Articles - Virtual Scheme Actuaries the good the bad and the ugly

As actuaries, we’re used to the age-old jokes about actuaries and a lack of social skills. The COVID-19 pandemic put this to the test in a new way, with the almost overnight introduction of working remotely and no longer being able to meet with our trustees in person. As a Scheme Actuary looking after a number of pension schemes across the UK, I know I wasn’t alone in wondering how I and my colleagues could continue to offer a great personalised service to trustees when we couldn’t meet face-to-face.

 By Kerry Lindsay, Actuary at Hymans Robertson

  In retrospect, perhaps I had no need to worry; here’s my take on how we’ve continued to serve our clients in a new virtual world.

 Working remotely
 First and foremost, we were already set up for remote working – Hymans Robertson investment in technology over recent years has really paid off, probably more than we ever saw coming. We moved from office to home working overnight, with absolutely no change in our working practices (apart from frantically adding Microsoft Teams dial-in details to a few trustees’ meetings arranged for that week). It also turns out that the morning commute to the kitchen table (via the kettle of course) is quite straightforward and means less time spent on cramped, delayed trains and more time helping our clients – I wish I’d done it more often pre-COVID.

 Advising our clients
 We’ve been able to provide timely advice to trustees to help protect pension scheme funding during the market turmoil experienced over the past few months. For example, near the start of the pandemic, a number of our trustee boards were looking for support in responding to requests from sponsors to defer previously agreed deficit reduction contributions. This was a complex area, with TPR guidance coming out almost daily at times, and we were able to act on this and advise our clients accordingly.

 The benefit of technology
 Because we’re meeting online, we have a raft more information at our fingertips. I can now share my screen to show a scheme’s funding position at that exact point in time through our 3DAnalytics software, without the added complexities of connecting to a client’s IT infrastructure. I can search digitally via our FocalPoint meeting tool for the comments from that discussion a few meetings ago without having to awkwardly shuffle through piles of papers. And if I need to seek input from a colleague who is not in the meeting I can drop them a message there and then and answer a query in a matter of minutes, instead of waiting until after the meeting and hoping I can remember the exact detail of the question.

 Better use of time
 Another advantage of home working is that we’re able to use our working time more productively for our clients and for ourselves – we can now meet with two or three different groups of trustees in a day, without having to fit in commuting time across central London. It also saves trustees spending multiple hours on trains and planes all getting to one central location. We have been able to provide advice more instantaneously and, as a result, trustees can make decisions faster than ever before.

 The social side
 I still believe that face-to-face contact is invaluable, but in this time of global uncertainty there’s been something comforting about seeing that clients and advisors are all surprisingly human and have the same challenges of merging work and home life. I for one feel like I’ve got to know a lot of the trustees I advise better than ever before – be that through the introduction to various pets who’ve sat in a trustee meeting, barking their approval or otherwise to decisions, or the appearance of family members who often disappear as quickly as they arrived when they realise that mum or dad is on a work call. These light-hearted additions to our regular meetings have been really welcome.

 So have we been good, bad or ugly?
 At Hymans we have always prided ourselves on our values of Confident, Friendly, Straightforward and Partnering, and I firmly believe that these have shone through over recent months. I think we’ve proven that we can continue to be effective Scheme Actuaries when working from home and definitely harnessed the “good” from the situation. I’d like to see us continue to make the most of the opportunities that this presents and move longer term to a blend of remote and face-to-face consulting. I don’t think there’s been too much in the way of the “bad”, other than perhaps proximity to the snack cupboard through the day. And as for the “ugly”, I find the tactical inclusion, or otherwise, of video on early morning teams calls can deal with that one! 

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