Why did you choose a career in the industry?
I graduated with a degree in Maths from Oxford University in 2005 and I knew that I wanted a career which made the most of my analytical skills. I had completed some actuarial science modules as part of my studies and felt that this could be the career for me. I like the challenge of learning new things and so set myself the goal of qualifying as an actuary.
I joined Hewitt Associates (now Aon Hewitt) as part of their 2006 graduate intake after surviving a gruelling assessment day! I was then straight in at the deep end, gaining experience of daily working life whilst simultaneously studying for the exams. I would not say that I enjoy exams, but I do get a bit of a buzz out of doing them, and an opportunity to get paid for passing exams seemed very appealing after paying to do them at university!
I would say that the institute exams are massively different from school and university exams. You need to be prepared to do a full day’s work and then study during your evening, although we get days off work to help with the study load. The institute exams also set a high benchmark in order to pass. However, the high level of difficulty of the exams is why qualified actuaries are so sought after and studying for the exams is very rewarding.
When I found out I had passed my last exam in July 2011 I felt relieved that they were over and excited about the opportunities that would be open to me in the future. While studying for the exams, you build up great camaraderie with your fellow students that I don’t think you get in other graduate jobs. I think this is a big part of being a student actuary that I will miss.
What is a typical day like for you?
I am a Pensions Consultant Actuary and a member of the Trustee Advisory Group responsible for advising the trustees of larger clients. Day to day I will specify and review calculations and prepare advice for my clients. I attend meetings with clients to present the advice on a regular basis. I enjoy developing relationships with clients and making their jobs easier.
An appealing aspect of the job is that there is no defined career path – you are given the opportunity to drive your career. I am on the team which helps train new Pension Scheme Trustees, and I also give training within the business to our actuarial trainees. I enjoy this part of my job, as it adds a bit of variety and allows me to stretch myself. There are many areas that you might choose to get involved in if training doesn’t appeal to you, for example you might want to specialise more in selling the business and building contacts, or you might be more suited to building calculation models.
I have also managed trainee actuaries, taking them through their salary review and helping them to develop their careers. I find this very rewarding, and I know from personal experience that a good manager/mentor can be very helpful for your development.
I am vice chair of the 2013 Momentum conference organising committee, which is a conference for nearly/newly qualified actuaries. This has allowed me to meet actuaries from other areas such as Life, General Insurance and Investment. There are various roles you can take up at the institute, and it is good opportunity to meet other actuaries and trainee actuaries from the industry and give something back to the profession.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy learning, solving problems and meeting people. In my job I work with like-minded people, in an industry that is continuously evolving so there is always something new to learn. Working for a consultancy allows you to get out and meet clients rather than sit behind a desk all day.
What would you like to achieve in the future?
I am always looking to develop myself and never want to stand still. Being an actuary opens up lots of doors and really allows you to choose your career path rather than it choosing you. I aim to become a top consultant.
What are the current challenges the industry faces?
I advise clients predominantly in relation to defined benefit pension schemes. In 20 years time the market I work in will look very different, and the role I currently perform may well not be required. However the skills I have learnt and am still learning are highly transferable and I am confident that there will be a role for pensions actuaries in the future even if it is not clear now what that role might entail.
Increasingly actuaries are moving into other fields too. You should not feel that taking up a graduate role as a trainee actuary means you have to perform an actuary-type role for the rest of your career: on the contrary, the skills you develop as an actuary will prove useful in whatever role you opt for beyond the exams.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get in to the industry?
I would speak to a trainee actuary and an actuary to hear firsthand about what it is like to sit the exams and ultimately to finish them. You may be able to take actuarial modules as part of your university course – I would recommend taking these options if they are available to get a taster of actuarial science. Good luck!