Written by
Tom Ritchie

Published
27 Jul 2017

Career profile: Marcus Underhill, director of engagement and insights, Staffcare Limited

27 Jul 2017 • by Tom Ritchie

CV in brief

  • September 2015 - October 2016: Global head of pensions and benefits for Standard Chartered Bank (Singapore)
  • January 2013 - September 2015: Regional head of employee benefits integrated solutions for Aon (Singapore) 
  • June 2009 - January 2013: Global benefits director and executive team at team at Thomsons Online Benefits
  • 2006 - January 2009: Consulting director and executive team at Vebnet

A day in your life

Tell us about your job, organisation and team.

I took a big life change at the start of this year and returned to the UK from being in Asia for four years. Staffcare have just under 100 employees and provide employee benefits technology to UK employers and corporate partners. This is a little bit different to the Singapore role with Standard Chartered Bank where I was accountable for the benefits provision for 85,000 employees.

The team now is small with about six people focussing on proposition development and sales. Inside SCB we operated more as a centre of excellence with a team of seven split between London and Singapore and then with regional reward leaders across the four key regions in which SCB operate.

What is the most rewarding and challenging parts of your role?

At Staffcare the most rewarding part is seeing younger individuals being given responsibility and responding. As a small business every employee is critical and they can see the role they play in company success. At Standard Chartered that is more difficult but the leaders and managers there were superb.

The most challenging part is helping people get a work life balance and giving them resilience to deal with day to day challenges.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Up around 6am and a couple of hours prioritising work. In the office for 8am and typically leave around 6-7pm. Luckily I live 5 minutes from the office. In Singapore the routine was more 9am to 8pm due to supporting UK staff. For many years which I globally looked after Asian operations from the UK a London office day was 0630 to 1900.

Typically a day is split 50:50 between clients and team and executive meetings. I use lunchtime as a time to just recharge and refocus.

Why did you choose your current organisation to work for?

When I decided to leave Singapore I looked at the attributes of businesses in which I had thrived and felt highly motivated. Smaller businesses with strong leadership cultures ticked all those boxes so I am very proud to be working with Staffcare.

What skills are essential for your role?

My role by nature is highly technical so I have always needed an eye for detail combined with a need to articulate complex subjects in simple layman’s terms. Prioritisation of work and effective delegation and key within these as well as guiding less experienced staff on areas to develop.

At Staffcare ensuring that all staff can see how they can succeed at Staffcare is critical and so we have been doing a lot of work on the values and culture we want staff to thrive in. 

Career path

How did you get to where you are now? Have you followed the career path you expected?

I qualified as an Actuary in 1991 and I am still in Employee Benefits some 25 years later. Each role has given me an extended remit that extended out of pensions into employee benefits and HR, and then ultimately into European and Global operations.  I could not have predicted the direction in my 20s or 30s but around late 30s I feel my career direction has been more under my control. My recent move to Staffcare significantly reduces my overseas travel which was a key objective of mine.

 

What challenges have you faced along the way? How did you overcome them?

Two challenges have been constant. Technology and globalisation. Technology in employee benefits has changed dramatically since the 1990s when it was almost non-existent for employees to see their employee benefits online or see the value of their total reward. And globalisation has mean that I have always had to understand the balance in a client’s needs between best of breed local solutions and global platforms. There is no magic pill to follow these. It is about maintaining networks of individuals and also tightly listening to client’s needs.

The other key challenge was whether to move to Asia from the UK. This was probably a four year decision making process with my family with the ultimate decision highly linked to their schooling needs.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

In 1994 I presented a paper to the Institute of Actuaries on Flexible Benefits. The first paper on the subject.  I remember being extremely nervous in front on many of my mature peers.

More recently it is client experiences. It has been great to make a difference to clients in countries such as China, Mexico, the Philippines and India. When you work on a project for six-12 months you make friends for live in those clients.

In 2009 I also climbed to Everest Base Camp for charity which was a great experience.

What advice would you offer to others who are looking to get to where you are now?

Collect experiences and roles when you are younger and don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Then as you become more self-aware of what you enjoy and are good at use those insights to shape your career direction.

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?

Take time to reflect and understand whether you are happy every few years. It is easy to get lose in the whirlwind of working life.

Either/or

  • Coffee or tea? Tea in the office and coffee when out with clients. I probably don’t trust that everyone can make a good cup of tea
  • Sweet or savoury? Sweet. Never been a fan of cheese from childhood
  • The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? Both - but I have a closer association with Rolling Stones as I saw them when younger
  • Apple or Android? Definitely an Apple man. It is great the way multiple devices link to each other and have a common user interface
  • Introvert or extrovert? Introvert - by the nature of my role I need to often recharge and relax. Reading is great for this
  • Early bird or night owl? Early bird.  My working life has had long periods of getting up early
  • Winter or summer? Surprisingly when I came back to the UK I really enjoyed winter. Singapore has sun most days and is very humid so the freshness and daily change is exciting to the senses. But ask me next winter if it snows a lot
  • City or countryside? Countryside. In Singapore everything is accessible but I missed the freedom of a good countryside walk.

Favourites

  • App: Evernote. I have used it for ten years to scan and track my documents
  • Film: Pulp Fiction. Are there any other films?
  • Song: Green Day – Good Riddance – time of my life. Loved singing this with my youngest child, Claudia and seeing it played live
  • Book: Wonder by R J Palacio. Again great memories of reading with my children
  • Childhood hero: Ian Botham. Summer school holiday watching his achievements in the Ashes
  • Guilty pleasure: Britain’s Got Talent. Am I allowed to be guilty over that?
  • Place to eat: Wagamamas. The first Asian food my children had and a reminder of the great experiences I had in Asia
  • Holiday spot: Bali in Indonesia. A great balance of relaxation and hustle and bustle and loved by my children Isabella and Claudia
  • Piece of advice you’ve been given: Each day you can control if you are happy and influence the people around you whether they start the day happy.