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Scott Pinder

Actuary and Consultant

What is your current position?
I am an Actuary and Consultant at Towers Watson. Towers Watson is a leading global professional services company that helps organisations improve performance through effective people, risk and financial management.

What does an actuary actually do?
The question about my work I get asked the most often!

Actuaries use financial and statistical knowledge to solve real business problems. Companies have many costs they have to assess. Some of these are known in advance with reasonable certainty, like how much they owe to suppliers or wages for their employees. Some costs are not known in advance and that is where actuaries can help. We make assumptions based on current data as well as past events in order to assess the likely cost of these payments. Examples are pensions, benefits, insurance and investments where costs are not known straight away, sometimes not for many years.

What skills does your job require?
Technical skills are important, the ability to calculate figures based on several variables at once as well as estimating the effect of changing the variables.
Actuarial work does not just involve technical skills. Good communication, building relationships, researching skills, organisational ability and time management are all essential. In order to qualify as an actuary you must pass a series of examinations so academic skills learnt at university are vital.

Did you always want to be an actuary?
I did not know what an actuary did until my last year of university! I attended a careers presentation about the profession and decided to do more research. I found that the job was a natural fit for me as I wanted to use the knowledge I had learned at university in a more in-depth way. This highlights the importance of attending careers presentations.

What do you like most about your job?
The work – I get a wide range of tasks and projects and I love the variety. I am always learning new things and developing new skills. I also get opportunities to work on projects that have a real impact. One such project I was involved in was helping the authorities assess the pension promises of a company in financial difficulty because of the cost of these promises. The work we did helped people retain the majority of their pension benefits and after restructuring, the otherwise profitable business could continue to operate saving many jobs. I enjoy presenting technical material in a non-technical manner and have had the chance to do this when meeting clients.

The people – I get to work with some great people and there are many career role models here. I work with inspirational people at brand name clients too.

The firm – Working for an organisation such as Towers Watson adds credibility to your work as well as continued professional development.

Has a maths degree helped your job?
Yes. Although actuarial work does not specifically require a maths degree, it is usual to find people with numerate degrees in the profession due to what we do. The exam material also assumes some degree level mathematical knowledge.

I have taken many things from my degree not just the theoretical work. How to set out work clearly and presentational skills are just two examples of how a maths degree is useful in the business world.

How do you think that maths graduates would benefit from following your chosen career?
An actuarial career is very rewarding for anyone wanting to use their degree level mathematical knowledge. In a world where the understanding of risk is ever more important, an actuarial career has many opportunities.
It is hard work though. Gaining the professional qualification takes several years of additional study (around five) at the same time as full time working, which prospective actuaries must be aware of.

What value does a maths degree from the University of Leeds have?
I am sure that prospective university students will be looking carefully at the value of a degree given the new tuition fees. Every day, my job involves assessing value for money and using cost/benefit analysis, so I feel comfortable advising here. A degree from the University of Leeds is a great investment, not only in financial terms but also the quality of the experience which is difficult to value. I would make the same decision today as I did in 1999.
The University has a great reputation amongst employers. They know that people with a degree from the University of Leeds have studied to a high standard and have skills that are not solely academic. The University offers a degree course that is intellectually rigorous but that has flexibility for you to explore what really interests you. They also offer the chance to study abroad which I did in my third year (Canada) which was a life changing experience for me.

Why did you choose Leeds?
Leeds ticked a lot of boxes for me: a high quality flexible degree course, a great city, a lively campus as well as plenty of opportunities. Despite all my criteria, I think you only really need one question: “Can I see myself here for at least three years?” Leeds was a definite yes for me.

Have you got any advice for current students when applying for jobs?
Yes. Be honest with yourself when considering a career. If you are considering a particular job, can you see yourself doing it? If so, why do you think this?

On application forms; be specific. General sentences will say nothing to an employer. “I have good communication skills” might have little impact but “I have good communication skills. I have shown this by handling difficult customers in the store I work at part time with positive outcomes” has much more credibility to it.

Before interviews, do your homework. Knowing the company history, facts and figures helps but demonstrating knowledge of recent developments in your chosen field will enhance your chances even more. Also remember, the interview process is two way. You are interviewing the company as well to see if it is a place that you would like to work. Always ask meaningful questions.