Dominic Clark – 25 November 2020

My journey into the world of pensions has taken many different turns – some expected, some not so expected, but all have provided unique learning opportunities.

I started off with a degree in mechanical engineering. I enjoyed maths and physics in school and mechanical engineering seemed like a natural follow-on. A degree which was practical, challenging, combined subjects I enjoyed and had a career path at the end.

As you can imagine, I learnt an awful lot on topics which are directly related (or not!) to pensions…the three fundamental laws of thermodynamics, a dissertation analysing how debris from a hip replacement can cause cancer and how to calculate the lift generated by a wing moving through air… knowledge I regularly have to draw upon!

After completing the final year of a four-year course, it was time to apply for graduate schemes. It was while being subjected to the thrill of ‘tell me about a time when…’ questions that I realised using the university summer holidays to go travelling instead of doing at least one internship, maybe hadn’t been the best idea.

After numerous assessment centres and interviews I was successful on one of the Transport for London graduate schemes. Given my degree the natural choice would have been one of their engineering/capital project focused schemes. Perhaps I simply wanted to challenge myself again, but instead of opting for a programme I might have some relevant background in, I ended up on their Commercial Procurement scheme , I didn’t know what it meant either! On the plus side, I did get a free Oyster card for me and someone in my house.

After two and a half years I decided to change track and joined PwC. After a three-year detour via audit I started in the pensions team. I have now been part of the pensions covenant team within PwC’s wider restructuring practice for 18 months.  I’m really enjoying how each project is completely different, providing variety and a great challenge.

So what puts people off a career in pensions?

I think there is a knowledge gap and an overcomplication in people’s minds about the industry, and I can sympathise as to why. When people talk about investments, employer covenants and self-sufficiency targets, to the lay person they aren’t words used every day and it can sound daunting. However, my experiences, and those of nearly everyone I work with, confirm it is possible to come at the industry from many different backgrounds.

It is a well-trodden line that many people end up in the pensions industry by accident. While I think I would characterise my journey as unconventional rather than accidental, I’m sure there are many pension lawyers, advisers, trustees and actuaries out there who have all had a highly varied path before ending up where they are now. They will all have stories about how the language and terminology will become second nature in no time.

So why am I telling you this?

Pensions is such a broad term and doesn’t have to simply be the process of how an individual saves for their future, although ultimately the industry is there to ensure that people are secure in their retirement.

Many high profile mergers, takeovers, administrations and insolvencies all require specialist pensions input. As the pension scheme is often the largest liability a company has, it forms a central part of the negotiation. A large transaction could see you working with a private equity house, senior stakeholders in an organisation, actuaries, investment advisors, lawyers, restructuring advisors and The Pensions Regulator.

You could say I’m biased, but I think this shows there is definitely a lesser known, more glamorous side to pensions.

So what does it mean for you?

Everyone is different, but I have always found I am at my most productive when I am doing something I enjoy. My recent projects have been challenging but incredibly interesting, and that’s what I love about this industry – every twist and turn will provide a different opportunity, and it might not be until you look back on any one experience that you realise what you learned and the skills you gained.

The ongoing pandemic has sent shockwaves through the sector, with falling asset values and turbulent financial markets increasing the focus on both defined benefit and defined contribution schemes. So I don’t expect the twists and turns to stop any time soon!

Whether you work as a lawyer, in HR, at a large firm or a boutique, as an actuary, investment or covenant adviser, there are exciting and varied opportunities to be had within the pensions environment – I would recommend it to anyone.

All of a sudden, the word pensions doesn’t seem so dull anymore!

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