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Gina Taylor is a senior actuarial student working at a pensions consultancy in Leeds. Gina works as part of a team of eleven actuarial students and four actuaries.

How would you describe your work?

I am mainly responsible for advising on company pension schemes. For example, I assess whether the company has enough money in the pension scheme to cover all the members' promised benefits. And, I calculate individual members' pensions.

I have to make assumptions on the future performance of company pension schemes, based on changing circumstances such as how many retired former members of staff will be entitled to pension payouts. I need to calculate how much a company can afford to pay as its pension contribution, for instance, over the next 15 or 30 years.

What else are you involved in?

I also deal with the sales and acquisitions of company pension schemes. For example, when a company takes over another company, they sometimes merge the two pension schemes. The members of the pension scheme in the purchased company might all transfer into the pension scheme of the purchasing company.

I calculate the amount of money that needs to be transferred to the new scheme to cover all the members' promised benefits. I also ensure that the benefits in the new scheme are equal in value to the benefits in the old scheme.

What is your working environment like?

Actuarial work is mainly based in large city centres. Our office is open plan and is relatively quiet with a relaxed atmosphere. My work is mainly office based and I use computers as a lot of the work involves using tools such as spreadsheets. I also make presentations to clients, usually using a laptop and projector.

How much do you use maths?

We use statistics a lot. For example, we have to value the cost of a company pension scheme by taking account of how many people we expect to contribute and how many we will need to pay in the future.

What are your normal working hours?

The normal office hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. However, we do occasionally work late if the workload demands it. The hours that you work generally increase as you progress up the ladder. Qualified actuaries usually work a bit longer – about five hours longer a week.

What about training?

Most companies give trainees one day a week to study. Students are not encouraged to do a lot of overtime, as a lot of our spare time is taken up with studying for the exams (we need to spend 15 to 20 hours a week studying).

What are the challenging aspects?

Challenges include meeting strict deadlines, using my own judgement (often, calculations are not routine so individual judgement is needed) and keeping up with changes in legislation.

Also, the exams can be hard-going and you need to study in your spare time, so you may have to cut back on your leisure time a bit.

Gina's route to her career as an actuary

  • A levels in maths, further maths and physics.
  • Degree in Mathematics and Statistics.
  • Entered actuarial work and has passed seven out of the 15 Faculty and Institute of Actuaries examinations needed to qualify as an actuary.

Gina's actuary tips

  • Don't expect to qualify in three years. Five to seven years is more realistic.
  • Be prepared to devote a significant amount of your spare time to studying.
  • Be aware that the job can be intellectually stimulating and financially rewarding.

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Salary of an actuary

  • A trainee actuary earns between £18,000 and £26,000 a year.
  • A newly qualified actuary earns between £43,000 and £63,000, and an experienced actuary can earn well over £100,000.

Getting in

  • It is possible to become a trainee actuary after taking A levels/H grades, but this is becoming increasingly unusual. 95% of trainees have a degree.
  • Trainees usually need a good A level/H grade in mathematics (or an equivalent subject) and a degree. The degree can be in any subject, although some employers prefer entrants with numerate degrees.
  • Trainees are employed by a firm of actuaries and work towards professional qualifications offered by the Institute of Actuaries (England and Wales) and the Faculty of Actuaries (Scotland).

Modified: 16 June 2013

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