James Cheeseman, Actuarial Assistant

Job Title: Actuarial Assistant

Organisation: Xafinity

It was the end of my first year at Cardiff University, when I decided that I wanted to start my journey to become an actuary. I studied maths with operational research and statistics, with a sandwich year business placement.

I applied for a position as an actuarial summer student with Aviva UK Life and succeeded. Summer placements are very beneficial. Not only did I gain valuable work experience, I could see how competitive it was to apply for graduate placements at actuarial firms. Additionally, I was able to add the time spent at Aviva towards my Learning Log on Work-Based Skills. This is a practical requirement of the qualification. There are seven Learning Logs that you must complete over three years (for Fellowship), which allow you to demonstrate business competencies; a learning log is completed for each one, to show your manager how you developed that skill. Already having experience logged towards becoming a Fellow of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) stood out on my CV.

Based on advice from the actuaries at Aviva, I decided to take the Financial Mathematics exam (CT1) from the IFoA as a non-member during my business placement – and passed. This provided valuable insight into how I needed to balance my work, study and personal life. Furthermore, it shows prospective employers that I am capable of passing the exams under the conditions in which they expect me to study. It was a risk, but it was very worthwhile!

With my year of business experience, eight weeks of actuarial experience and my CT1 exam pass in my armoury, I was ready to start applying for the graduate schemes. I used the Directory of Actuarial Employers, published by the IFoA, as my way of finding actuarial firms. After tailoring my CV and covering letter, I applied for Xafinity at the beginning of my final year at university in September 2012. They were the first company I applied for and their application process was similar to many of other companies (application form, telephone interview, assessment centre). In February 2013 I received my job offer and started in August 2013.

Since starting at Xafinity, I have been involved in quite a few tasks including:

  • Transfer Values – sometimes members of a pension scheme would like to know the value of their pension if they are considering transferring it to a different pension scheme. We conduct the calculations to provide this value.
  • Data cleansing and Data analysis.
  • Model programming.
  • Pension Fund Valuation Reports – Every three years the trustees (decision makers) of a pension scheme assess the funding position of the scheme. This is done by comparing the scheme’s assets to its liabilities at a chosen date. If the scheme’s asset value is insufficient to meet its liabilities, then a Recovery Plan is put in place. Consideration is also given to the future costs of servicing the pension scheme and other factors.  A report summarising the decisions made from the valuation is produced and is available to the scheme members on request.

In addition to being an Actuarial Assistant at Xafinity, I am now a Career Ambassador for the IFoA. In this role I visit universities, colleges and schools to talk about becoming an actuary. This is helping me improve my communication skills, especially public speaking.

Overall, I enjoy the work I am doing and I know I have chosen the right career for me. I definitely recommend pursuing an actuarial career!