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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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Obituary – Arthur Duval

Arthur Duval died on 7 September 2004, aged 82. Arthur was an actuary of quick intelligence and strong views, but with a warmth and integrity that meant that he was regarded with great affection even by those who most disagreed with him. He spent almost his entire career with the Co-operative Insurance Society (CIS), joining it shortly before he was called up for war service. On returning in January 1947, he completed the examinations in May 1948, which led the then president, in his report to the annual general meeting, to reassure students that ‘the Board of Examiners, while enjoying their share of the reflected glory, will draw no unpleasant or incorrect conclusions’.

Perhaps because of his examination record, he was never asked to be a tutor or examiner, but he served on a number of Institute committees, was a member of Council from 1960 to 1964, and edited the Journal from 1963 to 1965, in which capacity he decided that it was invidious for a professional body to distinguish between its members, and so abolished the longstanding practice of printing the job title of the authors of sessional meeting papers. However, his main contribution was through his employment – he became actuary of the CIS in 1955, and then chief executive in 1978, retiring in 1987. Thus for over 30 years he was a dominant force in an office which provided insurance to one in six households in the UK.

He was an early advocate of computerisation, realising the benefits that this would bring to an office that was dedicated to the mass market. This of course required substantial restructuring, which was not achieved easily – in 1970 there was an agents’ strike which lasted several weeks. However, the restructuring was achieved, so by the mid-1970s the CIS had the lowest expenses, and the highest agent earnings, of any of the home service offices. Moreover, this was achieved without any compulsory redundancies – he always believed that successful management of an insurance company depended on long-term planning, and this included planning of staff needs.

In the 1960s he realised the contribution that actuarial analysis could make to the management of the general insurance business, and so he asked Peter Johnson and Brian Hey to investigate, which led to their seminal 1971 paper ‘Statistical studies in motor insurance’ which formed for many years the backbone of premium rating in this area.

His own actuarial work was primarily on the life side, and while he was interested in the theory, he remained resolutely pragmatic. Thus in a 1953 paper on bonus policy he commented in relation to policyholder expectations, ‘My personal opinion is that the policyholder wants the biggest bonus he can get, and beyond that he is not greatly concerned’. This pragmatism remained throughout his career. He was an enthusiast for mutuality, believing that in any well-established office the majority of the risk was borne by the policyholders, so it was right that they should get the rewards. But he recognised that this only worked if the office was strong, and had a good flow of new business. He therefore regarded it as the actuary’s duty to ensure that these conditions were fulfilled.

As chief executive of a co-operative society, he believed that the same principles should apply to all the business, so he introduced a with-profits system into general insurance, with bonuses for policies that had been in force more than three years. This ensured the financial strength of the office, without disadvantaging policyholders. Unfortunately, others may take a different view of the uses of financial strength, and in the last year of his life he was saddened and angered to receive notice, as a policyholder, that the general insurance business of the CIS would no longer be conducted on a basis of mutuality, but that instead the profits might be diverted to other areas within the Co-operative group. He regarded this as robbery of the CIS policyholders, but was by then too weak to do anything to prevent it.

He was proud of being an actuary, believing that the profession, at its best, made a substantial contribution to the welfare of the ordinary people of this country. He was delighted when one of his children chose to follow him into the profession, although slightly disappointed that his own dazzling examination success was not repeated.

Throughout his life, he was interested in new ideas; he was a familiar figure at International Congresses (he attended 11 from 1954 to 1998) always keen to learn how things were done in other countries, and to think whether that was better than the familiar British method. He made many friends in the international actuarial community, but perhaps the closest was Sven Guldberg, and he was therefore particularly pleased when he learnt that Sven’s son Alf was to be president of the International Actuarial Association in 2005.

After his death, one who had worked with him for 30 years wrote: ‘It is people who never knew him, and possibly never heard of him, who really owe him the most. I am thinking of the countless numbers of CIS policyholders who benefited from his professional expertise, his firm adherence to his principles, and to the highest standards of business ethics.’ A modest man, despite his ebullience, Arthur would have said that he was just doing his job.