• Bio: Gareth Oxtoby is a Consulting Actuary and former Partner with Willis Towers Watson, one of the largest actuarial consultancies in the country. Having joined the company straight after university, he has built up his career and reputation by ensuring quality in large scale strategic projects and developing the skills of his team.
  • Role: Consulting Actuary
  • Organisation: Willis Towers Watson

Gareth Oxtoby

I joined Willis Towers Watson directly from University in 1990. I qualified as an actuary in 1994 and was made a partner in the former Watson Wyatt business in 2002.

I am a pensions actuary advising a range of clients with pension liabilities from £10 million to c. £15 billion. My previous roles have included acting as office leader for a team of close to 100 people, including over 30 student actuaries and a similar number of qualified actuaries.

Why did you choose a career in the industry?

I did a mathematics degree at Warwick University and at the start of my third year had no clear idea what career I wanted to follow. I knew I wanted to do something in the financial sector, that was more practical than much of my degree course, and that paid reasonably well. Actuarial consultancy seemed to tick those boxes, whilst providing a variety of challenging work and a highly-regarded professional qualification. I have found it be to an immensely rewarding career choice.

What is a typical day like for you?

I am lucky in that I can walk to the Reigate office from my home, and I typically get to the office between 8 and 8.30 am. As a consultant my workload is very much dependant on what my clients ask me to do. If I’m not out of the office at meetings with clients, my typical day in the office invariably involves juggling and reprioritising a number of different tasks and requests each day in order to deliver to client requirements. Good time and project management is essential.

I rely on my colleagues to do much of the ‘heavy lifting’ for me, such as data analysis, detailed calculations and initial drafting of client communications. However a typical day’s client work might involve:

  • Discussing with team members how we will model a particular client issue and report back to the client
  • Drafting or reviewing client communications – anything from a one paragraph email to a 50-slide PowerPoint presentation. Everything we send out goes through a rigorous do/check/review process, but all team members take responsibility for their own work
  • Planning for the future – in a constantly evolving market, I must identify which issues are relevant to which clients in order to address them proactively
  • Fire fighting – you never know what clients will ask, and invariably there is a question or issue that comes up each day which is slightly different to anything raised by the client before.

I like to leave the office by 6.30 pm in order to see my son before his bedtime. Each day is different and I cannot say for sure what I will be doing tomorrow.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I work with a great team advising some of the biggest and most prestigious companies in the UK, and their pension scheme trustees, on their pensions issues. Willis Towers Watson has an enviable client base and our team here in Reigate advises many of the UK’s largest pension schemes.  I’ve also been able to change my role over time; having previously acted as office leader for five years, I recently decided to return to 100% client consulting, and as a result have been able to take on some new appointments, bringing new challenges and opportunities.

There is loads of variety – I advise small schemes and large schemes, and in some cases I am advising the trustees whilst in others I advise the sponsoring employer. Most of all though I enjoy working with talented colleagues, and we have fun too!

What would you like to achieve in the future?

I believe that there will be clients with significant, challenging pensions issues for many years to come. I aspire to continue to provide those clients with the high levels of service they rightly expect. There are opportunities to work with market thought leaders on schemes setting the pensions agenda – so there is lots of scope for personal development.

As a senior member of the Willis Towers Watson team I also see myself as having responsibility for the career aspirations of my junior colleagues. It’s important to me that I contribute to an interesting, challenging, rewarding (and enjoyable) environment for junior actuaries to achieve their long term goals here at Willis Towers Watson.

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry?

  • Most of my job is about explaining issues and proposing solutions to clients in their own language, not doing clever sums. You’ll need to be sufficiently numerate to get through the exams, but you don’t need a maths degree. In pensions consultancy good communication skills are critical – the mathematical know-how is taken as a given.
  • Choose the right role and employer for you – in Reigate we take on a large number of trainee actuaries each year, which provides something akin to a collegiate atmosphere and a great support network. The skills required to consult effectively on pensions, life insurance or investment are essentially the same, and our people move between different offices and between the different disciplines. Think about whether that is likely to be important to you.
  • Think about the skills we might be looking for. Willis Towers Watson is looking, ultimately, for the next generation of leaders who will maintain and expand our position in the UK pensions industry. But we also need good team players, as teamwork is critical in what we do; an ability to demonstrate independent thought; and empathy and the ability to build good interpersonal relationships.
  • Do your research – it is an industry with high professional standards, so if you are going for an interview make sure you have been sufficiently professional by preparing yourself to talk reasonably knowledgeably about the job you are going for.
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