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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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Appreciation: Sir Brian Corby

Brian Corby, who died on 23 April 2009 (aged 79) after suffering a stroke while on holiday in India, was blessed with a prodigious talent. He used his abilities, combined with an extraordinary work ethic, to give outstanding service over a long career. After reading mathematics at St John’s College, Cambridge, he joined the Prudential Assurance Company in 1952. He made rapid progress through the actuarial examinations and qualified as a fellow of the Institute in 1955, when he was awarded the Joseph Burn prize for special merit in passing the examinations.

In her book A Sense of Security, marking the 150th anniversary of the Prudential, Laurie Dennett remarked “Corby’s intellectual and managerial qualities had made his rapid rise to the top rank a foregone conclusion”. On returning to London after four years’ service in South Africa, he became a member of a new hand-picked team reviewing the entire departmental functioning of head office. There was inevitably some resistance to change but, aided by his “firm but softly spoken authority that married integrity and common sense”, the experience served him well.

In the 1970s he was promoted to deputy general manager and then to general manager; and became chief actuary at the end of the decade. By that time a non-insurance holding company — Prudential Corporation — had come into being, not least to facilitate moves into wider fields. Brian was appointed group chief executive of the new enterprise in 1981 and, later, an executive director. On retiring in 1990, he became chairman of the Corporation, a post he held until 1995. He was knighted in 1989.

The 1980s proved to be a demanding time. The pace of change, and the competitive environment in financial services, meant that the company’s traditional source of business — its directly employed field force — needed to be rationalised and new distribution channels developed. Brian, anxious to ensure that the former should be achieved without creating huge staffing difficulties, became much involved in this tricky exercise. One attempt to widen distribution — the purchase of estate agencies — was unsuccessful and proved to be a costly venture. It was later abandoned, albeit with unpalatable losses. However, at much the same time, Brian was heavily involved in a more significant, and ultimately highly successful, exercise. This was the decision to enter the US market through the purchase of Jackson National Life in 1986. With an innovative product range and wide distribution channels, Jackson grew rapidly, and is now one of the Corporation’s four main business units.

Following professor Gower’s Review of Investor Protection, a Financial Services Act was passed in 1986. Brian had been a member of an advisory group and, believing that the central tenets of the legislation were already enshrined in the business conduct of most reputable companies, welcomed the thrust towards higher standards. Years later there were uncomfortable consequences.

As part of measures to mitigate future costs of state pensions, the government encouraged rapid growth of personal pensions, not least through tax incentives, and provisions were enacted whereby employees could elect to opt out of occupational schemes. The Prudential went on record to express concern about these provisions. However, the company could not escape unfavourable, and to some extent unwarranted, publicity in the furore which arose in the 1990s when the regulators instigated a comprehensive review of the selling of personal pensions. The industry incurred heavy costs in undertaking the review and in paying compensation where necessary.

Notwithstanding his other responsibilities, Brian devoted much time to the Institute. He served on Council over most years from 1970 to 1988, including service as honorary secretary and as vice-president. He was chairman of the Professional Guidance Committee for several years and served on numerous other committees. He also supported the work of the Groupe Consultatif. His paper Actuaries and Professional Conduct (JIA 107) was an important milestone in the development of professional standards.

Brian recognised the importance for the profession of developing actuarial skills in new areas of work and, not least because others were aware of his abilities, he was offered numerous external posts. In the midst of all the upheavals of the 1980s he became chairman of the newly formed Association of British Insurers and, in the same year (1985), was appointed a director of the Bank of England. It was only after his ‘retirement’ in 1990 that his work extended into wider fields. He became president of the CBI, president of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, chairman of the South Bank Board, chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire and president of the Geneva Association, as well as being a non-executive director of other organisations.

He maintained an active lifestyle until his untimely death. To the extent that, following Francis Bacon’s dictum, Brian owed a debt to his profession, he repaid that debt many times over. Those who had the privilege of knowing him will remember him with respect and deep gratitude, not simply for the intellectual and other qualities referred to above, but also for his most pleasant and imperturbable manner, his willingness to consider other points of view and, not least, his sense of humour.

Brian is survived by his wife Elizabeth, who gave him much support throughout his demanding career, and by their son and two daughters.

Derek Fellows