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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Trailblazer: Lindsay Tomlinson

What motivated you to pursue an actuarial career and what contributed to your decision to become an actuary?
I was a mathematics graduate, when there were far fewer choices available than there are now. The actuarial training offered an opportunity to use mathematical skills in a finance environment.

Has the profession changed much since you first came on board?
Like everything else it has changed immensely. My only concern would be that it has not changed enough.

Are you proud of the actuarial profession?
Pride is one of the seven deadly sins, so I try to avoid it. But yes, I am pleased to be a member of the profession. Our reputation has taken a real battering over the past few years but being an actuary still commands respect.

Do you feel your background as an actuary has positively affected your career in finance? Immensely. Being an actuary gives access to a very powerful global network of people with real insight into long-term institutions. Understanding the liability side is highly advantageous when you are trying to manage the assets of a long-term institution. Having the qualification enabled me to switch career tracks in a way that would have been impossible otherwise.

You studied maths at university. What do you think inspires young mathematicians today, and how can the profession ensure we recruit the most talented ones?
There is now a massive array of choices available to young mathematicians. I worry that for entirely understandable reasons (student debt and housing costs) they will be unduly influenced by money. To attract the best we need to offer a variety of attractive global career opportunities.

What do you see as the key issues facing actuaries today?
We are living in a soundbite world where everything has to be transparent and failure is not an option. Professional mystique is not valued. We have to find a way of presenting complex material to non-experts so that they can take responsibility for the end result. This is an extraordinarily difficult environment for long-term financial planners. We have to cope with this, and we need to broaden our remit beyond insurance and pensions.

What excites or intrigues you about the fund management world and how can actuaries make their mark outside the traditional fields?
The fund management world is extraordinarily interesting. It sits at the heart of the financial market system and deals with both the providers and users of capital. It’s global in scope, you meet an amazing variety of people, and actuaries are quite well qualified to operate in it. I love it and I recommend it to everyone.

BGI has a reputation for a technologydriven approach to managing risk, cost and return. Where do you feel actuaries can make their mark within this process?
As an actuary, you will have spent the early part of your career working on liabilities. In the investment world this places you at a disadvantage to those who have spent the comparable early stages of their careers learning about specialist investment areas. It would be difficult for an actuary to ever catch up. But when it comes to the things that really matter, such as asset allocation, or risk control, actuaries have a major competitive advantage. They understand the liabilities. Their skills play particularly well in a company like BGI. They are also very valuable in more traditional financial market businesses.

Of your career accomplishments, what do you consider the most satisfying?
Still being employed after 35 years. Seriously, by far the most satisfying thing has been taking a concept like indexation virtually straight from the academic world and seeing it become a mainstream investment tool worldwide.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in business?
Do something you enjoy. You spend so much of your life in your job, that you have to make sure you don’t waste it on purely money-making activities. Aside from that, you need to take responsibility and ownership for what you do. And I have learned that it’s easier to say sorry than to ask permission.

What do you do to relax?
I have five children and six Labradors so there is not a lot of relaxation. Aside from that I love all ball games except golf and have season tickets at Arsenal, Northampton Saints (rugby) and at the Royal Ballet. What advice would you give to someone starting out in the actuarial profession? Be prepared to change. Don’t get pigeonholed as a life or pensions person. Talk to people outside the profession (particularly doctors and accountants) about the role of professions in modern society.

Lindsay Tomlinson OBE is vice-chairman of Barclays Global Investors Europe. He is a member of the Financial Reporting Council and the NAPF’s Investment Council, and is chair of the Code Committee of the Takeover Panel