What is meant by "Modernized and Modularized Education Approach"?

I just thought I would start a thread for those of us that like to speculate. In a recent SOA announcement we learned about the new UEC program. In this announcement the SOA alluded to other announcements that will be made this summer with the following…

" This summer, we will announce the details of a modernized and modularized education approach , the first phases of which are targeted to launch this fall with the remainder staged over the course of the next year. This new platform will empower candidates by allowing them to tailor their education goals and providing them with recognition of achievements of knowledge and skills throughout the SOA’s education pathway and before a candidate reaches the level of ASA or FSA."

It sounds like the ASA and FSA credentials will still be in tact but the word “modularized” suggests to me that there may be many ways to get there. The UEC is the first example of a modularized curriculum, in that you can earn the ASA by either taking exam or taking the right classes. In other communications it has been suggested that there will be more “on and off ramps” in the credentialing process.

I would love to hear your thoughts about what you think this new “modernized and modularized education approach” will look like. Let the speculation begin!

It tells me they’re rolling it out in pieces, hoping the employers and members don’t crush this attempt like they did in 2009, 1988, and 1970.

Was there a lot of push back in the other exam overhauls you mentioned?

They will have to do something to stop the declining exam numbers. They need to figure out how to recruit those “would be” actuaries that are drawn to the appeal of Data Science. This UEC thing does not accomplish this. It will only make it harder to do a career change since you will be even more behind your peers having not gone through a UEC program. So how do you appeal to those computer science or data science majors? My guess is that whatever they have up their sleeves will attempt to address this recruiting issue.


Yes, much like the UEC is addressing “diversity”


I did not include much from what happened in the 2000 exam change… they had to fix that in under a year.

Anyway, it is not clear to me they asked for any outsiders’ input (including employers, which I explicitly asked about. Because I thought they learned that lesson in 2009). I am looking forward to when they get the feedback.

I don’t know that there is any true recruiting issue.

Or, if there is, that it is what they’re saying it is. (in short: we are not hurting for lack of people who know CompSci/Data Science. We’ve “lost” people to these related areas in other times those areas were booming. We may be missing certain sorts of candidates, but not those.)

I’ve been watching the Exam P numbers over the past couple years since that is a good indicator for the growth of the profession. After several years of growth, the number of test takers peeked in 2016 and has been steadily decreasing since then. 2020 was a bad year for exams for obvious reasons. From what I’m seeing in 2021 it isn’t rebounding as much as you would think.

The table below shows the number of people that registered for Exam P over the years. I’d say there is definitely a recruiting problem. The market is speaking to the profession and we must listen. If the profession doesn’t adapt then we are at risk of losing our relevance.

Year N % Change
2015 16,266
2016 16,279 0.1%
2017 15,087 -7.3%
2018 13,951 -7.5%
2019 13,213 -5.3%
2020 8,868 -32.9%

Back to the topic I started this post with. You can bet that the SOA is aware of this decline. Whatever changes they have in mind will be targeting this issue of declining exam takers. The UEC is part of that, but it doesn’t address those choosing a career in Data Science over Actuarial Science. I think we will see something that gives the Data Scientist a path towards an ASA, further building on this idea of a modular education.

You can also take a look at how membership has grown:


Interesting! Thanks for sharing. There is a lag between Exam P takers and credentialed actuaries, which I think we are seeing in the tapering off of ASAs in 2018 to 2020.

I had a conversation a few months ago with an SOA Board Member, and he mentioned that yes, the Board is aware of declining numbers of new exam registrants.

One thing I don’t have a good idea about is, What’s the ideal number of actuaries (members of the SOA or other) in the world? If the new exam-taker #s are declining, is that a bad thing?

And another thing I haven’t heard anything about is what this exam change does for current members (ASAs and FSAs). Anyone know how, in 5 years, this helps me as a Fellow to either do my work better, get a new job faster, or expand beyond traditional insurance operations (which is one of the things the SOA has said they want to do)?

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Just to be real obvious, there was a huge cratering in the number of people taking exams in 2020.

I wouldn’t draw any conclusions from that.

Okay, I’ll do the math for the lazy

Year-over-year change FSAs ASAs Total
2020 2% -2% 0%
2019 4% -6% 0%
2018 3% 14% 7%
2017 3% 8% 5%
2016 3% 7% 5%
2015 3% 5% 4%
2014 4% 5% 5%

Membership in 2019 was stagnant, and we also see drop offs in ASAs that year (after a huge boost in 2018… I’m not going to even look; I assume there were exam changes coming and people hurried to complete).

It is interesting how the FSA number somewhat steadily grows, but there’s a boom/bust among ASAs.

Excellent points. Maybe the adage “If you aren’t growing you are dying” applies here? What if you were on the board and you saw these numbers? Would you stick with what you were currently doing or would you seek to get to the root of the problem and take action? If you did nothing then it may come to the point where it was too late. How would your constituents take to that?

I’m not arguing in favor of the actions the SOA has taken. Personally, I’m more interested to see where this is all going and why but that’s probably just me.

The impact to current ASAs and FSAs is an excellent point and I understand everyone’s concerns. My view if the SOA can keep the credentials relevant and in demand that will help all of us. Us credentialed actuaries may need to step up in our CE to keep up with the younger folks but I’d say that’s a good thing.

I think we can draw some clear conclusions from the data in 2015-2019. The downward trend had already been established before 2020. What really matters is what happens in 2021 as things go back to normal. Are the changes in the world going to somehow exacerbate the trend that had already begun? At some point we would expect a pop in exam takers, right? Those people that delayed taking exam P and are graduating or looking for an internship will need to get that exam under the belt so shouldn’t there be some kind of pent up demand? Time will tell, but I’m glad they are doing something before this becomes a bigger problem for the profession. Again, I’m arguing in favor of change, not necessarily the specific actions they are taking.

The table below shows the number of people that have registered for Exam P through the March sitting of each year. This shows that while there is a rebound in 2021 from the 2020 lows, it has not bounced back to 2019 levels. In fact 2021 is 25% lower than 2019, with data through March. In early 2021 much of the country was still shut down so again, take this for what its worth.

year N
2015 5,853
2016 5,739
2017 5,323
2018 4,851
2019 4,500
2020 2,321
2021 3,360

The ASA boom may be a race to get the ASA before new requirements came out. For example, I don’t know if that was around the time Exam PA came out.

So each year the ASA and FSA counts are going to change due to three things 1) newly credentialled actuaries 2) retiring actuaries, and 3) actuaries that let their membership lapse but are not retired. Does that cover it all? So the formula would be (1) - (2) - (3) for the increase/decrease in actuaries. If we look at category 2, you would expect this number to be small since there were much fewer actuaries in the past, right? So to get 0% total growth (2) and (3) would have to be the same as (1). Let that sink in a bit. That not good. I suspect in coming years this will be negative due to the lag in the exam P numbers unless the SOA does the right thing, whatever that is.

Yes it was - you had to have completed all ASA requirements by July 1, 2018 to avoid taking Exam PA. So 1) people rushed to avoid that and 2) those who didn’t finish in time now had one additional exam on top of the other requirements, which slows designations down.


Alternatively, you could argue, “If you’re bloated, some parts of you need to die off to reach a sustainable equilibrium.” Perhaps we have 10% too many actuaries in the SOA now. Perhaps we could grow by 50% and still not meet all the demand. (Though I doubt that, because the SOA doesn’t do much for marketing the actuarial skill set outside of the traditional industry, which means the demand is pretty well confined to the places we’re already prevalent in.)

I feel like, if the SOA said, “Hey, people, we need to double the actuarial profession in the next 20 years or everyone’s going to go bankrupt and you’ll all end up pushing spreadsheets for the marketing folks at the Fortune 1000 sweatshops, here’s why,” and showed us that we need X actuaries per 1,000 population and we only have 0.5X now, a bunch more people would get on board with alternative education methods.

As it is, this feels like a solution searching for a problem, to me. The SOA hasn’t sold its members on the need to keep a current membership in the SOA very well, beyond the gatekeeping aspect of limiting access to the ASA/FSA designations

Giving Data Science a path towards ASA sounds similar to the to a prior initiative.

Turned out financial engineers and risk managers weren’t that interested in joining the actuarial profession. Why would would a data scientist working outside of insurance be interested irrespective of how easy membership could be attained.

Cool article but I’m talking about students those that choose a career in data science over actuarial science. Sorry I didn’t speak more precisely but I thought that was clear. The UEC program makes it more difficult for those in other majors to chose a career in actuarial science. Also the UEC program does not address the fact that many “would be” actuaries are choosing a career in data science. The SOA has communicated a number of times that this is one of their concerns. But we have yet to see how they will address it other than exam PA. My speculation is there may be other Data Science type things added to the exam track. For example, instead of Exam P maybe there will be another exam that will test more data science type stuff, further creating a modular education system. So the candidate could take either P or this other exam to satisfy the first requirement for ASA.