What is an Actuary? - A Brief Overview


In general, actuaries assess the financial consequences of risks and use mathematics, statistics and financial theory to analyze and determine the financial impact of uncertain future events.

Pension actuaries suggest methods to eliminate or reduce damage to parties if a future event occurs. They are primarily concerned with the payment of benefits, including death benefits, from a pension plan. Pension actuaries also calculate the required amount of an employer's annual contribution to a defined benefit plan to ensure that current and future plan benefits are available to the participants.

Enrolled Actuaries

Many pension actuaries are Enrolled Actuaries - individuals who have satisfied the standards and qualifications of the Joint Board for the Enrollment of Actuaries and have been approved by the Board to perform actuarial services required under ERISA. These individuals have fulfilled knowledge and experience requirements related to pension laws and regulations, including:

  • ERISA;
  • the Internal Revenue Code;
  • Treasury Regulations;
  • IRS Revenue Rulings and IRS Notices;
  • PBCG Premium Payment Instructions, Regulations and Technical Updates; and
  • Department of Labor Regulations and Bulletins.

IRS Employee Plans Actuaries may either work as a:

  • Policy Actuary in Rulings and Agreements, or
  • Field Actuary in Examinations.

Policy Actuaries:

  1. Review private letter ruling requests about topics such as approvals of a plan's change in its funding method or assumptions;
  2. Assist with field agents' technical advice requests;
  3. Assist in drafting and reviewing regulations, revenue rulings, revenue procedures, notices and announcements;
  4. Respond to taxpayers' questions;
  5. Provide expert reports and testimony in a court of law; and
  6. Assist with special projects (for example, cash balance moratorium cases, promoter investigations (life and annuity insurance) and voluntary compliance cases.)

Field Actuaries:

  1. Assist with retirement plan audits and attend related meetings with pension plan representatives;
  2. Support revenue agents who work on determination letter applications by reviewing demonstrations, plan documents and answering technical questions;
  3. Draft responses to information requests and review documents submitted to revenue agents;
  4. Have expertise in topics including 403(b) arrangements, fully insured plans, governmental plans, employee plans team audits, multiemployer plans and PPA funding and benefit restriction issues; and
  5. Assist with guidance projects such as developing new regulations.

In addition to these roles, both policy and field actuaries teach new and current IRS employees. They also speak at other professional seminars across the country. Sometimes policy and field actuaries work together on large teams for IRS projects.

Additional resources