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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Oh the good old days...

New joint student editor Joseph Mills gets introspective about things he really enjoys about the actuarial profession


It’s natural and healthy to question yourself. It only makes you more confident in your beliefs

Do you remember when being at school until 3pm seemed like torture, and true happiness was breaking up in July for six weeks of bliss, with the only worry being what time to wake up and if it was warm enough to go to the beach? Untucked shirts, loose stumpy ties, chewing gum multipacks tucked into the blazer liner to distribute to anyone willing to pay 10 times the cost for a single piece. Business was good back then.

Most of the revision and homework we did were akin to an elaborate Ladybird book compared to the material we work through now. In fact, I was still colouring in for my last year of GCSEs! Aspirations for the future were bright and clear. 

As I write this, I am studying for my next exam. Yet whenever I pick up a new folder of notes and start reading through the topics, I’m instantly flabbergasted and end up questioning what on earth I was thinking when I thought I should become an actuary. 

Like most people I’ve met working in the actuarial world, I never imagined myself in the profession I am in now. Part of me wishes I was still that socially awkward teenager dealing gum to my classmates. However, this isn’t an environment you can just fall into; it really does take a whole lot of graft. Usually the drive comes from an underlying obsession with mathematics, which in most common business languages roughly translates to ‘money maker’. 

We’d be all lying if we said the pay cheque wasn’t a big motivator, yet most of the time it is merely a carrot on a stick to us donkeys. And as I sit here scratching my head trying to work through some revision, my mind drifts to the what-ifs. What if money was no object and any profession or hobby that took my fancy could be tomorrow’s next adventure? What if I fail this exam, what if I pass? What if I don’t enjoy this anymore? What if I change career? What if I changed my name to José, fashioned a moustache, flew to Brazil and bottle-fed baby sloths all day?

I think it’s natural and healthy to question yourself. It only makes you more confident in your beliefs. Have I made the right decision? Would I be happy doing this until I re-re-retire? Sobering thoughts for not-so-sober 20-somethings! Many of us will already have started contributing to a pension for that matter, meaning we are preparing for the day when we throw in the towel 45 years away, or maybe even longer. We are looking ahead and want to reach that ripe old age (whatever that will be) and look back and say  ‘I’ve done my bit’. 

So I am in no way attempting to dissuade you from the fruition of actuarial work, but to bring back to focus all that is good with it and not what comes with it – a vague but clear distinction. 

Taking myself as an example; I like to think of myself as a marine engineer of sorts with the work I do as a pricing analyst. Each week we complete a thorough examination of the ship (the company): check the motor, patch up any leaks, change any faulty parts when it’s struggling to tick over, and keep it fit enough to allow us to stay both afloat and ahead of the competition. 

Some of this is done within the four corners of my screen and some by the officers of the watch, navigating the ship from the bridge. As a junior rank on the lower deck, sitting in on these discussions and meetings, it is extremely exciting to see our work in practice. Bringing the insight into action. I love that. 

It is really important I remind myself of these things when my eye strays from the ball. It is far too easy to get caught up thinking of only the benefits associated with the work we do, and is sometimes hard to remind ourselves of the true reasons we enjoy it. 

Anyway, in the meantime, should you need to contact me with regards to this month’s introspection, my contact details are: José, Baby Sloth Sanctuary, Brazil.

Joseph Mills is joint student editor