Buck Bond Group
Why it’s never been a better time to be a pensions actuary

Why it’s never been a better time to be a pensions actuary

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When I started work, back around the turn of the millennium, I can remember someone who purported to have lots of deep insight on the matter asking whether I’d really thought through my choice of career as a pensions actuarial consultant (though they didn’t put it quite as politely as that). Their arguments centred around two core points: a) it’s boring and b) it’s destined to be short-lived,as defined benefit schemes were apparently dead in the water.

Not only did both these assertions prove to be wildly incorrect, but nearly a quarter of a century later they have never been more untrue. Haha! I love being right. This is why I stand up with confidence – whether I’m wearing my Buck hat at a graduate assessment day or my IFoA Council hat at some event or other – and champion that it has never been a better time to embark on a career in pensions actuarial consulting.

Let’s unpack points a) and b) in turn…

On point a), my best guess is that this individual’s poorly informed view of pensions consulting as ‘boring’ must have been born from some association with the stereotyped view of actual retirement – sitting around in a rocking chair smoking a pipe. Because it bears absolutely no resemblance to the experience. I’ve always been a problem solver, and providing sufficient and secure pensions to an ageing workforce is one of the absolute biggest challenges facing our country – for example, as highlighted in the IFoA’s excellent ‘Savings Goals for Retirement’ research. The size of this problem presents endless debate and challenge. Whether it’s analysing changes to life expectancy, reacting to the latest regulation changes, member engagement programmes, pensions dashboards, considering inter-generational fairness or massive risk transfer projects – the breadth of opportunity cannot be over-exaggerated.

And this is especially true in the consulting world. Actuaries are in demand across the industry, but consulting is really where it’s happening – not only creating the complex modelling and analysis, but presenting and explaining the outcome to clients, working with them to make optimal decisions and managing their competing priorities. Gone are the days (thank goodness) when actuaries sat in offices signing certificates. These days, actuarial consultants are out engaging with clients from the very earliest phase of their career.

Which moves me onto point b) “It’s destined to be short lived…”.

Defined benefit scheme liabilities have barely peaked, and neither has the work associated with them. As DB schemes have matured, they’ve become grumpier and more difficult with age; quite reluctant to lie back in that rocking chair I mentioned earlier. The insurance market can’t come close to taking it all on, consolidation is still in its infancy and many DB schemes remain open. A pessimistic estimate is that DB consulting services will be in high demand for at least 30 years to come. After that? Well, you tell me what the world will look like in 30 years’ time – recalling that it was only around 30 years ago that the internet first hit the mainstream.

Whatever becomes of DB schemes, the need for experts in pensions and long-term savings is going absolutely nowhere. Moreover, the pensions actuaries of today – at least those on a consulting career path – develop a massively broader range of skills than those in the past. This mix of analytical, communication, leadership, collaboration and project management skills (to name but a few), all backed up by the actuarial qualification, provides a fantastic base to consult on wider challenges, whether relating to pensions or not. Actuaries are increasingly crossing over into wider fields such as climate change, banking and management consulting, and kicking off your career as a pensions actuary provides a stellar platform to do just that.

If I sound enthusiastic about all this, it’s because I am! Roll on the next generation of problem solvers. Woohoo!