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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Soapbox: Recruiting top graduates

The US and Canadian actuarial bodies (Society of Actuaries, Casualty Actuarial Society and Canadian Institute of Actuaries) are consulting with their members about the role of universities in their qualification processes. To date they have steadfastly refused to give exemptions through validating university programmes and the proposal to do so is proving very controversial. In the UK the Morris Report recommended more links with universities and the Profession accepted all the recommendations. With this ‘following wind’ we introduced a carefully crafted accreditation scheme for universities without undue opposition. To date 13 university programmes have been accredited.

I was recently asked by Cecil Bykerk, the current president of the Society of Actuaries, for my advice on university accreditation from the UK experience. I offered two views; firstly, concentrate on working with universities with the highest academic standards and reputations in fields relevant to actuarial science. The Profession wants to attract the best and the brightest and so this means working with universities with strong track records in core actuarial subjects such as mathematics. This, in turn, helps to make the profession more widely known alongside competitive careers such as investment banking and management consultancy.

My second recommendation was that the US actuarial bodies need to implement a thorough monitoring process to ensure standards are maintained. We have found in the UK that to ensure and to demonstrate equivalence of standards between university-based exemptions and our own examinations we need to be intrusive and collect detailed data from a number of sources to build up a complete picture of the university experience. We use data from our independent examiners (two for each university programme), from staff actuary evaluation of teaching and assessments, from students and from employers. We also monitor the subsequent performance of students from accredited university courses with our later examinations to compare with overall pass rates.

We need to convince all our stakeholders; employers, qualified members, students, the Professional Oversight Board (POB) and users of actuarial services that standards are maintained and that newly qualified actuaries are fit for purpose with an appropriate set of skills. The intrusiveness of our dealings with universities is time and resource-consuming and does not always make us popular with them, but it is essential if we are to build a strong and broad relationship, which extends to research links to encourage more relevant actuarial research.

So what does all this mean for graduate recruitment, which is what I am supposed to be writing about? We can offer employers a wider set of graduates to choose from because new actuarial undergraduate programmes have been established at Manchester, Queen’s in Belfast and East Anglia (in association with Aviva). We can also offer employers other routes to exemptions once they have employed graduates with full-time Masters programmes at Oxford, Cambridge and Waterloo in Canada being added, as well as part-time routes at City and Imperial and a distance-learning route at Leicester. The university programmes are helping the Profession to be better known among potential trainees and our prestige as a profession will grow by association with prestige universities.

We know that some employers prefer to employ graduates with few or no exemptions but we also know that the average number of exemptions per new student continues to rise and is now well over 2.4. If, as POB requires, we produce newly qualified actuaries who are fit for purpose, having a high-quality intake is key. We know that there is room for improvement because just fewer than half of the new student intake does not make it to fellowship in 10 years. Even though they are highly skilled and highly valued as employees, they are lost to the Profession. We hope that by reinvigorating the Associate qualification we can retain links with more of them. Helping employers to recruit a higher proportion of actuarial trainees who are subsequently successful in qualifying remains an important target.

Trevor Watkins is head of learning for the Actuarial Profession