• Bio: Hannah Cook is Operations Lead and a Risk Settlement Adviser in Aon Hewitt’s market leading Risk Settlement Group, specialising in bulk annuities, longevity hedging and reinsurance treaties. Hannah enjoys the balance between consulting in this complex area of transaction work and her operational responsibilities.
  • Organisation: Aon

Hannah Cook

I joined Aon as an actuarial student after graduating in 2007, working on a number of clients of varying sizes, supporting consultants and scheme actuaries in advising trustees and sponsors on their defined benefit pension schemes. It seemed like a natural choice to work in a field where I could use the mathematical skills acquired throughout my studies. Actuarial consulting was also an obvious choice for me, I enjoy working with people as well as problem solving with colleagues and clients. I have also held a number of team leader and people management roles.

After six and a half years working in pensions consulting, I was ready for a new challenge…I didn’t want to throw away a wealth of pensions knowledge and actuarial skills, but at the same time I wanted to learn and develop new skills, so in early 2014 I applied for a role in Aon Hewitt’s Risk Settlement Group and I haven’t looked back!

What does a typical day look like for you?

I normally have at least one client meeting at some point in the day, so I will spend time preparing for the meeting and formulating the advice on the longevity hedging or bulk annuity transactions I’m working on.

A significant chunk of my day is spent working with my team, co-ordinating and reviewing the figures and advice provided as part of transactions. The content of the client meetings varies throughout a transaction process and typically I work a couple of transactions at the same time (usually at different stages). In the initial stages of a transaction, the meetings typically focus on the cost/benefit analysis of different risk settlement options for the client (including liability management, bulk annuities and longevity hedging).

As a transaction progresses, the meetings are focused on structuring and negotiation of terms and pricing with reinsurers and insurers. In the depths of a transaction, typically a lot of time is spent with lawyers providing input into the actuarial aspects of the transaction documents.

 
In my role, it is important to stay in touch with the market; I spend a lot of my time speaking to insurers and reinsurers as part of transactions and also as part of general wider relationship discussions. Developing an in-depth understanding of the market is important to provide clients with the best possible advice on placement of business.

The rest of my day is spent on operational responsibilities, this can involve assessing progress against the business plan, development of new services, preparing/coordinating new business pitches, ensuring compliance requirements have been fulfilled, marketing for the Group (including press releases, articles, regular market updates and our website), reporting on sales and finances to senior management, setting objectives, onboarding and development of the team.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

One of the best things about my job is that I am constantly learning, working in a market that is developing and changing challenges you to think outside of the box and develop new ideas. I also enjoy the variety of skills that I am required to use in one day, commercial, actuarial, mathematics, communication, consulting, problem solving, analytical…the list goes on! One minute I am in the depths of a detailed longevity structuring discussion and the next minute thinking about branding for our marketing campaign.

What are the current challenges facing the actuarial industry?

It is no secret in the pensions industry, that defined benefit pension schemes are increasingly seen as legacy concerns for sponsors and trustees, with many schemes now closed to both new entrants and future accrual. Many sponsors now have in place defined contribution schemes.

Whilst actuaries continue to play an important role in the pensions industry, the more traditional Scheme Actuary role associated with defined benefit schemes is unlikely to provide a lifetime career option for many graduates entering the market today. This doesn’t mean there aren’t exciting opportunities in pensions for graduates in a number of growing areas across the industry, ranging from defined contribution consulting, investment consulting to risk settlement advisory/broking work. The UK defined benefit market is estimated to be in the region of £2trn of liabilities, with a growing trend towards risk reduction, this means that the demand for actuaries with pensions knowledge able to facilitate the transfer of risk to the insurance and reinsurance markets will increase.

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

I always think the best way to see if you like something is to try it! Internships and work experience programmes offer a great opportunity for you to see if it’s the right career for you. When making any decision it’s always helpful to obtain as much information as possible, there are a number of sources available to help you make an informed decision, including the Inside Careers website, the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries website, speaking to people in the industry, reading articles and brochures, career advisers and talking to friends/family.

The actuarial profession offers an ever increasing range of career opportunities for actuaries to use their skills, both in the more traditional roles in general insurance, life insurance and pensions and in wider non-traditional roles such as broking, banking and enterprise risk management. This means there is plenty of scope for you to define your own career within the actuarial profession and find the right path for you.

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