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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Student: Cast off!

Ahoy, there! It’s been nearly a couple of years since I attended the CT9 business awareness course but two things have really stuck with me. First, I learnt that tort was not a type of French dessert, and second, one of the speakers claimed that ‘the actuary of the future’ would have experience in pricing, reserving and
capital modelling.

Maybe he meant that breadth of experience was a key to the development of an actuary’s career. No doubt so they are seen as captains of industry rather than cabin boys that can interpret obtuse tables. But — there is always a but — ‘X’ rarely marks the spot. If this is to be the goal of students then you’ll need more than luck and calm waters. How can you get to this El Dorado? And maybe more pertinently, do you want to?

Charting the course
For those close to qualification, this probably sits at the forefront of the mind. But those with a few years to go should probably sit and consider career planning as food for thought. Whether your career is cruising at 20 knots or has a torn sail, it will need navigating to some extent.

It is one of those times when, potentially tenuous, extrapolation is required. There is a joke in which an actuary tries to drive a car by looking out the back window claiming that ‘experience should be a good guide to future performance’ — lame or hilarious? You decide! In our work we could be accused of looking backwards to go forwards. However, a different mode of thinking is probably needed when planning on a career.

Forward planning
Let’s assume that you already like actuarial work and are intent on furthering an actuarial career. To help put some wind in our sails I spoke to some seasoned sea dogs. It seems there are recurring themes about the things to consider when planning the early years of your career.

• Qualifying is a stamp of approval near the start of a career, not its peak
• Your experience becomes the only item of interest as time passes (except in a few statutory roles)
• Bounty — more on this next month!
• Preferred lifestyle — covering employment and the location of your work
• Being clear with others about what
you want.

I’d like to expand on a few of these points as they can highlight some of the squalls facing actuaries.

Shouting out loud
Don’t expect opportunities to come up if you don’t rattle your sabre. Indeed, the only time I have ever been offered something for nothing is when I was walking along Oxford Street and a man claimed he could get me into the Kingdom of Heaven…

There is no reason to suppose the office will be any different. Being clear with mentors and managers about what experiences you want — be it projects, scheme ownership, managerial responsibility or secondments — discussion is the only way to be sure you will be considered.

Experience wins the day
Exam success is a measurable, transparent and uniform way of comparing students. It is somewhat inevitable that we will fret about our progress.

However, no chief actuary was ever hired because of their exemplary exam performance. Indeed, in the USA many people who are called actuaries never complete the exams, and in Russia there are no exam requirements.

By purely focusing on ‘getting them out the way’, you may take your focus from the shallow waters and rocks that come up in the office — where your reputation as an able-bodied sailor takes shape.

Grab the wheel
I read somewhere that people spend more time thinking about purchasing a car than their career. For me, it certainly rings true that I do not reflect on what is the next 40 years of my life often enough. As actuaries we have a unique opportunity to get a diverse choice of careers, even outside the parameters of what we are considered to do. Don’t just drift in the doldrums. Seize the rudder and start your adventure. It’s too soon to think about sailing into the sunset.