Q&A: The head of Hymans Robertson in Edinburgh explains what it takes to become an actuary

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Martin Potter 006

You need to show you can adapt to change if you want to impress Martin Potter, head of the Edinburgh office of independent actuarial consultancy Hymans Robertson.

Potter, who came to Hymans via a stint in Trinidad, set up the Edinburgh office in 2009 and interviewed most of the 40 people it now employs. Hymans is still expanding in Scotland, so if you want to work for them, here's what to expect.

How long have you been in financial services?

MP: I joined Bacon & Woodrow as a graduate actuarial trainee in 1994 and started advising clients in 1997. I soon came to prefer explaining issues and solving client's problems to being back in the office working on the numbers. People think actuaries spend all their time dealing with figures but communication with clients is an important part of it.

Has your career path been conventional or capricious?

MP: I have made some big career changes, but - typical actuary - they were all calculated risks.  Early on in my career I moved to Trinidad with Bacon & Woodrow. It showed me that there is far more than one way to do things.

When I came back I decided I didn't want to go the conventional way and work in the South East, so I moved to Scotland with Hymans Robertson. People down South wondered why I was moving to Glasgow - unhelpfully asking wasn't it the most dangerous city in Europe - but I found the Scots very welcoming and after eight years in Scotland I love it.

Getting off those conventional career 'train tracks' is important - it makes you open to change.

What matters most, talent or hard work?

MP: Both. Talent is important but it takes hard work to develop it and to learn new things in new places.  Once upon a time a professional career meant doing the same thing for life but now you can end up a professional dinosaur if you don't keep your skills and knowledge fresh.

What would you always advise people to do before they step into an interview with you?

MP: Be prepared to talk about what you have learnt from your experience, the skills you have picked up and how you have used them.  I also want to know your thoughts and plans for your career and how you feel Hymans Robertson can help you.

I also see a lot of Scots who want to return, even if just looking for opportunities in the next year or two. I welcome that, because we keep their details for the future. They should definitely stay in touch.

What do you now know about working in financial services that you wish you had known 15 years ago?

MP: That nothing will ever stay the same. The pace of change has been faster than anyone could have imagined. I joined the profession after the Maxwell pension scandal and since then, financial services products, clients' expectations and technology have changed enormously.

When I started two actuarial trainees were sharing one computer, and hardly anyone had a mobile 'phone. It's hard to imagine now.

You are only allowed to hire one person over the next six months. Can you describe their ideal profile?

MP: I'm too open-minded to have an ideal profile in mind but I'm always glad to see candidates who show evidence of adaptability, and an element of risk taking in steering their career, rather than being the kind of person whose career just happened to them.

If they have made a career mistake, that's fine, as long as they can show how they learnt from that and moved on.

In no more than three sentences, can you say what your business area will look like in 2015?

MP: I see actuarial consultants advising in far wider areas of risk than just pensions and insurance - certainly Hymans Robertson is moving that way.

In pensions and investments the deficits will still be with us, so it will be a risk-off world with much more risk management and hedging.

In people risk management, the realisation will dawn that defined contribution pension schemes are not working out for employers, and the pension pendulum will start to swing back to a more even balance of risk between employers and employees.

I want to work for you. What will persuade you to hire me?

MP: You should be open to new challenges and experiences, keen to make a difference and willing to 'have a go' at challenges, so your CV would need to evidence all of those qualities.