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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Careers: Career clinic

Are the needs of actuarial employers changing?
Trevor Watkins (TW): The basic requirements - of strong numeracy skills and a love of mathematics and its applications remain unchanged. However, it seems to me that the focus of the job of an actuary has shifted. It is no longer about building models or doing hard sums in darkened rooms but more about interpreting and explaining the calculations to stakeholders. These skills are based on having more business awareness of clients’ needs and more communication skills, so that those who make decisions on the back of the outcomes understand the assumptions made and the implications of the outcomes proposed. There is also much more reliance on understanding of professionalism and its implications for actuaries. In the wake of the credit crunch there is likely to be more regulation of the financial services sector and a greater need for actuaries to balance client and public responsibilities.

I’ve always worked in pensions - how easy is it to move into another practice area?
Geraldine Kaye (GK): As an actuary, you’ll know that there is always supply and demand at play. When there are plenty of suitably qualified candidates in a particular niche then you must ask yourself why they need you. If you can answer that question satisfactorily then you will be able to move. At a time when demand exceeds supply you no longer have to be better than perfect. At all times highlight those specific qualities in your CV that make you attractive for the position to which you are applying. The above comments are true for all disciplines, not just pensions.

What is the role of communication and business skills compared with numerical skills?
Nigel Masters (NM): Numerical skill is the core of the actuary’s technical base but for anyone wishing to progress beyond a relatively junior level, communication and business skills are essential. Too often I meet perfectly competent actuaries that get stuck in mid-career because they cannot escape from their technical roots. And to be clear I would include language skills in communication and I would include personality traits such as energy, enthusiasm and flexibility in business skills for those who really want to succeed.

How can I improve my recruitment chances in the current economic climate?
James Ridd (JR): Jobs are still there despite the current climate but companies are looking for higher quality candidates - so ensure that you keep a detailed up-to-date CV that sells all your experience, so when the right opportunity presents itself you are ready to be the first to apply. In this changing market ‘softer skills’ are becoming increasingly important, so work on how best to demonstrate these at interview, and with thorough company research you will immediately improve your chances of obtaining employment.

How do you see the role of the actuary changing over the next few years?
NM: While the current economic downturn may make recruitment a little slower, it will also reinforce the need to consider the risks inherent in financial products in a very broad way. People will look not just at the types of risks but how risks combine in downturns and how risks develop over time. These are core actuarial skills and employers will want to recruit actuaries to bring this insight. And this is not just employers in the traditional finance industry but all employers that have long-term risky projects that need to show a financial return.

What level of support can I expect from my professional body if I choose to work in a non-traditional field?
TW: The qualification process is intended to prepare actuaries who are ‘fit for purpose’, which implies that the content of the syllabus and the skills generated in the workplace in our work-based skills requirement need to be appropriate for those actuaries who move into non-traditional fields. In practice this is easier said than done because it takes time to change the syllabus and there is always more pressure to add in new topics - but less pressure to take things out. The syllabus needs to remain the same size otherwise qualification times will lengthen. The Member Interest Groups (MIGs) set up in the new structure offer the opportunity for groups with a common interest in a particular non-traditional field to gain support from the Profession in developing their interest in their field.

What level of support can I reasonably expect from my employer?
JR: It is well known that there is a shortage of actuaries in the UK and most employers will prefer to retain their own staff rather than having to hire to replace them. Employees should, therefore, expect fairly significant support from their employers. Given the current economic climate your employer should be conscious that you will have concerns about what 2009 will hold, and they should therefore be keeping you informed with internal developments. You should expect clarity on your current position, and what is expected from you in order to make progress with your career, as well as getting an indication of the level of support you will receive.

Should I escape the downturn with a Middle East move?
GK: Any move involves push and pull. While recession may provide the push, you must be very careful where the pull takes you. The work culture and lifestyle in the Middle East is very different to the West and while it may suit some, it won’t suit others. There are real opportunities to expand your experience, however, in practice, making a move requires research and planning, so you should consider your goals both in the short and long-term.

Do you think actuaries will continue to transfer between different geographies in the current climate
GK: Actuarial skills travel well. The actuarial qualification is one of the truly international qualifications that allows people to move relatively easily across geographic regions. I can see no reason why the financial climate should affect this. You still need to demonstrate your motivation for moving to a particular country and the value you can offer relative to a local candidate. Even though many say languages aren’t important, I still believe that you need to be able to go and buy your own ice-cream! In terms of settling and fitting into a new environment, the local language or at least a willingness to learn it, is advantageous.

I’m thinking about working towards the Associate qualification. What benefits/ disadvantages does this qualification offer when compared with Fellowship?
TW: The Associate qualification is for a generalist actuary who wants to work in broader fields within the financial services sector. Those completing the exams for this qualification (the core technical and core application levels) will have good numeracy skills coupled with economics, financial economics and financial reporting knowledge on top of what is usually a 2:i or first class honours degree in a numerate subject from a high-quality university. Such people should be sought-after by employers. A developmental career path would be into general management perhaps by coupling the Associate qualification with an MBA. We are offering a route to Associate involving specialist study of risk management [ST9” instead of contingencies [CT5” from 2010.

Nigel Masters is president of the Institute of Actuaries
Trevor Watkins is head of learning, Faculty and Institute of Actuaries
James Ridd is executive consultant, Goodman Masson
Dr Geraldine Kaye is managing director at GAAPS Actuarial