Do I need a degree, and if so, in what subject area?
Graduates from any subject background find fulfilling careers in pensions, although degrees in business, economics and law are particularly welcomed. Generally speaking, employers focus more on the soft skills than the subject studied, with the exception of actuarial roles, where a strong mathematical and/or statistical background is required.
It is also possible to work, particularly in administrative roles, after completing A levels or a vocational course at a similar level. At this level, apprenticeships are becoming more popular as a foundation of professionalism.
What type of person are employers looking for?
There is a huge range of roles in the industry, meaning that there is something for everyone, whether you want a client-facing, developmental role or a more back-office, technical or research-driven position. What links all of these roles is a strong set of soft skills, including:
Different roles require different balances of knowledge and skills but typically employers will be looking for a high standard of numeracy and written English, self-motivation, drive, ambition and confidence and a good presentation style if the role is to involve dealing with clients. A willingness to socialise and network is often needed and a commitment to undertaking relevant qualifications in addition to the demands of a busy job is essential.
People and team working skills are particularly relevant to the vast majority of pensions roles. Pensions professionals deal with many groups, including scheme members, trustees, employers, advisers and regulators.
A detailed knowledge of pensions is not expected initially, but an awareness of relevant social and financial issues will demonstrate a keen interest in the area and a willingness to learn.
How long does it take to qualify?
Graduate schemes tend to have professional qualifications embedded in them:
The Pensions Management Institute (PMI) has a wide range of qualifications suitable for those looking for different roles and career paths within pensions and employee benefits.
If you are working towards the Advanced Diploma you should expect to complete the first module, the Retirement Provision Certificate (RPC), within your first year of employment. Over the next three or four years you should expect to complete the pensions technical modules for the Retirement Provision Diploma (RPD) and then to select modules covering wider aspects, for example, management and communication to complete the examinations.
You also need a minimum of three years practical work experience to be elected as an Associate (APMI) of the PMI.
Will I need to continue training once I have qualified?
Yes, the industry is constantly changing and being up to date is important. You are expected to undertake continuing professional development (CPD) both through attendance at meetings, seminars, technical updates and events and through reading the trade press and networking.
The PMI has very active Regional Groups that will support you in this area and it is a good discipline to get involved with them whilst studying for the qualifications.
Where can I find jobs in the profession?
The largest proportion of pensions professionals work for insurance companies, benefits and actuarial consulting firms that provide services and advice to companies. Other large employment areas are in specific departments of large private and public sector employers, in firms providing specialist services such as administration and investment management. Large firms of accountants and lawyers also have many employees specialising in pensions. Other specialist areas include communication and IT and regulatory bodies.
If you are a school- or college-leaver, it is also worth looking at the local press for information on back-office and administrative roles. If you live in a larger city, it may be worth reading the trade press (PMI News) because they have jobs pages at the back of them, as well as useful sector news.
If you are a graduate, or will be a graduate, there are many places to look for graduate schemes. Websites such as this one have jobs boards with vacancies specifically for graduate roles.
Could I move from one type of job in the profession to another?
Yes, it is not uncommon for people to move between the different sectors of the industry, for example, from working for an international consultancy to a role within the pensions department of a large Plc., or from an underwriting role to working as a loss adjuster. Moving roles is made easier if you have relevant qualifications, which will assure potential employers that a body of technical knowledge has been demonstrated, as well as a commitment to professional development.
The variety of roles available means that many people join the profession and never leave it, particularly those with high-level professional qualifications such as the APMI.
Are there opportunities for more mature entrants?
Yes, people from a wide range of backgrounds have successful second careers in the pensions industry. For example, those who have worked in law and accountancy, or as an actuary have often successfully moved into a career in pensions. Likewise, those with an engineering, geological or healthcare background can find roles that fit with their specialist knowledge.
It is also possible to move into pensions from a background in financial services, administration or management.
Are there opportunities overseas?
Pensions is a global profession with global opportunities. There are many major companies that operate in this sector and which have a network of offices on all continents around the world. In fact, some graduate schemes will include a spell in one of these international offices.
PMI’s Advanced Diploma has two international modules for people interested or involved with pensions and employee benefits outside the UK.
Holding high-level professional qualifications such as the APMI are like holding a second passport. Employers around the world understand the value of these qualifications and the technical knowledge that its holders have.