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Hear from our Alumni: Lynda Whitney

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Hear from our Alumni: Lynda Whitney

Our Economics Alumni community is a large global network with over 15,000 former students of the Department scattered around the world.

We are lucky to have amazing alumni who are eager to remain connected with us after they graduate. We are keen to hear from them to find out more about the career paths they have taken and how they reflect on the skills and knowledge they acquired on that journey.

In this article we introduce Lynda Whitney (BSc Economics, 1997), who is Partner at Aon where she is a Scheme Actuary and actively involved with making complex topics easier for pension scheme trustees. We caught up with Lynda earlier this year when she joined us as part of our virtual ‘Coffee with Economists’ event to celebrate inspirational women economists as part of the International Women's Day 2021.

Following this successful event we decided to ask Lynda a few more questions about the career choices she made since graduation. In particular, we asked her to comment about what it’s like to be a female economist in a male dominated field and what can be done to achieve a better gender balance.

How did you decide upon your chosen career path?

I followed my interests and what I was good at. I enjoyed economic statistics and that then led me towards actuarial work. I then tested that idea through a summer internship which was pivotal in making my career choice. It made me realise that I liked actuarial work and pensions and that’s why I went in that direction.

What was your experience as a woman choosing a career in Economics?

At sixth form college I had already been in the relatively male dominated areas when doing double maths and economics (and the female dominated A level history set). For many years I didn't really reflect on being a woman choosing this career but more that I was choosing a career that I enjoyed.

What does the work of a Scheme Actuary involve?

I work as a consultant mainly with the Trustees of company pension schemes. My role is to help them to make decisions and provide technical guidance. This can involve explaining complex models of life expectancy or future views of inflation or it can be helping them with a negotiation strategy when arguing for more contributions from the company sponsor.

What was your motivation for joining Aon?

I joined a predecessor firm that became part of Aon because of their strong record in supporting actuarial training and because I felt comfortable when I visited that office. I am still there today because the job has kept changing and providing new challenges.

Could you give specific examples of projects you have worked on?

I have helped trustees negotiate multi-million pound contributions from their sponsoring companies. I have designed new forms of security that are not cash. I have helped negotiate the insurance of pension schemes' longevity risk. I have helped trustees to think about how diversity, equity and inclusion applies to their pension structures and decisions.

What is the most fulfilling aspect of your current job?

The best part of my job is helping someone to understand a new concept whether that is a Trustee, a pensions manager, a colleague or a journalist.

What has been the highlight of your career to date?

The 15 minutes of fame was talking about the impact of the changes from RPI to CPI* and getting to explain that technical corner about inflation and pensions on Radio 4 Moneybox and Radio 2 drivetime, to completely non-technical audiences. But the personal highlights have often been the small things, like when I help mentor someone to find the next opportunity and their right niche.

Has the pandemic changed your work in any significant way?

All meetings immediately went virtual and my spare room became my office. But the biggest change was working with company sponsors some of whom were badly impacted by the pandemic and looking to renegotiate the contributions they would make to the pension scheme very quickly. We also had to figure out how furlough worked for pensions, what the employees were entitled to, and the member contributions due. And that is all before then reflecting on how the pandemic has changed long term life expectancy – which is probably a lot less than you might expect as a lay person listening to the news.

Do you get a good work-life balance in your field of work?

I would say that consulting is both intense but also flexible. You have the pressure of client demands but you also have the ability to work part-time and during the pandemic many colleagues have flexed their hours to allow for home schooling or other commitments.

Which skills were of particular importance throughout your career?

The ability to take something complex and explain it simply has been a key skill. This can involve teaching one individual, a small group or presenting to a large room; each scenario needing different presentation styles.

What advice would you give to female students who are considering Economics as a degree but are a bit hesitant?

Economics is built up from people, and thinking about how individuals, businesses or whole countries respond to different economic pressures. Male or female, you want to enjoy analysing problems and thinking about what the most important aspects are.

How would you advise our finalists who are looking for jobs in the current economic climate?

I am aware that recruitment is pressing on as usual. Selection is likely to be through virtual selection centres, but otherwise it isn't very different. If you are researching a company either before a selection centre or especially when trying to decide if you should accept the role, don't be afraid to reach out to someone on social media (like LinkedIn) and ask for a chat. Also, be willing to stand out. Recognise where your strengths are and articulate them.

We thank Lynda for sharing with us her career journey and for her tips to our current and future students.

7 June 2021

*The Retail Prices Index and the Consumer Prices Index.