Arsene Wenger has resigned as Manager of Arsenal Football Club after 22 years in charge. He is credited with leading the evolution of English Premier League in terms of diet, training, stretching and preparation for matches; in short, with leading the overhaul of the whole support structure for professional football at the highest club level in the UK.
I recall being at Highbury in 1996, for his first match in charge of Arsenal. I was working as an actuarial specialist recruiter in the UK. Considering the changes in the EPL since then, has made me think about the differences and similarities in recruiting actuaries from the early 90s to now, and thought others might be interested in my reflections and personal anecdotes, which I am sharing via some commonly asked questions.
Q. What are the standout differences between when you started and now?
The mechanics of the process is really the biggest difference. In the 90’s CVs were sent by fax & post. Using email the time frame is dramatically shorter and much easier (no printer jams to contend with!).
Developing a relationship with the client is similar, as the need to look beyond the standard job description to the softer / personal skills required to fit the company culture, the manager’s team, and the development potential of the role are unchanged.
In some ways the client relationship was almost more important, as to present a candidate I needed to speak to the client and convince them to meet the candidate on my verbal description and judgment. I would arrange interview details then send the CV via fax or even post to arrive in time for the interview.
A key change is proximity of client to candidate for an interview. It’s taken for granted now that the interviewer can use Skype, WhatsApp, or other easily accessed technology to see the individual they’re interviewing. This is all comparatively recent and was not always the way. In addition to booking time at specialist video-conference facilities for both the client and candidate, arranging a test call to make sure the technology at each end was compatible and hoping you’d got any time differences right, you then crossed your fingers that all would go well at the appropriate time. The biggest issue was always having the voice and picture synchronised - the biggest complaint was “that it often felt like watching a dubbed foreign film where the lips would move then the voice would follow up to a second or so later”.
Having placed people all over the world, is proof the system did work but I can vouch for the fact that it’s far easier today to conduct remote interviews with improved technology.
Q. Have you seen much change in the personal characteristics a client would suggest they’re looking for?
I believe that client expectations on team work and collaboration are similar but there is an increased emphasis on how the candidate would communicate both within the team and to external stakeholders. This has been driven across this period, I believe, by the need for the actuarial department to be accountable for the ‘cost to company’ and to demonstrate value at all levels from graduate to Chief Actuary
In my early days, I recall a client (a consulting firm) moving to a new open plan office where the firm’s clients would see the entire work area when they visited the office. The client went to great length in explaining in detail the requirements of the people he wished to interview. These were all reasonable. When I pressed him for what was the key characteristic he was after, he paused, then said firmly that the appointee “should not look like an actuary but like a normal person “. When I asked him to explain further, he said he had successfully managed to hire normal looking actuaries so far and wanted to continue in that vein.
Q. What about the technical skill sets being sought ?
One clear change across the period, has been the software experience being requested. In the 1990s, rarely did a role come forward with a requirement other than good Excel experience and I recall one role which requested hands-on experience of Fortran as essential. I wonder who I’d find if I looked for this today!
The big surge came in the late 1990s / early 2000’s with the development of multiple life valuation systems (Prophet & MoSes amongst others) and the explosion of better quality data manipulation software which became a key focus in GI especially. Software like SAS and the EMB suite became the norm and programming skills have resurfaced as important for actuaries – in different languages and formats.
Q. Comments on graduate and junior analyst recruitment?
Across the 90s and into the early 2000s in the UK, graduates typically had few exemptions from Institute exams. As a result, hiring managers looked for graduates who they could work well with and who had the capability to complete the exams.
Over time, exam results and exemptions were the key to achieving a job offer. It was academics ‘first, second & third’ with the view that the ‘softer people facing’ skills could be layered on while in the workplace.
That has evolved considerably, especially post-GFC. While academic results are still important, candidates now have to demonstrate more broad-based skills including communication, team work, leadership and interests outside the workplace.
The interview process was usually fairly quick (1-2 weeks) compared to today when graduates may face a series of meetings, team assessments, etc
Q. What about the big upheavals, crashes, shocks you’ve seen?
In the UK, the big financial upheavals, outside the stock-market crashes, were the Pensions Mis-selling Review in the 1990s which caused a major upheaval in the life insurance sector and the spiralling asbestos claims which almost resulted in the near-collapse of the Lloyd’s of London insurance market in the 1990s.
Facing huge fines and even more bad press for non-compliance, the UK life insurers paid actuarial contractors 4 to 6 times permanent salaries to work on the mis-selling review teams which grew to as many as 40 or 50 actuarial staff per company.
This led to a shortfall in candidates for ‘normal’ life actuarial jobs not to mention the upward pressure on salaries.
The enormous team of contractors at Lloyds dealing with the fall-out of the asbestos claims problems in an especially formed company called ‘Equitas’ did lead to a similar shortfall in general insurance actuarial candidates as well.
In Australia, there was the merger / acquisition mania across the 1990s where both life and general insurers were being acquired on a regular basis totally changing the face of the Australia insurance marketplace.
In Australia I’ve seen the HIH collapse, the medical indemnity insurers being close to collapse under the weight of claims before the government stepped in, and of course the GFC.
More recently, the Solvency II contractors in UK and Asia and the LAGIC implementation in Australia led to an impact on contractors and candidate numbers. It is also certain the impending IFRS 17 requirements will impact in similar ways.
These changes all impacted demand for actuaries and the skills which were required. In times of change the need for the clarity of thinking, problem solving and technical skills an actuary can bring are valued
As Arsenal Football Club search for their 2018-19 season Manager, I’ll be watching with interest how they go about their short-listing and job offer process. Given the high profile of the Club, there will be press speculation, sports commentators putting their opinions forward and many ‘discussions’ over a beer or two amongst Arsenal supporters on the pros & cons of the supposed contenders.
However, I’m confident the time-honoured process of new manager selection will bear a lot of similarities with my clients recruiting their actuarial staff – it’s just that the salaries will have a few more zeros involved.