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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

In the hot seat: Paul McNamara

What exactly do you do and how did you end up here?
If a pessimist is saying that the glass is half empty and an optimist is countering that it is in fact half full, a management consultant is likely to interject that there is a different issue altogether it’s that the glass is twice as big as it needs to be. Like actuarial work, consulting is an art and a science and, unlike the joke, the aim is to solve the most difficult problems facing senior business management. I joined McKinsey after completing an MBA and deciding to take an adventure in what the profession has intrepidly labelled the ‘wider fields’.
What was the toughest challenge of your career?
My first day in work. I was so scared that I would be fired as incompetent within days.
How do you bring your actuarial training to bear on your day-to-day activities and how has it been useful to you?
The most important impact of my actuarial training is an ability to think about effects over the long term. This does not mean dithering over (sometimes but not always) urgent decisions, but rather taking a broader view of the trade-offs involved.
What good movies/books have you seen/read lately?
Much to the annoyance of my wife, I have been frequently rewatching the Star Wars chronicles nothing has come close to these and I cannot wait until they are out on DVD. From the bookshop, The Trusted Adviser by Maister, Green, and Galford is a must-read for anyone in professional service!
What famous person do you most admire?
Although I am not so sure about the theme park legacy, I have always envied the genius of Walt Disney. He created the most instantly recognisable image of the last century, Mickey Mouse. He advanced the technology of his art, his business, and his industry. Above all, his storytelling continues to stir emotions even in our more cynical times. Magic!
What is the one lesson you would pass on to young members of the profession?
People matter more than numbers.
What will be the most significant issues facing the actuarial profession in the next decade?
Already under pressure, the apprenticeship model we took for granted over past years will be more difficult than ever to sustain.
Do you have any concerns for the future development of the profession?
Yes, I think the profession urgently needs to clarify its ‘public interest’ responsibilities and how they are weighed against the interest of its members and their employers!
What three items would you bring to a desert island?
A six-pack of draught Guinness x 3.
What was your dream career when you were younger?
I once thought that I would be a really great inventor who knows, it might happen yet
What is the most frequently asked question of you and what is your answer?
I am very often asked what will be the next big change in the financial services industry. I generally reply ‘What financial services industry?’ More seriously, I think that, over the next three to five years, interactive television and virtual advice hold the prospect of revolutionising the delivery of advice-based products.
Where in the world would you most like to go to and why?
Funnily enough, I am currently considering a move to our Asian offices, most likely to China. As they say, you are only young once!