Exploring the variety of roles available in the pensions actuarial market

7 mins
Sellick  Partnership

By Sellick Partnership

Working as a pensions actuary gives you a wide range of professional options, regardless of whether you pursue a role with a large consultancy or a smaller firm. By weighing up the pros and cons of each, you will be able to find a role that suits your personal career goals.

For skilled actuaries, the pensions market represents an exciting, dynamic and sometimes underappreciated career pathway. This adaptable and resilient sector gives actuaries plenty of opportunities to develop their skills and credentials over time, as well as a variety of different routes that professionals can choose for their careers.

Becoming a pensions actuary does not lock you into one type of work, as your professional experiences may look quite different depending on whether you choose to work for one of the industry’s largest consultancies, or one of the smaller or mid-range firms.

Here, we will take a look at the benefits of pensions actuarial work and what to expect when working at consultancies of different sizes, in order to help you evaluate your options if you are looking to switch roles within the actuarial sector.

The benefits of becoming a pensions actuary

Currently, demand for pensions actuaries is incredibly high, particularly at the part-qualified and nearly or newly qualified levels.

There has been a misconception that pensions actuarial work is diminishing in importance, or that these roles do not offer the same breadth of work as other actuarial sectors. In reality, pensions actuaries can look forward to many attractive career benefits, including:

  • The ability to develop strong consulting skills through roles that prioritise communication, time management, project management and people management.

  • A focus on transferable technical skills involving the use of data, calculations, statistical analysis and presenting conclusions.

  • Strong pay and good career progression options.

Ultimately, for as long as pension schemes continue to be a major priority for people, the pension actuarial market will never go away. As the market continues to change, so too will the role of consultancies in providing essential advice and management services, and the remit of actuarial roles will evolve and adapt accordingly.

What to expect from working with a large consultancy

For many pension actuaries, the primary career goal may be to work for one of the Big Three pension consultancies. Working for one of these large consulting firms provides a number of opportunities that many ambitious professionals will be attracted by:

  • Working with the biggest clients - Big Three consultancies will work with a wide range of client sizes, up to multi-billion-pound schemes, including FTSE100 accounts and household names. Working on these larger schemes not only provides valuable experience that will stand out on your CV, but will also give you the opportunity to work with colleagues providing guidance on a range of topics beyond pensions, such as insurance or climate change.

  • Learning from a large, diverse group of colleagues – working for a large firm will enable you to work alongside a huge variety of colleagues at all stages of their careers. You will have the opportunity to become part of a diverse specialist team, dealing with matters such as Risk Transfer, Member Options or GMP Equalisation. This gives you the opportunity to learn from highly experienced colleagues, and to develop specialised skills en route to becoming a recognised expert in a particular field. For part-qualified and nearly-qualified actuaries, the opportunity to work alongside a large cohort of students will also aid your education, as you will be able to get advice from or ask for help from other learners.

  • Geographical presence - larger firms often have client teams spread across multiple locations, giving you the opportunity to share experiences and expertise with colleagues from a range of different backgrounds.

  • Robust rewards - the largest companies will always have the ability to offer a good rate of pay, as well as tempting career progression options that unlock additional opportunities to earn and learn more.

Those who are looking to work with a large consultancy should bear in mind that these firms will sometimes demand a high workload, which may impact your desired work-life balance. However, since the pandemic, these employers are likely to be much more flexible with their hours and remote working options than they were in the past, so it is worth speaking to them to get the most up-to-date information around what steps they have taken to improve work-life balance for their employees.

What to expect from working with a smaller or mid-tier consultancy

Working with the largest consultancies will not be everyone’s first choice. In many cases, pension actuaries will seek out roles with mid-tier or smaller firms in order to take advantage of the unique benefits that come with working as part of a smaller, more tightly knit team.

People considering a role outside of the Big Three will usually do so for the following reasons:

  • Achieving greater seniority sooner - because mid-tier consultancies have smaller teams, it can be easier to stand out and take on more responsibilities earlier on in your career, whether this is in terms of client management or people management. These firms tend to be partner-led, with partners who are based locally and who set the strategy, as opposed to a multinational organisation managed from overseas. As such, working for these smaller firms can give you better access to the senior stakeholders, allowing you to learn from them directly and often progress to partnership quicker.

  • A more personable working experience - the more compact nature of the team at a mid-tier firm can produce a more collegial or familial working environment, as you will be able to get to know everyone more easily and work with the same people day in and day out. This can make for a more pleasant working experience, and potentially easier transition when joining a new business.

  • Better work-life balance - firms outside the Big Three can be less demanding in terms of focusing on billable hours, instead using other metrics to measure performance. Some do not have billable hours at all, allowing you to concentrate on what you produce rather than the amount of time it takes, which can create a more quality-focused experience and a better work-life balance.

  • Tailoring your career to your own needs - working at a smaller firm can give you more influence and control within your professional environment, especially if you are able to progress your career quickly into a role that allows you to set the agenda and make decisions on behalf of the firm. Even for those who are still learning the ropes, the fact that these firms will have a smaller cohort of students means that your study experience can be more tailored than it would be with a larger business.

It is true that the smaller and mid-tier firms will not necessarily advise across all areas - some only work with trustee clients, for example, or may not provide advice in areas such as Risk Transfer. However, this is not to say that these companies do not still have a robust variety of clients, and many will still work with high-profile brands and Schemes.

Finding the right option for you

Ultimately, the main takeaway to consider is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to career development within the pensions actuarial field. Even among companies which appear very similar on paper (such as the Big Three), every company is slightly different, and their employment offering will vary on key points, in a manner that will align with your personal career objectives in different ways.

As such, when considering a change of role within this sector, it is important to think about your professional, and often personal, priorities and aspirations, and work closely with your recruiter to find the right match. This can include looking at opportunities you had not previously considered, as you may not realise what they have to offer until you speak to a company directly.

No matter what your goals may be, there is more variation in the pensions actuarial market than you might think - and by approaching these opportunities with a strong understanding of what you want, you will be able to find the right option for you.

For advice on progressing your career as a pensions actuary and the options available to you, get in touch with Sellick Partnership, or contact our expert team.