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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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GIRO or CAS?

I recently had the rare pleasure and honour of attending the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) spring meeting in Colorado. As something of a GIRO veteran my first GIRO was Harrogate, 1988 it gave me the opportunity to compare how our General Insurance Convention stacks up against its American counterpart.
My first observation is how similar the two events are several hundred actuaries gathered in a nice hotel discussing matters of mutual professional interest by day and eating, drinking (and networking) the nights away! In both cases, only the most insensitive attender could fail to recognise the immense amount of work that had gone in to the events, both by the organisers and by the presenters of papers, working parties, and so on. We foot soldiers owe a great debt of gratitude to anybody who volunteers to run a GIRO or similar meeting.
I’m going to assume that most people who read this will be familiar with the British version (or similar Institute event), so I’ll concentrate on where the ‘cousins’ do things differently.

Making the most of the facilities
First, the hotel. I’m told the Broadmoor, Colorado Springs is one of the top resort hotels in the US, and apart from the irony (lost, of course, on the Americans) of sending several hundred actuaries to Broadmoor, the hotel certainly lived up to its billing. It was nice, too, that there was no need for ‘overspill’ hotels. CAS arranges a block booking discount at the hotel, but the conference fee does not include accommodation. This leaves delegates the choice of staying in the official hotel or making less costly arrangements nearby. Even so, the total cost excluding travel compared very favourably with GIRO.
It’s often the little things that stick in the mind and I make no apology for commenting on the name badges! Not content with the usual name/company/city badge, CAS supplies gold embossed fabric ribbons to attach to the badge to signify ‘special’ delegates and what a range: president, immediate past-president, president-elect, committee member, speaker, new associate, new fellow, 25 years of fellowship, and more. I think I saw one proud delegate with four of them. I get the feeling that this is one idea that British actuaries will not be adopting.

Working parties
CAS has only just started forming volunteer working parties aimed at producing reports for plenary and breakout sessions at their meetings: they graciously acknowledged borrowing the concept from ‘Europe’. These embryonic working groups have applied themselves with just as much dedication as the best of the GIRO groups. My only gripe would be that there were very few advance papers available, so it wasn’t always easy to pick which sessions to attend. There was a programme of invited discussion papers and these were available in advance. However, all of the speakers at CAS were encouraged to supply their presentation material electronically to the organisers. Immediately after the meeting, all of these files were posted on the CAS website so that anybody, whether they attended a session or not (or even attended the meeting or not), can download them. This is a good idea, and one we should copy here. On the downside, there wasn’t a ‘please sign up to a working party’ opportunity, so I hope the enthusiasm displayed by the delegates isn’t allowed to dissipate. I think that we’ve learned in the UK that you have to strike while the iron’s hot!
As with GIRO, the technical sessions were a nice blend of highly theoretical material and more basic sessions. One of the best sessions was the reports of two commissioned studies by consultants on fair value accounting. The quality of the work presented suggested to me that the UK profession could usefully undertake more commissioned and paid-for research. I also liked a session in which the CAS’s attitude to professionalism issues was explored in some depth. Has there been a ‘moral maze’ session at GIRO?
Some things are the same wherever you go: the plenary sessions inevitably take place in a vast hall with the result that discussion is somewhat stilted, with a few delegates happy to grab the microphone in every session, and most left cowering in their seats! But the breakouts were lively, with many people prepared to ask questions or make comments. I know there is much debate about plenary versus breakout, and it’s true that you can never get to all the breakout sessions you would like, but the quality of participation is so much better in smaller groups.

Social events
I know some people disagree, but I actually like the formal GIRO dinner, particularly if the guest speaker is worth listening to. The CAS equivalent was a western-style indoor barbeque evening, complete with deafening western band. A pleasant enough evening, particularly as the weather was warm and you could go outside to escape the music, but to me it lacked the formality of a GIRO closing dinner, and the few announcements that the organisers made were missed or ignored by most present. That was a pity because, perhaps inevitably, the closing plenary session the next morning was poorly attended. It seemed as if the event faded away, rather than closed with a bang, if you get my drift. However, I liked the formal graduation ceremonies which allowed the newly qualified actuaries to receive their diplomas to the rightly earned applause of their peers. Something we could introduce?
One major difference between the two events did strike me: apart from the Disneyland Paris GIRO of 2002, it is rare to see partners and children at GIRO. Not so at CAS. Perhaps because of the sensational scenery and the superb resort, or perhaps because of the graduation ceremonies, there were many families accompanying delegates and there was a programme of events for them. I can’t recall a GIRO session being interrupted while a crying baby was carried out, but it certainly happened in Colorado Springs! I thought having the families along added to the atmosphere of the occasion and if it discouraged alcoholic excesses, then so much the better.
I always enjoy GIRO and I enjoyed my visit to Colorado. Everybody I met was welcoming and there was genuine interest in learning that there are actuaries across the pond (amazingly, I met more than one delegate who had never heard of the English Institute!). If anybody from CAS reads this, then please accept my gratitude for your hospitality. Maybe one day, I’ll get to another meeting.

You say tomato
One last point one evening in the bar, I was chatting a couple of US colleagues. We got to talking about the Olympics and I used the term ‘Olympic fortnight’. A bemused look crossed their faces. When I looked puzzled at their reaction, one of the Americans said: ‘We know what the word means, but I can’t believe you actually used the word “fortnight” in conversation. It’s something out of Shakespeare, isn’t it?’ Well, I guess it was Churchill who described the British and the Americans as two nations divided by a common tongue.
Verily (and forsooth!) see you in Killarney! o

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