First Actuarial celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and it has a lot to celebrate
- Record profits with turnover up from £12.5m to £14m
- All nine of the original Founders in place – now joined by a further 8 partners
- Staff numbers up to 190
- A stake in Pension PlayPen, itself named consultancy of the year in a recent competition
- A reputation for good work evidenced by a steadily growing client base with virtually no mandate turnover.
We pride ourselves in our independence. With no bank debt, private equity or stakes from larger firms, we are our own people with a set of values that we fiercely defend.
First Actuarial is referenced by all its clients and for good reason. Our approach is based around sticking to the knitting and treating all our customers with the same respect.
Many of our competitors can point to posh London offices, sponsorship deals resulting from large marketing budgets. We don’t do that- this submission is being written by us as a result of a complaint by a large client that we don’t blow our own trumpet!
But forward thinking
We would like to think of ourselves at the heart of pension reform.
If you think of CDC- it’s hard not to think of Derek Benstead, Mark Rowlinson and Hilary Salt and the work they are doing to shape the Defined Ambition agenda to the needs of Britain’s employers and their employees.
If you think of the workplace pension minimum standards- it’s hard to ignore the pioneering work First Actuarial and Novarca have done understanding and benchmarking costs and charges.
If you think of Auto-enrolment, who won’t have heard of Pension PlayPen and the work it’s been doing for the SMEs and Micros who so desperately need to become better buyers.
And thoroughly grounded
Other consultancies may consider the financial affairs of the members of their schemes of secondary importance to the complex investment structures they are putting in place- but not us.
The member’s interests come first and much of our time is spent helping members understand the schemes they are in and valuing the benefit of either the defined contribution or benefit.
We encourage our corporate clients to think the same way and spend some of the consultancy budget making sure their members and workers know how to manage their finances. This means talking tax, investments, budgeting and saving. We have our financial heroes and they are more Martin Lewis than Warren Buffet.
We may not have posh offices in the posh end of town and we don’t have a London HQ. but we cover the country. With basis in Basingstoke, Tonbridge, Peterborough, Leeds and Manchester, you’re never far from a First Actuarial office.
But the energy of our consultants means we are up and down the country seeing our clients, chatting on the phone and plugging our laptops.
Re-learning to talk the language our clients speak
When we started our financial education projects it soon became apparent that while we knew what we were talking about, our clients found us hard to understand. We’ve always aspired to be plain-speaking but we had to admit our actuarial qualifications were getting in the way.
We spent money with Quietroom, a communication consultancy we instructed to help us speak the language of our clients!
We’re happy to say that straight-talking is becoming contagious and we’ve noticed the difference not just in our dealings with members but in trustee meetings and in our negotiations on corporate sponsorship.
A culture that works
People seem to like working for First Actuarial. We have very low staff turnover, as mentioned before the entire senior management team in place in 2004, is still in place today.
Our staff survey shows that people appreciate not being bullied for targets. One new consultant stated “at year end it’s always been a nightmare with pressure to bill bill bill, we’ve just had a year end and I didn’t even know it”.
By concentrating on doing good work, not targeted billing, we get more from our staff both in the quality and quantity of our work.
Without compromising standards
We have committed to IS0 9001 which has been a great challenge. We have the kitemark and we intend to keep it
With 60 qualified actuaries, we are really proud of our student program. The majority of our staff are under 40 and 26 of our actuaries qualified with us.
The standards we set ourselves and commit to via ISO 9001 are high. If we hear raised voices it’s when a colleague has let the side down with less than brilliant work. It doesn’t happen often because nobody wants to let each other down.
There is nothing about First Actuarial that is conspicuously brilliant, it’s just that by doing everything well and nothing badly, we are brilliant incrementally!
This consistency in everything we do makes us predictably better than average, something you want from a consultant.
And because we are not absolutely brilliant, we don’t get above ourselves, which makes us nice to deal with. Trustees often remark about how easy meeting are when we are there because we don’t impose ourselves and our views.
In fact the First Actuarial way is quiet and unassuming, a bit like our marketing.