I am a senior pensions administrator and head of the administration team in Punter Southall’s Birmingham office. We provide administration services to 16 clients of a variety of sizes and types. Generally we operate alongside our actuarial and investment-adviser colleagues providing full services to our trustee clients, but as our team has grown we have increasingly started providing admin-only services as well.
Why did you choose a career in the industry?
Like most carefree university students high on freedom, academic stimulation, and optimism for the future, I was not expecting to end up in a career in pensions administration. However as I completed the second year of my degree, I was offered a year-long work placement in Punter Southall’s Guildford office. It was during this year that I realised I had stumbled into a fun, dynamic company performing a challenging but rewarding role in an interesting and ever-evolving industry.
What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day for me always starts with me struggling to get out of bed – most of my clients and all of my colleagues will tell you I am not much of a morning person. A typical working day will then fly by in a whirl of benefit calculating, letter writing, report preparing, phone answering, technical reading, decision making, data processing, cash-flow forecasting, scanning and filing, report presenting and, in the rare moments that such a varied and demanding schedule allows, occasional tea making and deep breathing.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
A good administrator must have good mathematics skills to be able to perform extremely technical benefit calculations. A good administrator must also love problem-solving – the challenge of working your way through a sequence of curiously drafted, historic trust documents to determine exactly how a members’ benefits should be calculated, would surely stump even Columbo.
Most importantly though, a good administrator must be a good communicator – adept at explaining to trustees what new legislative hurdles they must jump over, but also at explaining complex issues to members who often know very little about pensions (or worse, think they know more than you do). Since the job includes such a variety of tasks, every day is different. Moreover the industry changes so much and so quickly, it means that life as a pensions administrator is never dull.
What are the most stressful parts of the job?
Stress? What stress?!? Who says I am stressed???!!!!???
What challenges have you come across and how did you overcome these?
The biggest personal challenge I have faced was when I walked the gruelling 630 mile South West coastal path. For those who don’t know me, I’m not what one would describe as slender, and hauling my bulky frame over the beautiful but rugged Cornish coastline for seven weeks was hard work. I completed the adventure thanks to the support of my friends, family, and colleagues, and shed three stone in the process. Unfortunately the weight loss wasn’t enough to prevent my local paper from reporting my adventure with references to the ‘portly pensions administrator’ and the ‘rotund rambler’ – which was nice.
From a professional perspective, the two biggest challenges facing all administrators are to help members become more engaged with their pension schemes, and to help trustees make well-informed decisions, and meet their regulatory requirements. The way we can do this is to focus on clear and jargon-free communications, act transparently and honestly with clients and, increasingly, to utilise new technology.
What would you like to achieve in the future?
To oversee further growth of, and continual improvement in, the administration service we provide from our Birmingham office. I am also very interested about the proposed joint PMI/Imperial College London Masters Degree in Future Retirement, which I think could provide an excellent opportunity for further development.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry?
Remember, above everything, that the members of the schemes you administer are individuals with different needs, different expectations and with different levels of engagement, interest and understanding. And remember that these members, and the quality of service you can give them, should matter to you more than anything else.