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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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Letters: Andrew Sawers

I was amused to read your letters page regarding the proposal to merge the Faculty and the Institute. I wasn’t aware that such a thing was being debated but it made me laugh as it reminded me of the recent failed merger effort in the accountancy profession.

Your readers may well be familiar with the fact that there are not two but five ways to be an accountant in the UK. The ICAEW looks after many of them south of the border, ICAS takes care of the Scots, CIMA is the preserve of accountants in business (rather than public practice), CIPFA is the public sector’s accountancy body and ACCA is a popular membership body, with particular strength around the world.

In 2005, the three-way merger between the ICAEW, CIMA and CIPFA was endorsed by the latter’s membership, rejected by the former’s and aborted by the one in the middle. Passions were high with some members arguing the merger should have happened years ago, others took the ‘over my dead body’ line.

Furthermore, for decades there have been attempts to merge the English/Welsh institute with the Scottish — all of which have proved to be unpalatable. Finally, just a few years ago, the Scots more or less drew a line under the whole thing, citing devolution as a reason why it was necessary to preserve their own institute, echoing a point made by some of your correspondents.

One thing that I think most people overlook is that there is an in-built British aversion to vesting all power into one body. You just have to look at the nature of our constitutional monarchy, or the regimental structure of the army. There used to be a jokey one-liner: ‘Why is there only one Monopolies Commission?’ Even there, the truth is we have the Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading to look at such matters.

My point is that, whatever the logic in support of a merger in the actuarial profession, logic plays only a part of the argument — and the failure of pure logic to have the upper hand could well result in a typically, delightfully, eccentrically British solution, one that works well despite the ‘logical’ flaws.

Andrew Sawers
Editor, Financial Director
1 May 2008