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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Working overseas: Spain - Carl Haughton

Carl Haughton,
Guy Carpenter,
— four years

Explain what motivated you to seek employment overseas
I have always wanted to travel and spend time working abroad — it was one of my reasons for choosing the actuarial profession. After university I spent some time teaching English in France and Spain, which I really enjoyed — the only problem was that teaching doesn’t pay very well. When I came back to the UK I wanted a qualification that would allow me to work overseas and have a good standard of living.

How did you find the role you are doing?
Through a recruitment agency. I knew that I wanted to come to Spain so I had been looking at the jobs section of The Actuary for quite a while. When I qualified, I decided to leave my job in the UK and come to Madrid on spec to see if I could find anything. Before I did, I sent my CV to the main recruitment agencies and, rather to my surprise, they came up with quite a few opportunities.

I think the fact that I was actually moving out here made a lot of local employers take me more seriously. In the end I had three offers, and I chose Guy Carpenter.

What attracted you to the region?
I had spent a year in Spain after university and really enjoyed the way of life out here. The climate is great and things are more relaxed — although Spanish people generally work longer hours than in the UK (official hours of 9am to 6 or 7pm are common), there is always time for a long lunch or coffee in a bar. Also, my wife is Spanish and, after seven years in the UK, she was keen to live closer to her family.
What were the main challenges you faced when moving overseas?
There is a lot to do in the first few months in a new country. Fortunately, we managed to sort the main things out quite quickly — my wife and I both found jobs and we were soon settled in a nice flat in a good area. The bureaucracy of working abroad was quite tedious — even in the EU you need to register with several different government departments to work legally. On one occasion I had to be at an office at 6am to queue for two hours with all the other immigrants just to get an appointment to see an official.

What are the main differences you have found to working overseas compared to the UK?
The biggest difference is probably in summer. Most people still take a month off in July or August so the city seems empty. Many companies have an intensive summer working day from 8am to 3pm, so you can be sat by the pool by 3.30pm with a cold beer — it is great.

What is the most topical industry issue facing actuaries in Spain?
As for most actuaries working in the EU, I guess it has to be Solvency II. There is no equivalent of the UK’s individual capital assessment regime in Spain so a lot of the concepts of Solvency II and enterprise risk management are new. Companies are preparing for implementation and we are doing a lot of work to help them.

What is the best thing about where you work?
The obvious answer is the weather and it is true, as long as you can cope with 40ºC temperatures in summer. Otherwise, being a foreigner means you are always exotic, always interesting — it is quite a nice feeling.

And the worst?
To be honest, there is no real worst thing but having to do everything in a foreign language can make life a little more difficult. You are always a second or so behind the conversation and miss a lot of the cultural references. Simple things become complicated like going to the shops or getting a haircut or writing formulae in Excel (how do you say ‘vlookup’ in Spanish?). I hardly notice it now until I visit the UK and I am struck by how easy everything seems.

Give an unusual fact about the country in which you work
Madrid is the European city with the highest number of trees per inhabitant, the world’s third-highest life expectancy and has over 3,000 hours of sunshine a year.

What are the key attributes an actuary or actuarial student would need to work in your role and region?
As an actuary in the UK you have a very well-defined role and career path but this is not the case in Spain. A newly qualified actuary here has just graduated from university — there is no equivalent of our system of on-the-job training. As a result, an actuarial qualification alone is not enough to impress a potential employer. Even more than in the UK, you will need to be able to demonstrate the skills and experience you have acquired during your training. Some local language skills are important, although English and a willingness to learn will go a long way.

Do you have any advice to others looking for overseas work?
The main thing I would say is to prepare well in advance. Spend time in the country you are interested in and try to meet some local people (actuaries if possible) — make sure your expectations are realistic. Find out what types of work actuaries do there and make sure you will be able to offer a local employer the skills and experience they are looking for. Three years before I moved here I switched from a pensions consultancy to a life office, as insurance experience is more transferable. Then, if you are still sure, go for it — I, for one, have no regrets.


Further reading: Working Overseas

This special supplement looks at career opportunities for actuaries around the world, and how to plan for a move abroad

Emmanuel Kenning - Global trends and opportunities
Trevor Watkins - Actuarial qualifications
Hannah Kaye - Actuarial skills travel well
Andrew Smith - Lecturing in Armenia and Albania

Region focus
Mark Dainty - United Kingdom
Jan Sparks - Europe
Wilhelm de Wet - South Africa
Luke Hawkins - Asia

Case studies
Switzerland - Alex Summers
Spain - Carl Haughton
South Africa - Bjorn Landewig
South Africa - Ashlin Noonan
Nigeria - Alexandre Aquereburu
Hong Kong - Paul Murray
Hong Kong - Mark Stamper
Indonesia - Chris Lossin
Bermuda - Amy Guna
Australia - Matt Noyce
Australia - Ashley Palmer