Moving between industry and academia can provide great personal insight, as the second part in our series shows
What is it like to put aside a career in business in order to pursue a career in academia? Following on from our July article on this topic (bit.ly/ActLessonsLearn), we spoke to three more individuals about the challenges involved in making the switch.
I lecture on the actuarial science programme at Queen Mary University of London, teaching undergraduate modules in actuarial mathematics and survival models as well as postgraduate data analytics projects. I also share in organising professional development seminars for our actuarial students, and take the lead for careers in the School of Mathematical Sciences.
I qualified in 1993 in a life assurance setting and then spent most of my career in various investment divisions of Barclays, including being European CEO of iShares and head of the index fund and capital markets group.
My own route to becoming an actuary started with a degree in actuarial science from the University of Kent in 1990, so there is an element of things coming full circle. Combining technical skills with explaining complex mathematical concepts to a variety of audiences has always been at the heart of being an actuary. My role at Queen Mary gives me the opportunity to help prepare students for this.
I have been fortunate to be involved with environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment for a number of years, being a founder member of what is now the FTSE Russell ESG Advisory Committee at the birth of the FTSE4Good indices back in 2001. ESG will become more important for actuaries going forward, and it is good to encourage students to engage with issues such as environmental supply chains, human rights in life assurance and effective risk governance, alongside their studies in financial maths.
I particularly enjoy working among the diverse community on the Mile End Road, and the international nature of our student population. I have also benefitted from being around the community of mathematicians that make up a Russell Group university maths school. Certainly peer lecture observation has tightened up my application of statistical tests! The experiences that different students bring to class keep our tutorials lively; from internships at life assurance companies in Malaysia to projects modelling hospital evacuation scenarios, the work is unpredictable, even for an experienced actuary.
I am professor of actuarial science at Cass Business School and have been head of the Faculty of Actuarial Science and Insurance since 2008. I graduated from the University of Nottingham with a degree in mathematics and spent almost 10 years working in the pensions consultancy arm of Bacon & Woodrow (now part of Aon).
Why did I move from practice to academia? Well, my father and three uncles were all academics – I think there was something in the blood! I also felt increasingly that I wanted to work on actuarial problems driven by my own thinking, rather than those set by my clients. So when, in 1994, I saw a lectureship advertised at City, University of London, I decided to apply – and to my delight I was offered the job.
A key part of an academic’s life is research. When I joined the university I shifted my interest from pensions to healthcare issues. These include how long-term care for the elderly could be funded; quantifying the years of life people lose through being obese, and examining a particular retirement village in Surrey to estimate the longevity boost that the villagers seem to obtain from living there. An important outcome from all these examples is that I was able to publicise the work in national and international newspapers and on television. I think it is so important for actuaries to promote the work they do more widely, so that there is greater recognition and respect given to the profession by the general public.
I completed my PhD in the area of health insurance in 2007 and was promoted to professor in 2013. With senior management duties and 25 staff to manage I find that I have less time to spend on research these days, but I still love teaching. The ‘lightbulb’ moment when a student has understood what you’ve been saying still gives me a huge buzz. Over the course of my academic career I have come to appreciate just how important teaching students is to my job satisfaction. I really enjoy giving the next generation of actuaries the technical skills they will need in order to grow their careers. When graduates stay in touch and tell me what they are doing with their professional lives, I get an almost paternal sense of satisfaction. Not many careers could offer me that!
“It is wonderful in my new role to have the time to think deeply about technical matters and to solve problems properly”
I am an assistant professor at University College Dublin. I teach a mixture of statistics and actuarial topics, currently focusing on CM2 (financial economics) and CP1 (actuarial practice). My research includes risk model calibration, economic time series and asset pricing. I am also the team leader for Ireland in the International Mathematical Olympiad.
Before I took on this role, I was an actuarial partner at Deloitte for more than 15 years, based in London. During 30 years in consulting I covered a wide range of practice areas, but most recently focused on life capital models.
I am not optimistic about Brexit, and having been based in London for most of my life I was grateful for the opportunity to live somewhere else in Europe.
I have learned the hard way that teaching is a skill in its own right. I am secure in my technical knowledge and I’ve never been nervous entertaining large audiences.
However, there is a difference between a lecture – where you want to impart knowledge and understanding – and a consulting pitch whose ultimate goal is to generate revenue. I’m grateful to colleagues who have taken me aside and given me tips on how to be a better lecturer, but I am aware that I still have more to learn.
My previous job had a corporate structure, with top-down management and a bewildering dashboard of performance indicators and targets, despite legally being a partnership. Universities are at the opposite extreme, with management much more at arms’ length. I am rarely told what to do now, but equally I am in no position to boss anyone else around.
Going from a consulting partner to a lecturer role involved a substantial pay cut. In comparison with some of my former colleagues my lifestyle was relatively frugal, but the drop in income has still needed careful planning.
It is wonderful in my new role to have the time to think deeply about technical matters and to solve problems properly. As a consultant, efficiency meant using the minimum amount of resources to answer a narrow question. Once the report is written, you move on to the next thing. Telling the client what they want to hear can be a big help when it comes to getting paid. In contrast, as an academic, I have the opportunity to go back over work to extend and generalise results, produce better proofs and draw connections between diverse areas of mathematics, with fewer constraints regarding the commercial implications.