• Role: Actuarial Trainee
  • Location: London
  • University: Strathclyde
  • Degree: PhD Mathematics
  • Organisation: Mercer

Fiona Stewart

My educational background

Throughout school I had always favoured mathematics over other subjects so it seemed the obvious subject to pursue at university. I did not realise at this point, however, that I would go on to study it for the next seven and a half years, firstly completing my honours degree in mathematics before continuing on to study for PhD specialising in the mathematics of liquid crystal displays. I had always expressed an interest in actuarial science as I was keen to pursue a highly driven career which also combined the constant learning aspect of studying for exams in order to achieve qualification. I had also spoken to friends who had chosen it as a career, all of whom recommended it highly.

Starting my job at Mercer

I moved to London at the beginning of September 2008 and started working at Mercer, as an Actuarial trainee in Retirement, Risk and Finance. The move from Scotland alone was a daunting prospect without the added stress of embarking on a new career! Everyone at Mercer made me feel so welcome and at ease though which really helped. My first week was spent in the office, familiarising myself with the sort of work we do.

My induction was then held in the second week and saw all the graduates from all over the UK coming together. The induction was a four day residential development course giving new graduates at Mercer the chance to network with each other, learn about the company and meet the market leaders. This was just the first part of four graduate development courses throughout the first eighteen months of my career at Mercer.

It proved to be an excellent learning and development experience which enabled friendships to made and maintained in addition to learning the core abilities required to be a consultant in the future.

Studying for my actuarial qualifications

I am currently studying towards the actuarial qualification. It’s challenging to get the balance between study and having a full-time job. Not an easy experience but a rewarding one when you achieve good results. As part of the study support package, Mercer allows one day a week to be spent as a study day. On this day I either attend a course tutorial for the subject(s) which I am studying, or I may have the day at home to study. Although this sounds like a day off every week it definitely is not!

Variety in my working life…

I’ve found that there’s no such thing as a typical day or week in the life of an Actuarial trainee. As clients’ needs are constantly changing, you need to be able to adapt and prioritise your work. It’s the diversity of each day that makes the work interesting. Most days I aim to arrive at the office at about 8am in order to get started early when it’s quiet and try to leave sometime between 5 and 6pm.

I work on a range of small to large client teams. Typical pieces of work range from calculating/checking pension benefits, generating factors for external administrators in order that they are able to perform simple calculations for the client, taking part in valuations of different pension schemes and working in the billing process for clients.

Other work may involve checking and updating changes to work that has already been done and emailing/telephoning administrators with queries of work/calculations that have been received. The work is time-pressured and challenging, and often involves interacting with different colleagues in all levels of the business. Every piece of work I complete is reviewed thoroughly before anything is communicated to the client to ensure it’s correct.

My career progression

As I’ve progressed in my career I’ve been able to take on a more senior role within the team, this involves delegating pieces of work to more recent graduates and interns. This has enabled me to learn and develop even more as I have found that you only really understand something when you have to be able to explain it.

Once a month I attend junior consulting forums where colleagues (at my level and a few years above) meet to discuss current issues and learn about ongoing development within the business and how this affects us. We have guest speakers from other areas of the business and are given the chance to do presentations to our colleagues relating to current issues, another great experience to develop our presenting skills in a more relaxed environment in order to gain feedback whilst learning.

Why I enjoy my job

My work at Mercer is rewarding, and constantly challenging. The balance of work and study means that I have to be self motivated and driven to succeed in both my career and the actuarial exams. It’s a challenging experience and there is always plenty of work to be done, which is something I love!

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