• Role: Trainee Pensions Actuary
  • Location: Wokingham
  • University: Southampton
  • Degree: Maths with Actuarial Science
  • Organisation: Punter Southall

James Duggan

I started working for Punter Southall in 2010 after being offered a job on the back of a summer internship the previous year. It would be a lie if I suggested that becoming an actuary was my dream job since I was a child, however it is a career that I have so far found both enjoyable and rewarding.

For me the decision to become an actuary was an easy one – I wanted to enter into a career that would utilise my mathematical ability in an applied manner, and so a career as an actuary seemed appropriate.

Day to day work

My current role at Punter Southall gives me exposure to a wide range of tasks. My standard day to day tasks can include:

  • Individual member calculation checks – these are often in the form of providing transfer value quotes to members of pension schemes who are considering moving their benefits to a different arrangement. This involves deriving assumptions to use as a basis for the calculations, checking the benefits being valued are correct, and then pulling this information together in a calculation to determine the value of the benefits.
  • Determining the funding position of pension schemes – this involves placing a value on the assets of the scheme and comparing this to the calculated value of the liabilities as at the valuation date. The majority of the work I carry out on this is in relation to the liabilities. Typical work will involve checking the membership data looks reasonable, checking the liability outputs from our model and drafting up reports to issue to clients explaining what the results mean for their scheme.
  • Meetings – I am now getting to attend more client meetings, which is an aspect of the consulting side of the job that I really enjoy. This involves preparing the agenda and papers in advance of the meeting, attendance at the meetings where I usually present some of the items to the trustees, and sometimes taking the minutes. There is often follow up work from the meetings, which gives me further opportunities for direct communication with the client.
  • Various spreadsheet based tasks – actuaries are renowned for their love of spreadsheets and at Punter Southall we are no different. There are many ad-hoc tasks that need to be carried out on a regular basis for which the spreadsheet is the perfect tool.

Social life

In addition to the day to day work, there are also many social events that take place within the office. I organise a weekly 5-a-side football kick-about with other players from within the office and I am also part of a dedicated social committee funded by Punter Southall, which organises various enjoyable activities for people in the office.

Why did you choose a job in a pensions consultancy?

I chose a pensions consultancy as I enjoy working with people and the idea of having clients and building up relationships with them over time really appealed to me. The pensions industry is a vast and varied one, which means that no two clients are the same, with each pension scheme having its own unique quirks and characteristics, ensuring you are always kept on your toes. As a result, scheme specific knowledge can become just as valuable as general pensions knowledge to ensure that your client gets specific tailored advice to suit their needs.

In addition, before I joined Punter Southall full-time I did a summer internship at their Wokingham office. This enabled me to really get a taste for the pensions industry, the sort of tasks I could expect to be involved in and also the types of people I would be working with. I found the office to be so friendly and welcoming that there really wasn’t an alternative choice for me going forward, I had set my heart on working for Punter Southall and fortunately that has worked out well so far.

What are the most stressful parts of the job?

I don’t really see myself as somebody who gets stressed, however due to the nature of client work there can be periods where you are under time pressure to get things done by a deadline and meet the client’s expectations. However, these cases are few and far between and with the team structure we have in place we are well supported.

Learning to prioritise work well is a valuable tool.

Certainly at first, trying to get the work/ life balance can be tricky when you factor in studying for exams. There have been a few occasions where I have finished work and really just felt like going home to relax, however with exams looming you feel required to get stuck in to some revision. This can lead to the exam period being a little stressful, but Punter Southall’s generous study package helps to minimise the impact on your social life by allowing study days to be taken which, if utilised wisely, can cut down on the amount of time required to study in your own time.

Summary

I have really enjoyed my time so far at Punter Southall and am made to feel like I am a valuable member of the team. It is a large enough company that it provides plenty of opportunities, whilst at the same time being personal enough that you can really contribute towards the success of the company. The varied and interesting work that pensions consultancy provides, coupled with the communicative and social interaction of dealing with clients, really appeals to me. Next up, to qualify!

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