Q&A Servaas Houben:“A company is no father who will guide your career”
Servaas Houben is risk actuary at Prudential Assurance in London. He also writes about his profession on his own blog and in the magazine De actuaris.
How long have you worked in the financial world?
I have been working for 8 years as a financial specialist. Since 2008 I have worked on the implementation of Solvency II. Initially at Eureko in Dublin, later at KPMG in London. For the last 6 months, I have been employed as an actuary for Prudential Assurance in London.
How did you get involved in your profession?
After my econometrics study in Maastricht, I started working at PwC and then at SNS. Besides my work I have studied actuarial sciences at the University of Amsterdam. I then moved to Dublin and obtained various certificates.
What is most important in your job: talent or hard work?
In this profession about 10% are the “happy few”, who can rely on their talent. However, for 90% it is a matter of hard work. This profession is constantly in development. You must be aware of changes in regulations and changes in technology (different computer models). These two items change continuously. If you want to specialise in one area, less effort might be required, but if you want to be broadly oriented (like me) it is hard work. You must for example be willing to study during the weekends. I have had to re-sit the 3rd level of my CFA exam and only passed it the second time. That effort is required if you want to continue developing yourself.
What would you advise candidates before they come for an interview?
It is not necessary to pass all exams and be a qualified actuary. However it is useful, as it will enable you to build a network and give access to additional information. Ensure you know what you want to achieve in this profession. Or that at least you know this for the next three years. In addition to the technical skills, communication is an important aspect in my job. If you are interviewing at Prudential, there are always questions to find out how candidates communicate. The most succesful people within Prudential are the ones who can explain things well. To develop that skill I write articles for De Actuaris or for my own blog. Hence, I train myself to explain and formulate technical concepts clearly
What do you know about this work now, which when you started your career did not know?
I did not know that the responsibility of shaping your career lies with yourself. There is little time in companies for coaching. Hence, you have to take matters into your own hands. When I moved to England I had no idea of the English legislation. I had to acquire this alongside my work by reading many articles. Therefore, do not expect too much from others. Do not lean too much on the company you work for. Your employer is not a father who guides your career. Not long ago I gave a presentation given at a university. My company does not attach too much importance to this, but for me that is one method of improving my presentation skills and to extend my network.
What does your industry look like in 2015?
The number of contractors is already increasing in my industry. I think that group will further expand. Especially since the group of people now engaged in the implementation of Solvency II in 2013 will remain contracting afterwards. I expect that due to other projects after 2013 (reporting, IFRS) the demand for independent actuaries will increase. It is also less complicated to start for yourself nowadays. The threshold is lower. In the Netherlands, half of the actuaries are entrepreneurs. There is huge demand for actuaries worldwide. If want to acquire foreign experience, this is an excellent profession. You can go anywhere.
Suppose I want to work for you, what makes me get a job offer?
Often the specialisation you are interviewing for differs slightly than that which you have worked in before. You can excel by showing that you have dedication and perseverance. We will ask you how you deal with situations where you might not have had exposure of. You can either say that you have no idea, or you can show that you have solved similar problems before. Employers are always looking for employees capable coming up with solutions.
A Dutch version of this article was published on the website eFinancialCareers.nl on 19 March 2012. The English text tries to remain as close to the original text as possible: