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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Q&A: Paul Sweeting

Why did you choose to become an actuary?
Initially, it was the challenge that attracted me, but I then found that I actually enjoyed the job. I wanted to work in an area that required maths, but I soon found that being able to do the numbers was only a small part of being an actuary — interpreting and communicating the results was just as important. This is what got me hooked; the potential scope of the role and the range of opportunities are what have kept me interested over the years.

You are a member of the Institute and Faculty Council and sit on the management board. What motivates you to volunteer your time to these causes?
I believe that the actuarial qualifications offer a great foundation for a career in financial services, and I'm keen to make sure it stays that way. In areas such as enterprise risk management (ERM), the opportunities for the actuarial profession are enormous, but so are the threats from other organisations. I feel it's important that we position our profession such that we can best address these challenges, and that we equip our members with the skills they'll need.

Being a member of Council offers a great opportunity to influence the strategy of the profession, while sitting on the management board means that I can help to support the implementation of the strategy.

What has been your greatest professional challenge to date?
Probably working on the successful merger of the Institute and Faculty. While the vast majority of fellows from both the bodies believed that it was right to merge, many also had a range of concerns about the implementation of the merger. Finding a way to take these into account was hard work, but it produced a better result — this was borne out by the proportion of both bodies that voted for the merger. Of course, the next challenge is to ensure that the merger delivers improved services to all members of the profession, and equips them for the changing financial environment — something that Council is working on from a strategic point of view, and the management board is helping to implement.

Your career developed extensively in the investment arena and then you took an alternative route into academia. Talk us through that chain of events.
I've been involved in research with the profession for many years, with presentations to the Staple Inn Actuarial Society and at the Profession's conferences, sessional papers and, more recently, publications in the Annals of Actuarial Science. I'd also taken up a role as a visiting lecturer. After a while I thought that, rather than keep trying to fit all of this around my day job, I'd make it my day job instead. Fortunately, the University of Kent was looking to expand, and my skills fitted their needs. This was a lot of fun, and I had thought that I could just while away the days carrying out research and teaching students. However, I started to feel that removing myself from industry was making it harder to keep a practical edge to my research, something I have always thought of as important. This — together with the fact that I really enjoy working in the City — meant that when the right role came up with J.P. Morgan Asset Management, I was happy to take it.

The fact that I can combine this with some work at the University of Kent is an unexpected bonus.

You are now a managing director at J.P. Morgan Asset Management. What is your remit and what does this new challenge mean in practice?
We're focusing on helping institutional investors understand the risks they face, and developing investment solutions to address these risks. I'm responsible for leading this effort in Europe. As well as developing bespoke solutions for clients, we're also producing a range of research papers aimed at highlighting the issues facing investors — and proposing solutions to these issues.

You have participated in numerous conferences to present your ERM research and thought leadership. What are your top tips for public speaking?
Find a technique that works for you. Some people can make wonderful
off-the-cuff speeches, while others need to have something written down — and the written techniques range from holding a handful of cue cards to having the full text of the speech in front of you. None of these solutions is more ‘right' than others — although different approaches might work better for different situations — but the important thing is to see what's best for you.

Experience also helps — there's no substitute for getting up there and talking, while no amount of preparation is a substitute for time on your feet in front of people. Finally, remember that most of the time people are interested to hear what you have got to say, so you are unlikely to be facing a hostile audience.

Your book on ERM is soon to become part of the Profession's ST9 exam syllabus. How long did it take you to write the book? What are its highlights and will there be another?
The book probably took about a year to write. It started as a high-level overview I wrote as a sessional meeting paper, so I thought it would be straightforward to expand it into a book — but it took a little longer to come up with the finished product than I imagined. I hope that the highlight will be the overall accessibility of the text — that and the beautifully rendered graphics. However, it's not really for me to say what the best bits are. Apart from the fact that I am too close to it to be even remotely objective, other people will have to say what they like, and what can be improved in future editions.

Apart from a second edition of Financial Enterprise Risk Management — which I can't bring myself to think about at the moment — I have also agreed to write a book on mortality and longevity. This will look at not just the mathematical aspect of this subject, but also insights from other disciplines and real-life considerations. Watch this space...

What are your views on the CERA qualification for actuaries?
I think it's a great qualification. First, it's accessible. In terms of examinations, associates need take only a single additional subject to obtain the CERA qualification, meaning that it can be gained more quickly than fellowship. It also covers a great range of skills, from the maths that you need to understand complex risk interactions to the crucial qualitative considerations that are needed when looking at a broad spectrum of risks.

Finally, the global nature of the qualification means that it's ideal for actuaries wanting to use their qualification abroad. Fourteen actuarial associations signed up to CERA last year, giving it truly worldwide recognition.

What top three issues should insurance company boards have in mind for 2011 and beyond?
It might sound a bit obvious given my current role, but investment strategies in the face of Solvency II must be near the top of their lists. This doesn't just mean considering how investment strategies should change once Solvency II is in force, but also how any changes in strategy at an industry level will affect the returns on various asset classes in the intervening period. The way in which insurance companies reach their customers given the Retail Distribution Review is also something that should be high on the agenda for many firms. Larger companies
will also need to think about how, and if, they access the rapidly growing developing markets.

How do you measure your success?
If I'm stretching myself but still doing a good job, then I would count that as one measure of success. If I give all of my commitments the time they deserve - including spending time with my family - then I feel like I'm getting it right.

What's the greatest piece of advice you've ever been given?
I'm not really very good at taking advice and I think - so far - that's paid off. ‘Just do it' is probably as good a piece of advice as any.

What do you do to relax?
I'm a bit of a petrolhead, so cars and bikes feature quite highly - driving and riding rather than watching. In complete contrast, I also enjoy listening to all sorts of music, from Bach to Bombay Bicycle Club, and I play the piano, though too infrequently to be any good.

In terms of sport, I always try and pack a pair of trainers when I'm travelling so I can go for a run, although I don't have the time to run as far as I used to, having completed the London Marathon in 2002 and 2004.

And while it's not always relaxing, spending time with my two-year-old daughter is always good for taking my mind off work.

When do you find time to relax with all your various competing commitments?
I do firmly believe in the adage that "a change is as good as a rest". Although I'm busy, the things that keep me busy are hugely diverse, so as long as there are interesting things to do, I'll keep doing them.

Paul Sweeting is a managing director at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, where he is European head of the firm's Strategic Investment Advisory Group. Before this, he was a professor of actuarial science at the University of Kent, a post he still holds on a part-time basis. Paul has also worked in pensions and investment consultancy, and as a longevity strategist.

Paul is a member of the Council of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, and also a member of the Profession's management board. He has written a number of papers on pensions, investment, risk and longevity issues, and is a regular contributor to the print, broadcast and online media.

His book Financial Enterprise Risk Management is due to be published in September 2011. As well as being a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries, Paul is a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society and of the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investments. He is also a CFA Charterholder.