• Role: Actuarial Consultant
  • Location: London
  • University: Oxford

John Townhill

I first came across the job actuary when I saw it ranked top of a job satisfaction poll. Apparently that was good enough for me! The more I read the more I liked: good hours, good pay, low stress, and a blend of technical and communication skills are required. I think there is truth in those things, but it’s difficult to make sweeping statements about actuarial work because of the variety of things actuaries can get involved with. Just as lawyers work with ‘law’, actuaries work with ‘risk’.

The first few years of an actuarial career are spent passing a set of exams, alongside usual work, in order to qualify as a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries. I enjoy this structured start to working life, plus you get time off to study and salary increases when you pass exams. It can be difficult to balance work, study, and the rest of your life, and different people take different approaches.

I work for Barnett Waddingham, an actuarial consultancy, in the general insurance team, which deals with all insurance that isn’t life insurance. Insurance actuaries tend to work in either life insurance or general insurance because the products have quite different attributes and so are thought about differently. General insurance products like home insurance usually provide short term cover which doesn’t end when you make a claim, whereas life insurance is usually longer term and cover is brought to a rather definitive end when a claim is made. Most of the work we do for our clients (insurance companies) is reserving, i.e. advising on how much money should be set aside to cover future claims, and calculating how much money they need to hold to comply with regulatory requirements. The bit about regulatory requirements might sound dull but it’s actually my favourite bit.

In terms of hours: I’m at the office from 9.00am to around 5.30pm Monday to Friday, and don’t work outside of this unless you count studying.

I was offered my job at BW following an eight week summer internship between my third and fourth years at university. I applied for relatively few internships (three or so), instead opting to put a lot of effort into each individual application. The application forms I filled out tended to have one section for academic grades and the rest was answering competency style questions, e.g. “Describe a time you’ve worked in a team to achieve a goal.” If you don’t feel you’ve got experiences which will make you stand out, don’t worry; I felt like I didn’t have much interesting to say, and talked about a charity bake sale in my answer about working with a team. After my online application I had a telephone interview where I was asked some more competency style questions, and then I was invited to an assessment day along with seven other applicants. We rotated around interviews, giving prepared presentations on topics of our choosing, and cognitive tests, before wrapping up the day with a group exercise.

I think it’s important to bear in mind throughout an assessment day that your potential future colleagues are looking for someone they would like to work with. In consultancy, the ability to build relationships with clients is also important and this should come across at interview – I think being relaxed, or at least calm, helps with this! If you’re asked to prepare a presentation I think choosing something you find truly interesting comes across well at interview, since a presentation delivered with enthusiasm is usually enjoyable for the interviewer to listen to.

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