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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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Q&A: Catherine Barton (E&Y)



What motivated you to embark upon an actuarial career?

I was sponsored through university by Royal Insurance as I was studying maths. It placed me in its life actuarial department for two summers of work experience. When it came to applying for jobs, I thought I knew more at that stage about actuarial work than anything else, so thought I’d give it a try.

Was your heart always set on working in an actuarial practice or have you tried your hand at an industry role?
I decided at the outset that I wanted to work in a consultancy rather than a company as I thought it would be guaranteed to offer lots of variety and challenges, which hasn’t proven to be wrong. I have never really found myself in a position where I’m doing the same thing from one year to the next.

I’ve also been fortunate that, for some clients, I have played a fairly hands-on role, including one client where I worked on-site for a long-term secondment, which gave me a bit of a feel of what life is like on the other side of the fence.

I wouldn’t rule out moving to a role in industry at a later stage in my career, either an actuarial role or another, possibly more commercially-focused, role that would make use of my insurance experience.

How do you see the employment market for actuaries changing in the next 10-15 years?
I think that many of the trends we have seen in the actuarial employment market over the last decade will continue over the next 10-15 years. In recent years the actuarial practices in the ‘big four’ audit firms have grown significantly, many of the traditional actuarial firms have been subsumed into other businesses and many insurers have significantly bolstered their in-house actuarial teams. I think that this growth of in-house actuarial roles will continue, with a deepening involvement of actuaries across insurance businesses’ many functions, where the actuarial skills are increasingly seen as adding value to insurers’ commercial operations.

What has been your most memorable career lesson?
Trusting my own instinct and judgment. Where I have had concerns about something, more often than not they have proven to be warranted, and generally tackling issues sooner rather than later is better.

What is the biggest issue keeping your clients awake at night currently?
I do a lot of work in the UK motor insurance market, and turning around performance in that market from its very unprofitable level in 2009/2010 is a major challenge for many of my clients. While prices have been increasing over the last year, price competition remains very strong with insurers wrestling to gain ownership of the customer.

At the same time, claims inflation is motoring, fuelled by a whole range of factors. Together with potentially increased capital costs in a post-Solvency II world, there is plenty for many in the motor market to worry about. It is equally an exciting market to be working in as an actuary, for example, by helping to improve profitability, understanding the customer better and getting a proper grip on the claims trends.

You were one of the youngest partners during your time with Deloitte. How would you describe your recipe for success?
I think that the fact that I liked developing relationships, both with clients and within the business, was a big contributory factor to me making partner at Deloitte relatively early on in my career. I have always enjoyed meeting people, getting to know them and keeping in touch with them, which were all things that fitted well with being successful within a consultancy environment.

I found that the relationships with colleagues were just as important as those with clients. It was a concern when I moved on to Ernst & Young that my lack of an internal network would mean that I might struggle to do what the business wanted me to. In fact, that concern was needless, as I was warmly welcomed and quickly up and running within the business.

How has your role changed since moving to Ernst & Young?
More than you would imagine in moving from one consultancy to another. At Deloitte I was focused on retail actuarial work, largely in the UK. Moving to Ernst & Young has given me the exciting opportunity to build on my previous role and establish a non-life retail actuarial team across the firm’s European partnership. Previously, Ernst & Young’s actuarial practice was largely centred around London and Bermuda-based clients and, seeing us expand the range of clients we are working with is very rewarding.
My role is focused on making our retail market activities happen, so my time is split fairly evenly between recruiting actuaries with specific retail experience to add to our team in the UK and Europe, business development and doing projects for clients. The big difference in nature of work from my previous role is that pricing and customer-analytics-related projects form more of our work at Ernst & Young, which is an interesting area of work for the team given the challenges in the UK motor market.

How do you measure your success?
My personal measure of success is the recognition I get from other people for doing a good job, whether they are clients or colleagues. If other people are happy with what I’m doing with them, I feel rewarded.

You were interviewed by The Times in a feature entitled ‘Alpha females on the way up’. Do you believe that it’s a man’s world in the actuarial profession and women need to behave like their male counterparts to make it to the top?
I’ve never really thought of the actuarial profession as a man’s world. The insurance industry certainly is male-dominated, but less so than when I started 15 years ago. Likewise, it seems that there are many more women entering the profession as graduates than when I started out. My experience has been that being female in the insurance world has not made any difference to my role.

I’ve never had to act in any particular way to fit in. In terms of being successful, or rising to the top, the businesses I have worked in have assessed and promoted people based on merit not gender and long may that be the case.

What is the greatest risk you have taken, personally or professionally?
Reflecting on this, I don’t think I’ve really taken any big risks. Maybe that proves I was always destined to be an actuary!

What is your favourite pastime?
Spending time with my friends and family is really important to me. Photography is my passion, particularly wildlife photography, although at the moment I’m spending more time playing tennis and learning German. And at this time of year I also find myself hankering for the ski slopes.

Are you able to find time for it given the demanding nature of your role?
If I’d been asked this question a few years’ ago, the answer would have been ‘not enough’. I think I have often been my own worst enemy in terms of doing too much work, and there came a time when I realised that I needed to be much more disciplined with myself. Starting a new role was the perfect opportunity to reset the boundaries, and now I typically plan to keep work-related activities to a couple of evenings a week, leaving the other evenings free to do things outside work, which gives me a better balance than I previously had.

Clearly, consultancy is demanding and there are times when client needs mean that plans need to be changed, but thankfully that is the exception more often than the rule.

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Catherine Barton is a partner in Ernst & Young’s European Actuarial Practice where she leads the non-life retail insurance actuarial team. Catherine is particularly experienced in the UK motor and household insurance markets and has been a frequent commentator in the insurance press on retail market trends and experience. She was previously a partner at Deloitte where she made Management Today’s UK Top 35 Women List.