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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Q&A: Jonathan Allenby (UK) 


Jonathan Allenby

I am a student actuary working for Ernst & Young in London.

I originally graduated in natural sciences from Cambridge, and have had a varied career working in publishing, training and software development.

Most recently, I ran my own software and design agency for 14 years. Apart from spending time with my children, I love photography, cycling, kung-fu and throwing parties. I am also passionate about understanding the cultural and philosophical dimensions of technical decision-making; I spent a lot of my spare time over 10 years working towards my doctorate in cultural studies from Goldsmiths.

Which actuarial field do you specialise in?

I currently work in the Investment field but my interests also lie in life insurance and gaining the Certified Enterprise Risk Actuary (CERA) qualification.

Which actuarial field(s) do you specialise in?

Non-life and insurance data analytics.

Why did you decide to study and work in this specific field?

When the recession hit my business, I decided to rethink my future career by looking at career profiles for different professions, and matching them up with my own existing and potential skill set. 

Having spent 14 years as an entrepreneur, I felt I wanted a high level of professional guidance, mentoring and CPD to help me on my way. I also wanted to re-engage my maths skills. As a technical career with a reasonable work/life balance, good career prospects and a high level of professionalism, the actuarial field strongly appealed. 

To get the CT1 – CT8 exemptions I did a part-time distance-learning PGDip in Actuarial Science with Leicester University – and I’m very happy I did, as the actuaries I’ve met so far are very nice people.


Which actuarial society are you a member of?

I’m a member of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries.

Which actuarial fields are most dominant in  the UK and why? 

Solvency II has driven the expansion of capital modelling.

Tell us a bit about the market that you work and study in?

I am involved in non-life personal lines, mainly home and motor. I am interested in usage-based insurance (UBI) and the opportunities opened up for insurers by the internet of things. 

I think we will see some very interesting developments in non-life within the next few years and I hope to be closely involved.

What kind of support do students get in your company and elsewhere in the market?

At EY, students get excellent study leave and support for exams. There is a general understanding among the team of what the exams involve, and how challenging it may be to combine studies with work, particularly near year end. 

From what I hear, there is pretty good support for exams in all the big consultancies and many of the major insurers in the UK.

What kind of activities does the actuarial student society in the area where you work organise?

The Staple Inn Actuarial Society (SIAS) arranges a wide variety of activities both professional and social, which are designed to appeal primarily to students and recently qualified actuaries.

Can you tell us about the challenges and benefits of your actuarial activities outside your day job?

I am a member of the Herd-Like Behaviour working party, looking at areas where actuaries ‘follow the herd’ in decision-making, due to regulatory pressures, benchmarking and other factors. 

So far this has involved some research, writing and presenting at a break-out session of the CIGI (Current issues in general insurance) conference. It has been a brilliant opportunity for engaging with a variety of senior actuaries and other industry figures about issues which don’t get talked about very often. The main challenge has been to find the time to meet commitments on top of work, but overall it has been very rewarding.

What do you believe are the social and economic drivers for actuarial work in the UK?

In the area I’m interested in, a lot of the factors driving change are technological in nature: the digitisation of things, telematics, big data, advances in online policy applications and claims handling. 

In the longer term, technologies like driverless cars will completely transform the nature of motor risk and insurance.

What’s the reputation of actuaries and the profession in the UK? 

Amongst those who know us, there is a lot of respect for actuaries, our technical capabilities and professionalism. We are generally perceived as quite risk-averse, a good foil for the more buccaneering approach of some other financial professionals. 

How does the professional body try to enhance its image?

Actuaries are perceived as being highly uncommunicative and introverted, which is usually not true in my experience. 

The IFoA is trying hard to change this perception, by promoting the importance of communication, which will be vital if actuaries are to play a central role in articulating risk at board level, to the media and public at large.

What are your views on the role of an actuary in the market you work in, now and in the future?

It is a very exciting time to be an actuary. Emerging technologies will require actuaries to develop new skill sets and understanding of a more integrated risk environment. 

At the same time, the actuarial skill set will be needed by data-driven risk businesses in order to critically assess the limitations of the data they rely on.

What were the influences that shaped your career decisions to date?

As a career changer, my decisions have been focused on how best to repackage and reuse my existing skills whilst looking to build a solid foundation of actuarial skills and experience. 

It has been difficult to work out the best route into the profession, but I would say it is vital in this situation to make as many relevant contacts as possible, get plenty of advice and work out exactly what you want. 

The programme director for actuarial distance learning at Leicester, Leena Sodha, gave me lots of useful tips and encouraged me to volunteer for the IFoA – which was very helpful. I also benefited by knowing someone who could pass my CV to the relevant people.

However, I think more help and guidance could be provided for career-changers by the IFoA, particularly because the profession gains from expanding the diversity of experience and viewpoints amongst actuaries.

Could you tell us about your immediate and longer term goals?

In the short-term I aim to become fully qualified and build up my industry knowledge by working on a variety of jobs: analytics, reserving, capital modelling, actuarial review. 

Longer term I want to be involved in formulating innovative strategies for customer engagement throughout the whole lifecycle from the marketing of insurance products right through to claims handling.

What do you say when asked “What is an actuary”?

Usually it starts with “no, I’m not like an accountant”. My short answer is “a mathematically skilled adviser on risk, mainly involved in insurance”.

How will you celebrate the day you qualify?

Whatever I do, it will probably start with a glass of Champagne!