• Bio: Bhavna wanted to become an actuary ever since she heard of its promise of intellectual fulfilment and rewards whilst still at school. After gaining a degree in maths, she fulfilled her early ambition and joined Aon's graduate scheme in 1999. 13 years on, she tells us what it's like to work as a senior consultant in pensions.
  • Role: Senior Consultant
  • Organisation: Mercer

Bhavna Kumar

I always liked maths, but didn’t want to be an accountant; I had heard rumours it was quite boring! When I learned at a school careers evening that becoming an actuary would give me the opportunity to become a technical expert in my field as well as the chance to learn how to communicate that knowledge to other people, I decided that becoming an actuary was the plan for me.

I kept my options open by studying for a maths, rather than an actuarial degree, but once I had completed a summer placement prior to my final year I decided to make the commitment to a career in actuarial work. I started my training in pensions actuarial work in 1999.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the fact that every day and every piece of work is different. Even if the piece of work seems to be the same on the face of it, because every client, every member and every pension scheme is different, the advice required will differ for each case. This means I’m learning all the time and each day flies by.

The overarching satisfaction comes from helping clients make the decisions they need to by simplifying the complexities and making the process as painless as possible.

What is a typical day like for you?

My days involve working with trustees of defined benefit pension schemes and employers who sponsor those schemes. My clients need assistance and advice in relation to securing the promised benefits, operating their scheme on a day to day basis and their statutory duties. This includes:

Meeting days

After a frenzied couple of weeks preparing agendas and papers, making sure all the items that require decisions are covered, meeting days are a satisfying culmination of all my hard work. They usually involve an early start to reach the client with time to spare and a bit of last minute panicking on the journey – but once you’re there, it’s great to be able to share your knowledge and steer your clients through the difficult arena within which they need to operate.

Non-routine work

Sometimes I have to figure out a query that has been raised – not always as straightforward as it seems. We need to make sure that we answer the question the client needs to know the answer to, which isn’t necessarily the same as the question they’ve asked. This work is delegated to a ‘doer’, followed by a ‘checker’ and will come back to me for sign-off.

I will also need to arrange a peer review to ensure the advice provided is appropriate, hasn’t missed any possible angles and is easy to follow. A fair proportion of my time is also spent ‘peer reviewing’.

Sign-off or peer review routine work

This usually involves using prior knowledge to review work completed by the team or colleagues.

Responding to emails

This might involve doing some quick sums to provide costings, checking legislation for finer points of detail or clarifying the detail of a case.

What would you like to achieve in the future?

I hope to continue to learn new skills and expertise on a daily basis and thereby step up to the next level in the profession – to have a portfolio of clients for which I am responsible from both an actuarial and a business perspective.

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

Consider carefully the area of actuarial work in which you would like to work. Even the traditional specialisms of pensions, investments, life insurance and general insurance are very different and it is not necessarily as easy as you might think to transfer between them once you have some experience under your belt.

Also, complete some work experience to ensure it is what you think it will be!

Finally, be prepared for hard work. It’s not easy working and doing exams (and having a life outside of work) all at the same time.

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