Rachel Graham's Journey with Spence: Reflecting on 14 Years of Growth and Learning

Blog 06 Dec 2023 By Rachel Graham

From Actuarial Novice to Seasoned Professional

It feels like only yesterday (and not over 14 years ago!) that I had my first day at Spence – walking into that Great Victoria Street office for my placement year, I never expected it would lead to where it has.  
I learned so much about the pensions industry during that placement year, made friends with so many good people and learned (and still learning!) a lot from them. Returning to university for my final year, I knew that a future career with Spence was what I wanted. 
In those early actuarial graduate years I benefitted from Spence’s structure, having the opportunity to gain experience working closely with colleagues in different departments, from finance to administration and getting to take full ownership for work, seeing tasks through from start to finish. I can’t deny that at times it was challenging. However, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way: I was constantly learning and developing, and I still am today. 

As the years went on, I developed from being a doer into a checker within the actuarial team, gaining increasing exposure to more and different types of projects along the way – all helping me to shape my career. With the number of actuarial exam passes under my belt increasing, my confidence started to grow. It was then with the support of senior members of the actuarial team and some colleagues from the consultancy team, I became more client facing and could see a future for myself as a consulting actuary. 

Navigating Changes in the Pensions Industry and Personal Growth

Things certainly haven’t stood still over the years. Of course, the pensions industry is ever changing – from auto enrolment to pensions freedoms, to GDPR and GMP equalisation finally being addressed, not forgetting the impact of major shocks on pension schemes such as the financial crisis in 2008, the Covid pandemic, and the more recent gilts crisis in late 2022. Who knows what will be next? Given my own experiences since I started in the industry, I wouldn’t like to bet with too much confidence! 

The way we work has also evolved over time. Covid meant we had to get used to working at home for a while (almost 3 years in the end!). And now hybrid working has been fully embraced and very much welcomed – I certainly don’t miss taking the bus to Belfast and back five days a week! 
A significant career milestone was qualifying as an actuary. It was strange getting used to the idea of having no more exams after studying for so long, but I certainly don’t miss it. My certificate from the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries sits in my home office as a reminder that hard work pays off and the challenging times that come with an actuarial career are worth it.  

It actually hangs beside my NVQ level 2 hairdressing certificate which I got after completing an evening course at my local college a few years back. Styling hair is something I’ve always been interested in and, it’s a fun alternative hobby to have that doesn’t involve a calculator! My mum and sister now benefit the most from that hobby. 

Now I have another certificate for the collection, my Scheme Actuary Practising Certificate. One I could not have achieved without the support and encouragement of my colleagues in the actuarial team. I look forward to what the future holds and the new opportunities ahead to learn and challenge myself further. Now the even harder work begins. 

Rachel Graham

Actuarial & Investment
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