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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

In the hot seat: Sally Bridgeland

How did you end up where you are today?
It wasn’t until my second year at university that I gave life after study a second thought. At that time, as a woman doing maths, people assumed I’d become a teacher. Although that appealed to me, I wanted to carry on learning and developing new skills myself, and discovered that an actuarial career would offer the chance to use maths and also broaden my horizons. I joined Bacon & Woodrow (as it was then), starting out in pensions, where I qualified as an actuary before moving to the research and product development side. This gave me the opportunity to become involved in a variety of projects including some on communication which led me to my current job in the investment practice. Research is a fascinating area and I enjoy the opportunity to discuss and develop new ideas there’s still a teacher inside me trying to get out!
What was the toughest challenge of your career/most challenging achievement to date?
The most testing time in my career was when I decided to move away from client work to the research and development role. The easy option would have been to follow a more traditional career path.
The most challenging aspect of consulting is explaining things in layman’s terms, but it’s also a very rewarding part of the job. There have been moments when I have got a real buzz from explaining something and seeing that people understood a complex, unfathomable concept from pensions or investment. The mark of a real pro lies in making it look easy and I still aspire to that.
What is a key strength (and weakness?)
I think having a sense of humour is my main strength, although most people don’t expect an actuary (or a woman!) to have a sense of humour. Enthusiasm is also a key strength but can also be a weakness because I can get carried away at times.
What famous person do you most admire?
Frank Sortino, father of the Sortino ratio for measuring downside risk, impressed me.
I met him after a conference and found him to be very warm, open, enthusiastic, and genuinely altruistic. This was very refreshing, as so many prominent people in the City and academia are increasingly motivated or constrained by money.
What is the one lesson you would pass on to young members of the profession?
The most important lesson newly qualified actuaries have to learn is how to cope with the change from school/university to professional life. Handling an ever-changing work environment needs a sort of adaptability which exams and university can’t prepare you for. You need to relish change, not fight it.
What will be the most significant issues facing the actuarial profession in the next decade?
A key issue will be making sure that employers, clients, and the public value actuaries as a profession. Like professional musicians or sportsmen, we should be making our role look easy and be clear, acknowledged experts in our chosen areas. We cannot take our statutory roles for granted and have to demonstrate the different perspective we can add at an overview level, as business people.
What is the key issue facing your industry in your view?
In the investment consultancy area we have a high demand for measurement. In investment there is often no right answer. By devising ways of measuring things, you can promote behaviour that ends up being counter-productive and has no economic value at all. My biggest worry is getting into a cycle of just measuring things and losing sight of what people really wanted in the first place. Hewitt Bacon & Woodrow has been working on challenging the role of the benchmark in investment strategy and querying whether there’s a better way of doing things.
What was your dream career when you were younger?
An interior designer. I love art, planning things, doing maps, room layouts, filling in colour. I still have the coloured pens on my desk.
What question is most frequently asked of you and what is your answer?
There isn’t a typical sort of question I get asked at work if I had the sort of job where people asked the same questions all the time, it would be very dull. On a personal level, I am often asked why I don’t have a car. My standard answer to that one is: ‘Because I don’t need one!’
Where in the world would you most like to go to and why?
I would really like to go to Chile to complete the set of South American countries I’ve visited. The other place I’d love to visit is China. Every time you go to a completely new place that has a different culture, it makes you look at your own values and question your priorities. That sort of questioning is a really useful process. It can give you the courage to say, ‘I am going to try something different’, even though you can see an easy path ahead of you.
How do you spend your free time?
Despite not having a TV, I don’t seem to have much free time. I sing in two choirs, and have recently started learning to play the harp. I often go to the cinema. I do a
lot of cycling either just to get around London or by tandem with my husband, which helps counteract my other love chocolate!