Ruth Hendon and Vanessa Leung provide insight into opportunities for actuaries within the Bank of England, and what it is like to work in the 300-year-old institution.
You may think of the Bank of England as a fusty, old-fashioned place - and the imposing stone building at the heart of the City of London might do little to change your impression. Behind the front door, however, you will find a modern, flexible and increasingly diverse workplace with plenty of opportunities for actuaries.
Within the Bank, the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) regulates and supervises financial services firms. The Life Insurance and Pensions Risk Division is home to around 40 actuaries, trainees and other risk specialists, and there's an equivalent division of general insurance risk specialists. These two divisions provide actuarial and technical support to supervision.
Actuaries in these areas assess the range of prudential risks that could affect insurers and the pension schemes of firms. We give advice on business transactions and capital modelling, and also research, analyse and set technical industry standards. There's lots of interaction with firms, both directly and via industry bodies and events. A typical day might involve holding an in-depth discussion with specialists in a firm's capital modelling team, interviewing a CRO or feeding into an internal working group that is considering a particular area, such as credit or longevity risk. As you might guess, reviewing Solvency II (SII) applications also features prominently on our to-do lists.
The research done by actuaries at the Bank often leads to collaboration with other areas, for example banking risk specialists or economists in the monetary analysis or financial stability areas. This ensures we get insight from different perspectives. In return, actuaries support the Bank's macro-economic analysis by estimating the impact of different economic scenarios or monetary policies on insurers and pension funds.
There are also actuarial opportunities outside of firm supervision. Actuaries in the Insurance Policy Division played a lead role in the negotiation of SII, working with colleagues from around Europe to thrash out the details of everything, from the internal model tests and standards to the calibration of the standard formula and the design of the matching adjustment. Having the chance to shape new areas of regulation is a real privilege, as well as a big responsibility. Actuaries in policy roles need to find imaginative solutions that are politically workable as well as technically sound, often under time pressure and in the face of many conflicting points of view. It can be stressful, but when you have supportive, bright and creative colleagues around you to share ideas with, it can also be highly rewarding.
Two-and-a-half years into the application of SII, as firms' business models evolve, the actuaries in the insurance policy area of the Bank continue to lead on tackling the policy and implementation questions facing the sector. There is life beyond SII as well - for example, some actuaries are working on climate risk, while others are helping to develop the Insurance Capital Standard, intended to apply to internationally active insurance groups.
As in any busy organisation, pressurised periods do happen, but they are eased by a collaborative and supportive culture. This is essential to the success of our flexible working policy - more than 20% of staff work on a part-time basis, and there is a really diverse range of working patterns here, including at senior levels. The Bank starts from the presumption that most roles can be done flexibly, and is doing more to promote options such as job-sharing.
The Bank also encourages all staff to work across boundaries, and the breadth of its responsibilities means there's plenty of scope for actuaries to apply their skills in wider areas. Those looking for an actuarial role that's different from the norm, with the added benefits of flexible working and the potential to branch out, should certainly consider the Bank of England. The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street has some modern ideas - and plenty of work for actuaries.
Ruth Hendon is a life insurance actuary working at the Bank of England
Vanessa Leung is a life insurance actuary working at the Bank of England