How did you become an actuary?
At my school in High Wycombe during sixth form, a life insurance company called Equity & Law invited some of us for an open day, so I became acquainted with actuarial work then. However, when I left school, I was pretty determined to be a teacher, so I got a post-graduate certificate in education, then taught Maths for 2 years in Falmouth, Cornwall. It was a beautiful place, and I got to see it outside the tourist season which was great. Ultimately though, I decided that teaching wasn’t quite right for me. The good bit was teaching A-Level students, who were interested and wanted to do Maths, and the bad bit was teaching the 12–13-year-olds who weren’t!
So, at the time when you left school to go into teaching, did it feel like a vocation?
Yes, I suppose it was. Both of my parents were teachers, so I think that influenced my decision, but I also reckoned I could do a better job than they could! My girlfriend at the time and I did our teacher training together, which was quite a strong pull towards my decision to teach as well.
Do you feel as though you got a lot out of teaching?
Definitely. On the one hand, it helped me decide what I didn’t want to do long-term, but also, teaching thirty 11–18-year-olds everyday was great training for my presentation skills. They’re still the toughest crowd I’ve ever had to speak in front of, so ultimately, being a teacher gave me a lot of confidence. I’ve got a massive amount of admiration for teachers; I really don’t know how they do it.
After you decided that it wasn’t for you, did you go straight into actuarial services?
I did. After I left teaching and applied for actuarial work, I ended up working at the firm I visited in sixth form. At the time, actuarial degrees weren’t around, so I was able to go straight into employment with them. I think actuarial work had always been a fall-back option for me since visiting the firm at school, and I’d often wonder about it as a career during university. When I joined the firm at High Wycombe, it appealed to me very quickly, and it didn’t take long before I realised my love of numbers was actually quite helpful for actuarial work.
You mentioned taking on very responsible roles during your career, what do you mean?
I was fortunate enough to get a job with Equitable Life after it had run into trouble, and was brought in when they needed somebody to lead the actuarial team and be Chief Actuary, so I felt very lucky to be given that position. I also got the opportunity to be Finance Director there, which was a huge learning opportunity. It took many years to finally wind up the business and during the time I was there I had the privilege to work with lots of great people.
Did you take a well-earned rest when you left?
Yes, it was the longest break I have ever had, which I think was 6 weeks! To be honest, I was ready to get back to work. I think I was also a little bit terrified I wouldn’t get another job! So, I ended up working for a firm of consultants, which is where I met Scott. I worked there for a couple of years during which I got to know him, and even after I left, we still kept in touch, and eventually, he tempted me to work with him again just last year.
You must still enjoy actuarial consultancy work though, working for Zenith?
The forever changing nature of it is great. You often don’t know what’s going to come along and there’s so many surprises in this type of job. On some days, nothing happens, but then, on other days it is raining opportunities. And that’s one of the great things about Zenith is that, although I have been an actuary and a consultant for quite a few years, there are opportunities to continue to learn and develop.
Would you say that your excitement for actuarial consultancy work also comes from working on the business as much as working in the business?
Yes, working on the business and helping to develop its opportunities is very important to me and something which I really enjoy doing. It’s great at Zenith too. The brand name is starting to get out there and lots more people want to know about what we can do and how we might be able to help them. Scott encourages us to get out and have those conversations, and often, we can work together to bring out the different qualities and areas of expertise we can provide at Zenith.
Can you outline the projects that you get involved in?
It is very varied, which I thoroughly enjoy. Presently I have a role as a with-profits actuary for a large proprietary company, I am Chief Actuary for the UK branch of an International Life Insurer and I am assisting on some product pricing and development work for a UK friendly society. Most recently, I have been peer reviewing year end reports, so all in all a great deal of variety!
Did you find that coronavirus had a big impact on your role as an actuary?
That’s an interesting question for Zenith. I’m based down in Berkhamsted, so with or without coronavirus, I would not be in the office in Manchester, other than on rare occasions. So in that sense, I think Zenith has set itself up very well as a remote operating company. From day one of lockdown, my laptop arrived early, and I was up and running by lunchtime, which was pretty impressive. I’ve certainly spent a lot of time messing around with IT when I worked for other firms. We also do our stand-up call every morning, so if we’re available we’ll get on the call and discuss everything that needs to be done. That’s also very helpful because you get to see people’s faces, who’s working on what, and a much better sense of what’s going on in the business. It was great last October, when we had a team get-together, because I got to meet everyone face to face and spend more time finding out about everybody.
Was the October meet-up used to do any business development, or was it purely just to get to know each other better?
The first day of the meet-up was mainly about getting to know everyone, and then the second day was more work-oriented. We worked on business development, had discussions about what makes us different from other consultancies, and our vision as a company. We also thought about how we approach things, and whether there was anything we weren’t doing that we should be doing. There were some great discussions over those few days.
What does make Zenith different then?
Our bread and butter as a business is taking on the actuarial function for insurance companies, and the way we do that is very well-managed and understood. As a company, we’re constantly looking at the areas where we have challenges, and what needs doing to keep everything working efficiently. Those processes work really well, and once you get them working, it makes the rest of the work we do a lot easier. Scott and Martin have also done an excellent job of bringing in complimentary skills for Zenith. We’ve got lots of people with different backgrounds and experience, which means we can apply ourselves to a lot of different aspects of actuarial consultancy work.
So, if I can take you away from the actuarial world for a moment, what do you do outside of work?
I’ve got myself a little bit obsessed with the Tudors at the moment and was absolutely absorbed in Hilary Mantel’s trilogy of books about Thomas Cromwell. I picked up her first book, Wolf Hall, at an airport one day and that was it, I was hooked! I’m also a chap who enjoys the odd crossword or sudoku game. But then, when I’m not doing any of those things, I like to have a glass of wine and something nice to eat!
Who’s inspired you in your life?
I think when I got into the actuarial world, there were a few people who I found quite inspiring, particularly the way they approached their work. I had one boss from Equity & Law called John Chatterton, who I still know today, who was such a nice guy and a brilliant technical actuary.
Final question, if you were having a dinner party, and could invite three guests, historical or current, who would you invite and what would you cook?
Three people I’d like to chat with are: David Bowie, I’d love to talk to him about his life and his upbringing. Another would be Hilary Mantel, to hear more about the Tudors from her, and probably Nelson Mandela, who I think is such a fascinating man. But I wouldn’t cook, I wouldn’t be allowed! My wife would tell me to get somebody in, and I think I’d choose, just for sheer fun, Jamie Oliver!