APR Graduate Profiles
In the profiles below, some APR staff who have joined via our graduate scheme in the last few years give their thoughts on the actuarial profession, applying for roles and what it’s like to work for APR.
Why the actuarial profession?
I joined APR in September 2018, having spent a year working in financial services after finishing my degree. I was first enticed by the glitz and glamour of the actuarial profession when I came across actuarial modelling techniques during my degree and found that I enjoyed learning and applying them.
How was the application process?
The application process at APR was refreshingly straightforward: I submitted my CV and cover letter online, then took an online aptitude test and received a telephone interview with an APR partner. Following this, the final stage was an in-person interview and written test.
How have I found life at APR?
Since joining APR, I have received plenty of training, including an in-depth introduction to multiple areas of actuarial work and technical skills in Excel, VBA, SQL, and Prophet to name a few. This has stood me in good stead as I have started progressing through the actuarial exams. I had worries that working and studying simultaneously would be difficult (and it is!) but the study package we receive at APR and the (famously enviable) actuarial student’s working hours mean that it has been easy to settle into the routine.
The best thing about working for APR is undoubtedly the breadth of experience you gain by working on a variety of client projects, which can be based anywhere in (or even beyond) the UK. The nature and size of the business means that even within the first month of starting you have ample opportunity to take on responsibility and work closely with more senior members of staff. I am currently working on a platform migration project for a leading investment and pensions provider. I have really enjoyed working in different environments, as it allows me to continue learning and developing my skills in new ways.
Why did I choose this profession?
A lot of people that apply for actuarial roles are looking for a career that allows them to apply their mathematical knowledge in a real world setting and I am no exception. I’ve always been mathematically minded but also enjoy system development and programming, so was looking for a role that combined these. Since joining the profession I’ve had the opportunity to learn how to use several programming languages and actuarial modelling platforms to build both stochastic and deterministic mathematical models – these include VBA, SQL, Prophet and R.
I was also attracted to the profession by the variety of work that comes under the actuarial umbrella: many actuarial graduate jobs will involve some form of rotation around departments or teams, so even though I was not sure exactly which area I wanted to work in, I’ve been able to try a few different parts of the profession, which means I am constantly learning and developing my professional skills.
How did I arrive at APR?
After graduating from university, I took a year out to decide what I wanted to do; having worked in accounts for 6 months, I then took off travelling. I’d been interested in the actuarial profession for a while, but talking to a newly qualified actuary on my travels sealed the deal. I started looking for actuarial roles back in London and found APR – the varied nature of the role and the company culture seemed like they would suit me well, so I applied and I’ve now been working for APR for about 18 months.
What was the application process like – any advice?
The application process for APR was fairly straightforward – after submitting a CV and cover letter, I was invited to complete a short online test which was followed by a phone interview and then an assessment centre. My advice for the interview would be to focus on communication; technical skills are very important, but even a perfect technical solution is only of limited use if nobody understands it but you! I would also suggest researching what skills the company is looking for, and making sure you have examples of times you’ve shown them.
How do I spend my days?
The role can vary significantly between clients, I’ve worked on two client projects so far in my time at APR, and while they have been very different they have both required a high level of technical skill.
My first project was working on a team delivering a system to produce benefit statements across a range of pension and investment products. I was part of the team that was doing actuarial testing of the system – this required a testing tool to be built, the outputs checked, and any issues reported. I also frequently had to liaise with other teams to provide actuarial input on any issues that had arisen in the testing process.
My second project has been in modelling. I’ve worked on several model developments, and a tool to produce model points. This broadly follows a development cycle which, once the objective has been determined, usually consists of a four-step process: writing a specification; writing the relevant code; testing that the code works as intended, has no unforeseen effects and making any changes needed; documenting the model and any changes.
What other skills are useful?
As well as the technical and communication ability mentioned above, I’ve picked out two further skills I’ve found are important:
Time management both at work and in study: There are only two exam sessions a year so it’s important to plan your time well so you’re prepared, especially when sitting more than one exam.
Adaptability: I have found that the working environment can change rapidly – priorities and requirements can and do change, so it’s very useful to be able to switch between tasks when required, and later pick back up any tasks that have been de-prioritised. Also, developments may be in an unfamiliar area or in an unfamiliar system so it is very useful to be able to pick up new skills quickly.
What led me to an actuarial career?
I joined APR in autumn 2016, having spent two years following my graduation working as a maths teacher. Coming from a mathematical background, the actuarial profession was always a career I’d considered. Applying theory from my degree in a financial context appealed to me, coupled with the opportunity for further development by becoming a qualified actuary.
How did I find the application process?
The process was refreshingly quick and easy. I sent in my CV and a cover letter, and was invited to complete an online numerical test. Following this was a telephone interview with a partner of the company, and finally an assessment centre. Compared to other recruitment routes I’d experienced, the entire process was genuinely enjoyable and confirmed to me that APR was where I wanted to launch my actuarial career.
What makes APR different from other companies?
The two things that stand out for me at APR are the quality of training and the variety of work available. There is a real focus on personal development and through APR’s vast technical library, their graduates quickly become proficient in the skills our clients most require. This comprises of technical training courses including VBA, SQL and Excel, as well as industry knowledge modules.
The unique nature of APR’s graduate programme, where we complete short-term project placements at clients across the UK, has allowed me to get involved with a broad range of work since I joined. I began my first client project within a month of joining the company, analysing reserving data for a bulk annuity provider.
Since then, in addition to spending time at APR offices developing my technical skills, I have worked on three further client projects: one supporting a systems migration project, developing a retirement company’s actuarial projection platform; another working within the finance reporting team at an insurance company, supporting a range of reporting, model development and testing functions; and finally, I’ve just started on a project for a reinsurer in Paris, working on a valuation system migration. I doubt I’d have been able to gain such early exposure to different aspects of actuarial projects in a more conventional company.
What attracted me to APR?
I applied to APR having finished a Masters in Physics. Although not set on a particular career, I knew I wanted it to be something numerical, technical, and with the potential for good progression – actuarial work fitted the bill.
APR stood out because of its focus on training. As someone with zero experience in insurance, I was attracted by the promise of a firm which takes on bright graduates (including me, apparently!), and teaches them all they need to know to be fully fledged actuarial professionals.
This impression stuck throughout the refreshingly short application process, involving a couple of interesting online tests and interviews, focusing on applicants’ problem-solving / communication skills rather than deep actuarial knowledge (though be warned – don’t go in entirely unprepared!).
Working at APR
What sets APR apart from other employers is the variety of work and early responsibility. Having joined less than two years ago, I’ve already worked on three client placements, each presenting different technical challenges, and have spent time as the sole APR representative on each. The first consisted of data analysis at an investment research firm, providing a great initial learning platform. I then moved into a small pension buyout firm, followed by a placement in the insurance division of a large bank. Both of these placements involved new, exciting business development work, and spanned the areas of code testing, code development, and data migration.
Aside from client work, I have undertaken extensive in-house training in topics ranging from software to industry-specific knowledge. APR invests a lot of time developing graduates, and the dedicated training days serve as both an excellent opportunity to learn useful skills, and a break from day-to-day work. I’ve also created new training material based on my experience, and have really appreciated the chance to contribute to the development of APR’s resources.
Fast track development
At APR, I’ve gained far broader exposure than I would have in a more traditional actuarial role. Working on a range of projects leads you not only to develop strong technical knowledge, but also to experience the varying styles of work in both large and small companies – I’d say that working with new people is the part of my job I enjoy most. It’s also arguably the biggest challenge, and I’ve found that communication and organisation skills are just as important as technical skills when it comes to project work.