Leah Evans is a Principal in Mercer’s Financial Strategy Group and specialises in pension risk management. After spending some time working in New York, Leah returned to London last year and now provides strategic advice to large corporates and multinationals.
There’s a lot of room for progression in your actuarial career; From being an actuarial student to Principal, find out more about what it’s like being a Principal at Mercer here…
I first joined the profession in 2004 when I started working as an actuarial student for Aon, where I mainly worked on Trustee clients as support to the Scheme Actuary.
In 2007, I started looking for opportunities to gain more exposure to corporate and strategic work and joined the Financial Strategy Group (FSG) at Mercer. The FSG brings together consultants from different backgrounds to look at DB pension schemes more holistically. This seemed like a perfect fit for what I was looking for and I have been there ever since.
The shift from DB to DC and changes in regulations meant that pensions risk exposure was becoming increasingly important to companies. Joining the FSG at a time when risk management options were becoming more sophisticated was exciting, providing exposure to the growth in the use of LDI, liability management and insurance solutions, e.g. buyins/buy-outs and longevity swaps.
At the end of 2011, I took a sabbatical to go traveling before moving to our New York office. Working in another country was a steep learning curve but a great experience. Being back in the London office, my experience of working abroad and the networks I have built are a significant asset for my work on global risk management for multinationals.
What is a typical day like for you?
A lot of my work is project based with a number running concurrently, requiring management of competing deadlines. I take responsibility for the advice we deliver to my clients and work with a team, often across departments and geographies, to develop any analysis and advice we present.
Projects I work on include:
- Helping companies understand the risks they are exposed to in relation to their pension plans globally and options available to manage these in different countries.
- Supporting companies in relation to M&A or corporate restructuring.
- Advising on the feasibility or implementation of risk management options, including LDI or risk transfer.
- Helping clients with other questions they may have – although I may not always know the answer, I can usually find someone else in Mercer that does!
Most projects I work on involve some form of analysis, ranging from simple liability estimates to long-term stochastic projections. Analysis is usually carried out by the team and I don’t usually get into the details of the modeling. I then review the outputs carefully to ensure their accuracy before presenting to the client.
I spend a lot of time thinking through:
- What problems our clients need to solve?
- What questions they have or should be asking?
- How we can best summarise several weeks of complex analysis into a one hour meeting with a non-specialist?
- What information we can provide to help them address these issues?
Depending on where my clients are based, I have periods where I have to travel, but I am not usually away more than a night a week. When I’m in the office, I spend a lot of time talking to the teams that I am working with and also talking to my clients on the phone about progress and any other questions they have.
As a nice change from client work, I have also been involved in internal projects in relation to intellectual capital and product development. This has provided me with a good insight into how our own business works.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
For me, the most enjoyable projects are those where there is a good partnership between my team and the client. Our clients see us as their trusted advisor, share their concerns and ambitions with us; and provide a real insight into the environment they operate in as well as their corporate culture. I find it really interesting to see the differences and similarities between the clients I work with.
I am lucky enough to work with very clever and talented people that I can learn from and that continuously challenge me – this includes both my colleagues at Mercer and my clients!
Do you have any advice to anyone wanting to get into the industry?
The DB pension industry has changed significantly since I started working and is continuing to change. Although the decline in DB pension schemes may make the industry seem less attractive as a career option; there are still huge opportunities to develop transferable skills, including:
- Strategic thinking
- Ability to adapt to significant industry changes
- Building client relationships
- Communication of complex technical concepts
- Experience of deal management, e.g. buy-outs, longevity swaps
- Exposure to different industries and types of organisations.
Someone entering the industry now will probably not do the same type of work for their whole career; so I would advise looking for an employer that will offer you a good range of opportunities and support you in developing new skills. Once you start working, don’t be afraid to ask to get involved in specific projects; work with senior people you look up to, or move to a new team or even country to gain a broad range of experience.
Taking exams while working is difficult and requires a lot of commitment; so be prepared for a lot of hard work. However, the actuarial qualification is well regarded and is adapting to the new environment actuaries work in; with more options in investments and risk management, and provides a strong foundation for a successful career.