a fully objective comparison? Fortunately, also being a practitioner actuary, I am used to handling ethical issues like every well-trained actuary. I would like to explain what you can do with our UvA actuarial programme, which is of course first in class both in terms of specialization and of professionalization.

Specialist or professional?

Our academic training can only be and remain top quality if the academic team engages in both high-level research and in the needs of the professional field. Both are happening at the UvA. Examples of current practocal applications are the participation in the AG's Survival Tables committee and the Parameters committee for the new Dutch Pensions Act. 

The MSc in Actuarial Science and Mathematical Finance offers specialized courses in actuarial science, mathematical finance and quantitative risk management. The course list shows recent developments in machine learning, climate change and finance and risk management: students can specialize in various disciplines.
But on the other hand, to become a successful professional actuary, you might prefer to have practical knowledge of insurance, pensions and finance business and regulations, as well as additional professional competencies (like professional ethics!). What does it require to be a certifying pension-fund actuary or an Actuarial Function holder? 

For that purpose the UvA offers a professional postmaster Actuarial Practice Cycle (APC) as a supplement to the academic BSc and MSc programs.  This program aims at practical knowledge and professional competencies.  Students can enroll as a part of our AEMAS program, and this total package is accredited by the Dutch actuarial profession (KAG). So our alumni may use the title “AAG”. 

Becoming a professional actuary in Amsterdam

The postmaster APC aims at different student groups: not only the ‘UvA actuarials’  but also econometricians and other quants who are interested in actuarial jobs, as well as international students in quantitative fields. How do we transform all these different species into fully qualified actuaries?  By offering part-time trajectory’s parallel to our BSc and Msc programs. 

We have recently renewed the setup into a clear layer structure: 


  1. Basis: quantitative Bachelor's degree, supplemented where necessary with probability theory & statistics.

  2. Actuarial basic techniques: 6 disciplines, with a total of 6 BSc courses and 4 MSc courses.

  3. Specialization: 3 courses from 3 different disciplines, plus the MSc thesis in one of these 3 areas.

  4. Professional and practical knowledge and key professional competences.

Qualified econometricians or other quants can study parttime In our AEMAS trajectory to add disciplines they still mess. A typical financial econometrician would be sufficiently specialized in Finance and Quantitative risk management, but would need to catch up on basic knowledge in the disciplines life insurance, pensions and non-life insurance.

Important: we use this profile for everyone who wants to be admitted to the postmaster APC, including regular UvA students. Did you complete both the BSc Actuarial Science and the MSc Actuarial Science & Mathematical Finance, then in most cases you will be instantly allowed to start in the APC.

Becoming a competent actuary with the APC

You may wonder, since the financial sector is craving for quantitative professionals, what would be the added value for you to become a qualified AAG-actuary? Read the sequel to find out the answer:  the postmaster APC will certainly add value to your career.

The postmaster APC is a one-year part-time course (every Tuesday from 15:00-21:30) filled with interesting practical cases taken from the work field of many actuaries. You work in a project team to acquire the necessary knowledge, check laws and regulations, and find out how to carry out the assignment. You also get training in professional competences, such as cooperation skills, presentation skills, conversation skills, ethics and professional judgment.

Let’s check out on that bit of ethics and judgment. In the educational requirements of the KAG they are listed under competences with regard to skills and attitude: 

  • Integrity:  Holds others accountable for their own actions, monitors the fair handling of information and the personal value of others in teams and is a visible example in this regard.

  • Professional judgement: In assessments takes all relevant aspects into account. Is open to arguments from different angles and disciplines. Independently draws a conclusion that he can defend well.

In the APC we start with a specialized ethics-trainer to train you. Afterwards you need to select two examples  from your own work practice,  describe them and analyse your behaviour in your individual competence workbook. You receive feedback in a private discussion with your mentor. 

Then it is time for practising: this is built into the case on Pension fund certification, where  you and your team are responsible for assessing the annual accounts of a pension fund. This will certainly present challenges, but the teacher (a specialized actuary of course!) will guide you in maintaining independence and straight back and in dealing with the pressure you will receive from the pension fund board. Finally, you will experience the importance of your professional judgment as a certifying actuary when you have to defend it during a panel session with real pension fund experts.

In short, the APC offers a unique opportunity to learn from specialist teachers and to strengthen professional skills. It enables you to select your personal goals on practice them in safe space with guidance of experienced actuaries. The combination of practical cases that require initiative and appeal to actuarial knowledge, teachers who bring current issues to the lecture hall, and individual guidance by a mentor make the APC a unique and very valuable addition to your academic education.

So with that added value it's a must!
Moreover: the Postmaster APC is offered in English as from September 2023 and will start twice in every year. 

More information

  • Check your eligibility in the postmaster APC via CV Quickscan. Visit

  • The APC is 30 EC and taught in English;

  • Contact hours every Tuesday 15:00 – 21:30.

  • 1-year or 2-year track available

  • Start in September and from 2024 also in February;

  • The professional title AAG is recognized in all EU countries plus UK.