I was first drawn to the actuarial profession as I knew I wanted a job where I could use my applied mathematics background, in a setting that felt relevant for day to day life. When I researched careers within the finance industry, the actuarial sector stood out to me because of the variety of work you can get involved in, and the opportunity to work in a client-facing environment. For example, actuaries work in pensions, insurance, life assurance, tax, executive remuneration, enterprise risk management…and many other areas! I work in pensions, and within this sector alone there are many different areas of work, for example Defined Benefit, Defined Contribution, investment and several others – meaning that I’ll be getting involved with different work each day.
What do you do on a day to day basis?
My main duties are carrying out calculations for individuals who want to transfer their pension amount to a different scheme, or for people who are retiring, pension scheme accounts, drafting scheme documents, preparing presentations, and supporting the client with any queries they may have. I really enjoy the fact that my day is never entirely spent on calculations, or on written consulting work; there is always a variety. There are plenty of opportunities to attend client meetings as you progress within your career, giving a change to practise a different skillset.
What’s the most stressful part of your job?
I’d say that the most stressful part of the job is balancing your commitments in work with studying for the actuarial exams. There are 15 professional exams to pass before you can qualify as an actuary. (It’s worth remembering that most people get a couple of exemptions from their degree, so I’d recommend investigating modules at university to see if they grant you an exemption!) However, the material I have been learning for the exams is relevant to my daily work, and so studying is rewarding. It’s a lot easier to sit down to study something that will help you at work, rather than something that feels abstract. I also get a huge sense of achievement from passing exams, and progressing through the qualification process.
What skills do actuaries need?
It goes without saying that a high level of skill in mathematics is required for this profession, but the importance of people skills and communication must not be forgotten. To be a good actuarial consultant, you must not only understand the technical side of your work, but you must be able to build a solid working relationship with your clients, explain the work in plain English and be able to identify and meet each client’s individual needs.
The best advice I could give to a student who wanted to become a consulting actuary would be to apply for an internship while you are at university. An internship allows you to really see what actuaries do, as well as building up key commercial awareness that will stand you in good stead for any future job. Internships can feel daunting as it may feel like a six-week long interview, and it’s true that the company will be assessing you – however it’s important to remember that you have the opportunity to assess them, and see if you will enjoy the work that’s involved.
It’s also worth building up knowledge and understanding of the industry in general. This is particularly important if you are considering working within the pensions sector, as while you’re a student you probably don’t give your pension a great deal of thought! It’s quite a different area of knowledge from what you may be used to at university. I’d recommend keeping up to date with the news, particularly financial stories such as when the annual budgets are announced, or when there’s a change in the law – this will give you something to talk about in interviews!