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Rachel Graham


Rachel Graham
BSc Actuarial Science and Risk Management 2011

Article on the “pensions career path” for a student studying actuarial science or mathematics

Opening Discussion

Despite its misconception of being quite dull, monotonous and not exactly glamorous; having completed work experience and began a graduate career with Spence & Partners Actuaries and Consultants, I have found the pensions industry to be quite the contrary!

Studying Actuarial Science and Risk Management at Queen’s University Belfast, I developed an interest in the pensions side of actuarial work. Learning how to calculate pensioner, deferred and actives benefits at university, as well as valuing pensioner liabilities was just an example of things I wanted to gain a better insight to and so, following a university career day where I was introduced to the company, I applied for a placement student position and was successful.  It was during my time on placement with Spence & Partners that I developed a wide range of skills and knowledge surrounding pensions and also found my role within the pensions industry to be a rewarding one. It was confirmed for me that a career in pensions in an actuarial environment was for me. I have also since discovered a new avenue in professional trusteeship that could also add great value to my professional fulfilment.

Description of Different Specialisms

Following my graduation from Queen’s in July 2011, I was successful in securing a graduate role with Spence & Partners as an Actuarial Assistant. Working as an actuarial graduate is proving to be just as rewarding as  my time as a placement student. The tasks which I have been involved in include calculation of pensioner liabilities, report drafting and also pension administration. The pension administration aspect of my work allows me to develop a good foundation of pension knowledge which will be invaluable to my career in the future.

Everyday at Spence & Partners is different! Each day, I am faced with different scenarios from pension scheme members coming from a wide range of backgrounds. The calculation of one person’s benefits is never same to that of another; and this has improved my pensions awareness and experience tremendously. No one pension scheme is the same as another either; I am constantly coming across new terminology and new situations which pension schemes are facing.

I find the different aspects of work I have been exposed to so far as a graduate to be extremely rewarding and I have found myself becoming more and more motivated in my job as my experience with pensions and actuarial work excels and my levels of responsibility increase.

Balancing life and work has been easier than I expected. Having free time in the evenings and at weekends is not something which I was used to at university so I am finding full time work easy to settle into. I hope to start study for the actuarial professional examinations soon. Working whilst studying for exams will take some getting used to, however, with the help and support of my mentor Helen, as well as study days I know I will adapt to this quickly.

In the future, as I progress through my actuarial exams and as my experience within pensions industry develops, other options will become available to me. Spence & Partners’ sister company, Dalriada Trustees, act as independent trustee to a number of pension schemes; as my knowledge and skills in the pension industry develops in the future I hope to further my career in the trustee aspect of pensions work.

When I qualify with the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, professional trusteeship is certainly an opportunity for me as some of the key issues that Trustees face, such as funding and investment issues are areas which are core to an actuary’s technical knowledge. A primary role of an actuary is to provide Trustees with both written and verbal advice on a range of issues, and so, having an understanding of the issues faced by Trustees is one of the key things which makes an actuary well placed to undertake the position of a professional trustee. Working alongside colleagues who are professional Trustees has given me a great insight into the day to day demands Trustees face. An actuary coming from a pensions background will often come across a lot of non actuarial issues and will also have experience working with other professionals including Legal Advisors and Investment Managers; and as such will be well experienced to be successful as a professional Trustee.


Overall, I can not recommend working in the Pensions and Actuarial Industry enough. The range of different tasks which I have been involved in so far illustrate just some of the attractive options in this sector. The opportunities which arise from working within this industry are plentiful. There are prospects to further improve yourself individually through completion of PMI and Actuarial examinations which are fully subsidised by the company. There is also room for progression as an actuary or as a professional trustees as your experience, confidence and qualifications excel.