• Name: Tom Birkin
  • Job Title: Actuarial Assistant
  • Location: Reading
  • University: Manchester
  • Degree: Master of Mathematics
  • Fields of Work: Consultancy

There are many roles you can pursue in the actuarial profession, find out what an actuarial assistant does at XPS Pensions Group here…

After graduating from the University of Manchester with a degree in Mathematics in July 2015, I considered my career options carefully. Like many of you I’d spent hours attending careers fairs, networking events and presentations from potential employers. The actuarial profession stood out for me because of the variety of skills it incorporates – strong communication, problem solving and teamwork skills are essential, as well as the core mathematical skills I had developed at university. The opportunity to utilise and develop those soft skills as well as use actual maths in my job was a big draw for me – and the pay isn’t bad either!

What do XPS Pensions Group do?

XPS Pensions Group is a market leading actuarial, pensions and employee benefit consultancy providing a full range of consulting and administration services to over 500 clients. We combine expertise, insight and technology to address the needs of both trustees and companies, specialising in pension derisking solutions.

How did you get your job as an Actuarial Assistant at XPS Pensions Group?

Like most actuarial graduate schemes, the XPS Pensions Group recruitment process involves an online application, phone interview and, if successful, an invitation to an assessment centre. The recruitment process really stood out for me. In particular the assessment centre was, surprisingly, lots of fun! XPS Pensions Group put a lot of effort into getting to know you throughout the process, which really helped me to relax and enjoy the tasks a lot more. A few days after the assessment centre I received an offer of a graduate role in their largest office which I was delighted to accept.

Any advice for the interview process?

It may sound like a case of easier said than done, but the best advice I can give for the interview process is just to relax and be yourself. Preparing well by reading about the company and the industry as a whole can help you to feel prepared and relax on the day, but be careful not to over-think it. The company has invested a lot in you if you have made it this far, so the interviewers want you to do well. And remember, it’s equally as important that the company is a good fit for you as it is that you’re a good fit for the company!

What is a typical day like for you?

It may sound like a cliché but no two days really are the same here at XPS Pensions! In the five months I’ve been here, I have had the opportunity to be involved in a range of tasks and projects for many different clients. These include scheme valuations, actuarial factor reviews and corporate accounting disclosures as well as variety of individual member calculations such as early retirement quotes and severance strain costs.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

From a work aspect, the things I enjoy the most are the variety of work and the relatively high level of responsibility given my junior status at the company. The opportunity to work closely on important and high level projects is one that I have relished. Outside of work, the social aspect of XPS Pensions Group is fantastic. The sports and social club organise various events from five-a-side football and sports tournaments to pub quizzes and cocktail-making classes. Being a northern lad making the big move down south, the people here at XPS Pensions Group have really helped me to settle in quickly and it feels like I’ve been part of the team for years.

How do you manage your work/life balance?

One of the best ways to keep a good work/life balance is to have hobbies outside of the workplace. For me, that’s mainly playing or watching sports and socialising. As I’ve mentioned previously, XPS Pensions Group put on a lot of sports and social events which gives us all a chance to blow off steam and get to know each other outside of work. In particular, we play five-a-side football every other week which is good fun as well as great exercise! It’s also important to have a good work ethic and manage my time effectively so that I don’t get bogged down with work. And if we are particularly busy in the office, everyone works hard to help each other out and make sure we all get away at a decent time – it’s a really great team atmosphere.

What ‘soft skills’ have you found useful?

Having good communication skills has been vitally important. There are a lot of new concepts and techniques to pick up when you first start so asking loads of questions and letting colleagues know when I don’t understand something has been key to my development. After all, actuaries work in teams so good communication and team working skills are essential! Time management is another skill that I’ve worked hard to develop. I often have a lot of tasks and deadlines to manage so being organised and managing my time effectively helps me keep on top of those. Given the nature of consultancy, being flexible and adaptable is also important so that, if required, I can put one task to the side and focus on another if it is more pressing.
Find out what other skills you need to become an actuary.

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