Actuary here in the Property and Casualty space:
The accreditation process through exams is a long one but most companies have programs that pay for the exams and study materials as well as provide generous study hours, 100-200 per sitting. I’ve seen people reach accreditation in their mid-20s by flying through the exams, but is usually completed by late 20s/early 30s. You’ll lose weekends and social life when sitting for exams but as others have said, handsomely rewarded for each pass. Typically, exam raises are around 5-10% salary increase, and milestone credentials 10-20% in addition to annual merit increases and bonuses. In a MCoL city, a new fully accredited actuary could be making 140-200k annually. You do have obligations as part of the society for continuing education, but the on site locations to complete those can be fun. Recently, they did Hawaii.
An accredited actuary has great career opportunities to move into management and are often top candidates because of their deep understanding of both the technical and business side, and have seen peers move out into senior leadership roles earlier relative to their non-actuarial counterparts. There are options for great pay as subject matter experts within as well so don’t think you need to go management route. If you go the expert route and are fully credentialed, you can float through your career making great money in a stress free environment without working more than 40 hours a week. Either way opens the path to promising compensation and fantastic job security.
Because insurance is regulated and rate changes need to be approved by departments of insurance, the Machine Learning component of the role is constricted to fewer rudimentary algorithms and supplemented with using business judgment to drive decisions. The governing actuarial societies recognize this and are currently advocating for enhanced modeling sophistication to a degree of success. Some examples of models used: Insurance Rating Plans, Territorial Analysis, Bind/Retention. Insurtech is a budding industry that has more use cases. Because insurance products are a zero sum game, it’s definitely a fun and creative exercise to get the best risks on your books vs. competitors. I really enjoy the work content.
The glaring con is that you are primarily restricted to the insurance industry, though some actuaries have moved into risk management in financial institutions. Either way, this may limit the places you can work, but the adoption of working remotely alleviates this. I have seen peers leave the profession due to wanting heavier coding or pure data science roles. The exams are not for everyone either and while the credentials are well respected in the industry and relatively unknown or obscure outside of it.
You could probably make more money going into a Data Science role after MS, but you’ll be paying more for it and entering a potentially saturated field. I think the actuarial salary will catch up and be competitive after you are fully accredited. DWSimpson has an actuarial salary survey you could view to check salaries.
Hope that helps!