As a typical student, I wanted to put off having to enter the terrifying world of work for as long as possible, but inevitably, the time came to choose a career.
I completed a Masters in Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics (MORSE) at the University of Warwick. This is one of only a few courses in the country that helps prepare you for an actuarial career, offering exemptions for up to seven of the 15 exams.
Actuarial work offered a good combination of being able to use my degree, a reasonable work/life balance and pretty good starting pay compared to my other graduate friends.
How did you get your job at Aon?
I applied for an internship in the summer before my final year at university. This gave me great insight into what the day to day work would be like. You are treated as a normal member of the team and have the opportunity to get involved in small projects. Without any formal training I did feel slightly out of my depth at times but everyone was really approachable and helpful if I didn’t understand something.
I was lucky enough to be offered a graduate position at the end of the ten weeks, which meant that I could spend my final year focused on studying and not having to worry about job applications and interviews.
What is a typical day like?
I work in the Leeds office in the Pensions and Actuarial Services team, providing support for consultants who advise companies and trustees of pension schemes (mostly final salary). I work on around 11 client teams, with the schemes varying in size from less than ten members up to tens of thousands of members.
As a more senior member of the team, part of my job is to liaise with the consultants to find out what work our clients need doing and to distribute the work amongst the client team. Trustee work mainly involves statutory work, such as a valuation of the scheme. This must be carried out every three years and is a 12-15 month long project.
Work for companies is focused towards managing their costs. Over the last few years many companies have been looking to cut their costs and running a pension scheme can be a significant part of this. We recommend ways of cutting costs and help to implement these ideas.
Most of the day tends to involve performing complex calculations, sometimes by hand but usually using Excel models. For example, to value future pension promises in today’s money you need to take individual member data, perform checks on the data, set and apply assumptions about the future (such as how long will people live for) and test the sensitivity of the result by looking at the effect of changing each assumption.
An important part of the job is being able to draw conclusions from the calculations and communicate these effectively to the client through a report, email or presentation. The calculations can be quite complex so you need to be able to avoid jargon and put things in a way that can be easily understood so that the client has enough information to make decisions. Good communication skills, both written and verbal, are therefore very important.
On average, one day a week is set aside for study, which involves reading course notes, completing assignments, revision and practicing past exam papers. You need to have good self motivation to make the most of study days (resist the temptation to have a lie in and watch daytime TV!). You also need to set aside time in the evenings and at weekends as study days alone are not enough to be thoroughly prepared.
What are the most stressful parts of your job?
As a student it can be difficult to juggle the demands on your time of work, study and having a social life. Client work can involve demanding deadlines and the odd late night is necessary, however normal hours are roughly 9 – 5.
The bi-annual exam period can be tough. Although study days are weighted more towards the exam period it is not like university where you could just coast through the term and spend a week cramming, you really need to work throughout the year as you still need to be in the office most days. The feeling of satisfaction at passing, not to mention the celebratory night out and pay rise make it worthwhile!
What would you like to achieve in the future?
After three and a half years of studying I now have just one exam left to sit. Once I qualify I hope to become a consultant and continue to expand my knowledge of the field of pensions.
Actuarial skills are quite transferrable so it is possible that I could move into another field such as risk management or insurance.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry?
- Get some work experience. This is highly valued by employers and will help you decide if this is really the right career for you.
- Practice your interview technique. Your careers department should have courses you can attend and may be able to offer you a mock interview that will highlight areas you need to work on.
- Do your research. Spend some time looking at the website of the company you want to work for and keep an eye out for relevant actuarial stories in the news. This will give you an opportunity to show the interviewer that you are already taking an interest.
Get as many exemptions as you can from your university course. This will give you a head start on other graduates and mean less time spent balancing work and study in the long run.