Actuarial careers in banking: Iain Allan

Actuarial careers in banking: Iain Allan Iain Allan, an independent consultant working in banking, talks about his career journey in banking and the challenges and rewards he has experienced.

Tell us a bit about your role and background

I currently work in banking as an independent consultant. In recent years, I’ve helped several new entrants with their applications for banking licences. Previously, I was Group Director, Strategy, at RBS from 1994 – 2008, involved in all aspects of the Group’s activities. Since 1991 I have been an Honorary Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Actuarial Science and Insurance at The Business School (formerly Cass), City, University of London.

What made you choose banking as a career path?

While training as an actuary, I worked for insurance companies in fund management. After exchange controls were abolished in 1979, I moved to the stockbroker Phillips & Drew to build its international business. In 1985, ahead of the Big Bang in London, Phillips & Drew was acquired by UBS. I then spent two years in Tokyo, getting a securities branch licence for UBS and helping to establish the branch. During my time working for UBS, I became aware of the broad range of opportunities there were in banking. I subsequently approached RBS and expressed an interest in working in strategy for them.

How did the actuarial skill set equip you for a career in banking?

It’s equipped me well for understanding business issues in financial services, including banking, and for making commercial judgements about them. In banking, many activities and modelling techniques have parallels in insurance, albeit with different terminology and different regulations.

When I moved from investment banking to what I call ‘proper banking’, my lack of knowledge about banking terminology and regulations made for a challenging first year, and could have been a disadvantage in my job interview with RBS. Luckily, with hindsight, my interview focused on the strategy for a bank rather than on banking!

What are some of the most interesting discoveries you’ve made while working in banking?

Much of my career has been about delivering strategic projects, often within limited timescales. Looking back at my career, I can see real benefit in having diversity within teams – people with different skills and experience, working together to achieve a shared objective. Within such a team, there is mutual respect and support, and interdependence – the team really is greater than the sum of its parts.

What have been some of the challenges?

At RBS, I was responsible for strategy across all areas of the Group. Because of my lack of familiarity with banking terminology and regulations, I had a lot to learn in my first year, and sometimes wondered if I would ‘make the grade’. After I had been through an annual cycle though, things fell into place.

Also, at various stages in my career, my most challenging moments were about speaking up – not whether to speak up or not, but how to speak up in a way that could lead to a constructive rather than an antagonistic response. Sometimes I was successful, sometimes not!

Other challenging moments related to completing projects within deadlines. These required organisation and self-discipline, but were more within my own control.

Finally, there’s keeping up-to-date on the many changes in banking. I’ve found that one good way to do this is by participating in responses to consultation papers made by banks or the IFoA.

What were some of your most powerful learning moments?

In my career in banking, both as an employee and as a consultant, I have found a widespread expectation that, as an actuary, I would display two characteristics – competence and integrity. This has made me feel an obligation to do my work to the highest possible standard in the time available, to think about things carefully, and to express my views clearly.

Do you see yourself remaining in banking?

Yes, I’ll remain in banking. There is always something new. Banking is quite different from a decade ago, because of Basel III versus Basel II, expected credit losses versus incurred credit losses and more rigorous requirements for stress testing, as well as the move to online banking and the ability to use customer data gathered through open banking APIs. The impact of Covid-19 presents new challenges for banking, as does climate change.

How will you use what you have learned in the future?

After almost 30 years in banking, as an employee and independent consultant, working for large and small banks, I’m keen to pass on the benefits of my experience in banking to other actuaries, through the IFoA Banking MIG, the IAA Banking Working Group and The Business School (formerly Cass), City, University of London.

You can find out about more about career paths in banking, as well as a range of support and resources on our Banking Lifelong Learning web page.

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