“The nature of our work is constantly evolving due to world events, changes in markets and ever-changing legislation. Problem solving is an essential skill.” – Paul Butfield FIA, a Senior Consulting Actuary at Buck talks us what he loves most about working as an actuary and gives some insight and advice about the profession.
I didn’t know what an actuary was until my first day on the job.
I studied mathematics at the University of Bath, graduating in 2007. I applied for a number of finance-based roles. Looking back, I couldn’t be happier with my chosen role of consulting pensions actuary at Buck.
Thirteen years (and many exams) later I have learnt a great deal about the important work carried out by actuaries. I have progressed from a junior analyst carrying out actuarial calculations to my current role as scheme actuary and corporate consultant being responsible for delivering advice to pension scheme trustees and employers. In addition, I head up Buck’s in-house specialist team on pensions taxation, and sit on the Association of Consulting Actuaries pensions taxation committee.
I now have a deep understanding of what being an actuary entails; however I’m still not sure I could sum it up in one sentence!
What do I enjoy most about my job?
The people – this includes both my colleagues and clients. As a consulting actuary, I need to work closely as a trusted partner with my clients to understand their needs and work with them to develop the most appropriate solutions.
Strong and regular communication is essential to making this work, and so a lot of my time is spent on calls and (pre-COVID!) face to face meetings – which is lucky as this is what I enjoy most!
Delivering actuarial work is a collaborative process with most work being done, checked and reviewed. I am fortunate at Buck to work with a team of dedicated and talented individuals, all pulling together to deliver the best possible advice to our clients. Luckily they are also a friendly and sociable bunch.
The variety – every day is different, and despite working in the industry for well over a decade, I regularly come across new and complex areas. The nature of our work is constantly evolving due to world events, changes in markets and ever-changing legislation. Problem solving is an essential skill.
Further, each pension scheme is different and each trustee and employer has their own priorities and challenges which I need to understand. No one project is ever
Making a difference – pensions are fundamental to a happy and healthy retirement, yet in general they are poorly understood, and in some cases actively mistrusted. I strongly believe that the work carried out by actuaries helps ensure restore confidence in the pensions system by making sure benefits are paid to the right people at the right time with the highest possible level of security. This is especially important given recent world events which make the security of pensions all the more critical.
What does a typical day look like?
Work will often begin around 8am with a large coffee. I’ll spend the first part of my day catching up on emails and planning.
As a consultant I am responsible for a large number of projects at various stages; keeping on top what is going on is almost as important as getting the work done.
Whilst earlier in my career the bulk of my day would have been spent on spreadsheet or data work, I now spend a large proportion of my day directly consulting with clients on calls or in meetings.
My remaining time is split across a number of tasks, including:
- Drafting advice
- Preparing communications for pension scheme members
- Reviewing complex calculations
- Preparing central materials for the business
- Giving and receiving training
- Mentoring junior staff
Work will typically finish around 6pm, albeit with a smaller coffee (or perhaps a beer!). There will be times where we have to work later to get the project done, although we always do so as a team.
What advice would I give to someone looking to get into the industry?
Competition for actuarial roles has increased significantly over the last few years. In order to stand out it pays to do some research and come prepared. This research should cover both the actuarial profession, but also the company which you are applying for.
That said, interviewers aren’t looking for someone to have memorised the mission statement from their website, but rather are looking for someone who can think on their feet and communicate clearly. These skills are essential for a consulting actuary.
Having some first-hand knowledge of actuarial work through a summer internship or work experience placement can also help, but is not essential. It will also give you a feel for whether a career in the actuarial profession is right for you.
Finally, ask questions of your potential employer. You will spend a large proportion of your time working for that company and so it is important to understand the culture that you will be entering into, and whether it is the right fit for you.