[Skip to content]

Sign up for our daily newsletter
The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

The Worshipful Company of Actuaries

Many years ago I needed to be in London on a December evening which coincided with the profession’s carol service. Partly inspired by curiosity, I decided to attend, noting as I did that it was organised by the Worshipful Company of Actuaries, an organisation of which I had heard but, apart from its rather grand name, knew absolutely nothing. I hoped that I might find out more about the organisation. In that respect I was to be disappointed, although otherwise it proved to be a very enjoyable evening. Could this organisation be such a great secret that, even after you had attended one of its most outward-looking events, you would be left no better informed as to its purpose?

Mystery and myth
The sense of mystery was compounded by talking to other actuaries, some well respected in the profession, who likewise knew this organisation only by name and had thus assumed it to be some sort of secret actuarial society whose members take an oath of secrecy to prevent the outside (actuarial) world finding out what really happens within its membership. There was a little published in the Institute Yearbook, since then expanded and transferred to the profession’s website. However, apart from naming the officers of the company, this only gave the briefest of statements of its objectives, including somehow ‘supporting the government of the City of London’ and only really compounded the mystery. Odd stories about its members herding sheep across London Bridge further added to the sense that maybe this was the sort of organisation that it is best not to know about.
A chance meeting with another actuary who let slip that an event clashed with a dinner of the Worshipful Company meant I had found someone who was a member and who might be prepared to tell me what it was. This led eventually to my becoming a liveryman (‘member’ in plain English). Another chance comment over dinner led to an invitation to write an article aimed at explaining the role of the company for the benefit of others.

Part of the process of becoming a liveryman involves receiving the freedom of the City of London. Both of these involve participation in ceremonies which date back centuries even if, in the case of the Worshipful Company of Actuaries, the traditions were actually copied relatively recently from other livery companies with an older pedigree. These livery companies were established over a period of many years and represented those who plied particular trades. They acted not only to protect their members but also to establish standards of practice. As a city founded on trade and enterprise, the City of London permitted these companies to play a very influential role in the government of the City. Each year the Lord Mayor of the City of London (not to be confused with the Mayor of London) is elected from within the ranks of the various livery companies. The companies also have been heavily involved in charitable and educational works, probably the best known of which is the establishment of schools for the sons and daughters of members of the company. Notable examples include the City of London Boys’ School, the City of London Girls’ School, Merchant Taylors’, Haberdashers’, and Tonbridge.
Many of the older companies whose principal commercial activities have passed out of recognition now admit members who do not ply the trade associated with their foundation. Indeed, I know of at least three actuaries who are liverymen of diverse companies with no direct connection to their career as actuaries. Often this association lies within a family. The Worshipful Company of Actuaries, as a younger company within a thriving profession, does not currently look outside the ranks of its natural population.
The Worshipful Company was incorporated in 1979, largely as a result of the efforts of a few dedicated actuaries: Geoffrey Heywood, Henry Cottrell, and Ron Abbott. From the start the charitable aims of the established companies were predominant in the thinking of the company. Adapting these ideals to meet the needs and opportunities of the latter part of the 20th century meant that, rather than founding new schools, the company has been involved in different ways, and currently provides bursaries for 11 actuarial students on courses at UK universities. Each year, prizes are awarded to students in the actuarial examinations who have shown exceptional talent.

City of London
The Worshipful Company of Actuaries inherits the tradition of involvement in the life of the City of London, although it should be noted that residence or employment within the City is not a requirement of membership. The Worshipful Company has yet to have a member elected as Lord Mayor, although Ken Ayers served as the Lay Sheriff a few years ago.

The profession
Obviously, the company maintains its links with the actuarial profession. It may be noted that many of the traditional roles of the original livery companies, particularly in relation to setting standards, are now carried out by the profession through the Faculty and Institute, rather than by the livery company. This separation of roles is one of the features of modernisation of the professions and it certainly improves standards of professional governance. As a result, the livery companies can concentrate on their charitable and educational pursuits.

Although the Worshipful Company is emphatically not a dining club, its members do meet three times a year, usually in a hall of one of the other City livery companies, to enjoy a dinner together. These events are often an occasion for welcoming new members. There is also an annual dinner at the Mansion House. A number of other events are arranged, many with a charitable aim. An annual swimathon raises substantial amounts for charity. In addition, there is an annual golf day and a bridge evening. Of course, there is also the annual actuarial carol service at St Lawrence Jewry church in the City of London, which is followed by a supper this year’s will be on Wednesday 11 December (see Calendar p14).