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The pattern of unpredictability Back  
Des Ryan, client relationship manager with actuarial firm Mercer tackles of day of unpredictability.

5.55: The alarm clock signals another day. When dressed, I always read the business section of The Irish Times before breakfast, which I usually have with my wife and youngest son, before driving into work. On days when I travel, I leave without breakfast, which I catch on the plane or train.

7.30: I am usually sitting at my desk. For me one of the most attractive aspects of my job is its unpredictability. If I have any pattern in the working day it’s that I would normally try to put in two solid hours of telephone-free work before my secretary arrives at 9.30. I start by reviewing overnight e-mails and telephone messages. I then make an old fashioned list of ‘to do’ items for that day. Today, the first item on the agenda is the initial review of information received from the previous evening on a possible acquisition of a company by one of my clients. Effectively our role as actuaries is to review the relevant documentation in order to discover hidden or understated pension and benefit costs / liabilities, the extent of divergent procedures and the impact of collective agreements. Such exercises require a detailed analysis of the information and a timely response to our client. I would typically make detailed notes and arrange for a colleague to follow through on some specific issues.

10.00: Practice Management Meeting. Every two weeks we have such a meeting, with a view to updating each of the practices - Pensions, Performance and Reward, Investment, Healthcare, Administration and Client Management. Clearly we have travelled a long way from the traditional type of actuarial firm, confining itself only to the specific areas of Pensions and Administration. These meetings are an excellent forum for feedback on both Company / Practice matters. It enables me to keep abreast of the work currently going on in other Practices.

11.30: Back to my desk and there are a number of telephone calls. If I have any maxim in my working life it is that we should respond quickly to queries. Our clients have the right to expect such a service. In between calls I deal with queries from other members in my team.

12.45: Working lunch in my office with client regarding update on a Client Strategy Review Project. This is a post-acquisition project and the aim is to identify new performance measures and assess the impact of migration towards a new reward strategy for the Client Company. This involves defining new employment terms and comparing them with the previous arrangements. A key aspect being considered in today’s meeting is the evaluation of options for future pension benefits within the client company’s overall Benefit Strategy Programme. My role is one of setting out possible options to the Client, pointing out the subsequent financial and non-financial implications. This is yet another example where client needs have dictated that the actuary should move out into a broader field than one of pure actuarial calculations.

3.00: Internal Client Management Practice meeting. Whilst this practice has existed globally in Mercer for some time it is a relatively new concept in Ireland. The objective of the practice is to recognise the needs of clients not just from an individual practice viewpoint but also to ensure that our clients are getting an overall seamless proactive service. Given the size of our company, which now employs over four hundred staff in Ireland, it is particularly important to adopt such an approach.

4.00: Professional Development Meeting. From time to time we have such meetings in order to brief our consultants on important consultancy issues or legislative changes. Today’s meeting is an update on the latest draft of Financial Reporting Exposure Draft (FRED 20). These meetings follow a standard format whereby one of my colleagues will set out the technical implications of the latest Draft for discussion purposes. Today the group is particularly concerned that our clients have advance warning and a full understanding of the volatility of future Pension Costs in Financial Statements. As ever a lively debate follows.

6.00: At this stage in the day, I would typically refer back to my early morning ‘to do’ list and aim to clear a few more items before leaving the office, usually between 6.30 and 7.00. I generally tend to postpone tackling any really challenging issues until early next morning. My wife tells me I am sickeningly fresh at six o’ clock in the morning and have even been known to whistle in the shower, a habit which she assures me has never quite totally threatened our marriage. Therefore between six and seven in the evening I tend to work on less taxing but none the less important matters, such as writing file notes in respect of the day’s work.

7.00: I normally aim to arrive home between 7.00 and 7.15, unless I have a late business meeting.

7.30: I have a quick dinner with my wife as we have a school meeting to attend.

8.30: Meeting and film show about proposed fact finding trip to Gambia for our eldest son, now in Sixth Year. Every Spring, three of my sons do a hundred-mile cycle for the Missions and this year a deputation is being sent out to view one of the projects in action in Gambia. My ignorance of the country shames me. The extensive poverty so apparent in the video show throws the day’s work into a totally different perspective.

9.45: After the meeting, Helen and I decide to have a cup of coffee in the lounge of a nearby hotel. Time out to chat and discuss the vicissitudes of the day.

11.30: Check the alarm clock for tomorrow.

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