The Actuary has been connecting the actuarial community since 1990. In this 30th anniversary commemorative edition, some of our past editors tell us about their time at the helm.
Peter Tompkins Jul 1990–Jan 1992 & Jul 2000
To quote LP Hartley: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” Back in 1990, when we created The Actuary, we did not have email or the internet. The telephone and fax machine were our tools of communication, and the draft copy I would send back and forth peppered with printers’ marks was the form of mark-up used in newspaper production. The 10,000 readers we had then has risen to more than 30,000 today.
Our actuarial and business concerns were also very different. Pensions actuaries grappled with how to manage pension fund surpluses – in particular, how to avoid investment taxation if funding went beyond a government-stipulated maximum. The solvency of pension funds was hardly a matter for concern.
“The most remarkable change has been the worldwide reduction in extreme poverty”
General insurance was a nascent industry for actuaries, with stalwarts pioneering the use of actuarial science in Lloyd’s and the London Market. Life insurance products still operated within a dominant ‘with profit’ culture, though many of us felt the public had a poor understanding of what this meant (other than it feeling better than ‘without profit’). Insured pension policies often offered guaranteed rates to convert invested funds into annuities at laughably low rates of long-term interest – such as 4% when market rates stood at more than 11%. Life expectancy had yet to surge; in England, men retiring at 65 lived, on average, to 79. Those 14 years have risen to 19, putting a major burden on pension fund finances.
Across the world, life expectancy at birth has risen by 10-20 years in many countries. The most remarkable change has been the worldwide reduction in extreme poverty, which has fallen by two-thirds even as the population has risen by 40%. Globalisation – an exciting or resented term – has been behind much of this.
In European politics, the economic tide was driven by the push for a European Single Market within the increasingly powerful European Union. This came to fruition on 1 January 1992, with its disposal of a raft of tariff and non-tariff barriers and the goal of free movement of goods, services, people and capital. Now I wonder what happened to all that – and where we will end up.
Jennifer Lang Sept 1993–Mar 1995
When I arrived in London in 1992, an Australian actuary in her 20s, I was looking for opportunities to get involved in the UK profession. However, in the UK in the mid-1990s, the actuarial volunteering opportunities for a young Australian woman seemed to only be for roles that needed a lot of work – which is how I became editor of The Actuary. It was a great way to get to know the wider profession and the UK market.
We had a series of interviews with relevant politicians, the most memorable being with William Hague, who was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security during my editorial tenure. He was impressively on top of his brief as he talked about pensions and social security policy.
We published the first article I had read looking at potential links between severe weather claims in general insurance and climate change; at the time, the conclusion was that the increase in claim amounts was mostly because of higher insured exposure in weather-exposed areas, but that didn’t rule out climate change causes.
The fallout from the Lloyd’s LMX spiral and the Lloyd’s Names was happening in the background during this period, reminding actuaries of the importance of appropriate reserving for long tail business.
In retrospect, though, the breaking story at the time was the pensions mis-selling scandal, in which as many as two million people were wrongly advised to opt out of occupational schemes and take out personal pensions. It was an important lesson on what can go wrong if the long-term interest of customers isn’t properly considered. Gradually, we have taken social licence and best-interest duties much more seriously, but not without a number of subsequent scandals that led to poor outcomes for customers.
For me, editing The Actuary was the start of a love affair with writing – making sense of actuarial topics for the wider reader. When I returned to Australia I edited our local actuarial magazine, and now write a blog called Actuarial Eye, which has been going for 15 years.
I’m very grateful to the UK profession for taking a chance on me as a 20-something editor – the experience substantially enriched my professional life.
Martin Lunnon Apr 1995–Mar 1997 & Dec 2000
Looking back on copies of The Actuary from when I was editor, there were many issues covered. Some, such as changes to insurance regulations and accounting standards, were outside my area of expertise, and I had to trust the authors of the articles. Others covered the new and developing areas in which actuaries could work – whether this was new areas of business, or countries where our expertise could be useful (there were several articles on opportunities in Poland and, as a lover of that country, I’m pleased to see how it has developed economically since).
Most of my working life was spent in social security, on which there were few articles, and in pensions. The biggest issue in pensions in the mid to late-1990s was the introduction of the minimum funding requirement (MFR), which represented a major challenge for defined benefit pension funds and their sponsoring employers – and therefore also for their advisors. Was it, in retrospect, worth it?
The short answer seems to be ‘no’. The MFR was abolished after less than a decade, having been shown to be ineffective at protecting pension fund members – most obviously when people who had been made redundant from insolvent employers and lost large proportions of their pension rights protested naked outside political parties’ annual conferences.
“The biggest issue in pensions was the minimum funding requirement”
However, the MFR can be seen as a stepping-stone on the way to the present structure, with the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) offering assurance of some pension to members of defined benefit pension funds whose sponsoring employers become insolvent with insufficient funds to secure full benefits. This system has already lasted about twice as long as the MFR, and PPF finances appear to be strong.
The MFR’s replacement by scheme-specific funding, the PPF and The Pensions Regulator seem an example of things done well. There’s always criticism of organisations that do badly; perhaps we should spend as much effort on looking at things that have lasted and performed satisfactorily, with a view to understanding what made them resilient.
I wish The Actuary all the best on its 30th anniversary, and hope it continues in whatever forms are most suitable.
Matthew Edwards Jan 2003–Dec 2004
Of the ways in which actuaries can help the profession, being editor of The Actuary must be one of the best, even giving the CMI a run for its money! Before becoming editor, I had worked as a features editor, another fascinating role, helping commission articles on particular themes, negotiate any issues with authors, and improve clarity. Being the editor was an incredible opportunity to improve communication in the profession, promote new ideas, and influence actuaries in what I hoped were positive ways.
The issues back then don’t seem much different from those of today. SARS was watched with alarm, but was ‘managed away’ before it struck Europe badly. New regulations from the Financial Services Authority were in the offing. Data science and novel forms of pricing were becoming a big thing in property and casualty insurance. Longevity projections were ‘fickle’, and the resulting life expectancies disobedient. Capital modelling kept cynics amused.
“SARS was watched with alarm, but was ‘managed away’ before it struck Europe badly”
One of my duties was contributing a meaty editorial on some of the themes of the day, and it was surprisingly hard trying to add value and originality to these debates. That duty was what the Italians call ‘croce e delizia’ – a cross and a delight. There are many editorials I look back on with fondness (twinned with regret for a sometimes self-indulgent writing style) where the themes are still of interest. Such themes as ethics (‘On the ethical actuary’, following the FSA’s discussion paper on an ethical framework for financial services); fair value – at the time a novel concept (‘On the catallactic actuary’, noting Thomas Aquinas’s distinction between value and price); non-parametric methods for tail modelling (‘On the philoparametric actuary’); and modelling fundamentals (‘On the analogical actuary’, which grew to become a SIAS paper on the philosophy of modelling). All are long gone from the magazine’s website, but they linger on elsewhere on the web (www.lulu.com, the burial place of vain authors!).
The profession depends on enthuasiastic volunteers to help enthuse the rest of us: I greatly recommend helping with The Actuary as one of the best such opportunities. Few professions allow their members to spend a year or two as ‘amateur hacks’!
Marjorie Ngwenya Jan 2009–Dec 2011
I started my journey with The Actuary as a features editor, sourcing articles from contributors around the world. I was a few months away from qualifying and wanted to give back to the profession in a way that played to my strengths. Three years later, I became editor and broadened the role I was playing on the team.
Much of my time was spent engaging stakeholders with varied objectives, including the publishers, the IFoA, the Staple Inn Actuarial Society, readers, and volunteers who not only contributed quality content but also comprised the team that brought the magazine to life. This opened up my perspective on the profession from a practice area point of view, as well as geographically. The team was determined to produce content that was relevant to technicians and generalists alike, and had broad geographic applicability.
My tenure began amid the global financial crisis, when all flavours of risk management were in vogue. The IFoA was also launching the ST9 examination, and the Chartered Enterprise Risk Actuary qualification with the US’s Society of Actuaries. It’s hard to believe that’s now more than a decade ago!
“My tenure began amid the financial crisis, when risk management was in vogue”
Environmental matters were increasingly prominent. The question of publishing an electronic-only version of the magazine arose and was never concluded, with split views among readers. Perhaps we are now living through the time for these changes.
Solvency II consultations were under way and we received several contributions on the implications for European insurers. Those blueprints paved the way for many global insurance supervisory regimes.
My time as editor was hugely beneficial to my career and personal development. I broadened my professional horizons, expanded my networks and engaged with delightful people. One of my favourite conversations was with Roger Bootle, an honorary IFoA fellow. His view was that economists and actuaries needed to collaborate more: “I’ve always thought that there’s potential for a lot of cross-fertilisation, if only the economists would climb down from their ivory tower and confront the structure of real-world problems.” Since then I’ve seen a number of collaborative efforts in the domain of behavioural economics that have inspired me.
Deepak Jobanputra Jan 2012–Dec 2013
I recall being ‘encouraged’ to get involved with the actuarial profession by colleagues, but there was always a voice in my head saying I was too busy. Looking back, it was a highly rewarding experience and, although it made me busier still, it made me grow in a number of different ways, and has made me an even greater debtor to our profession.
The role provided a great opportunity to experience a wide range of topics, beyond traditional areas of life insurance, general insurance, pensions and investments. There was a drive to explore wider fields and seek out interviews from fields where actuarial skills could apply. Today we often come across actuaries applying their skills in a much broader way than in the past, which I hope will continue.
“There was a shift in the IFoA’s membership base, which became truly international”
At the time there was a shift in the IFoA’s membership base, which moved from being very UK-centric to being truly international, bringing great diversity and enhancing our profession. Nostalgia reminds me of the international supplement, which included success stories of actuaries around the world sharing their experiences.
It seems a long time ago that I was editor and it has benefitted me greatly, especially in dealing with deadlines when the press is ready to roll. I vividly recall times when we had literally minutes to review and approve specific articles. Editorial meetings were also great fun, due in large part to the fantastic team of volunteers and staff, and often we would spend an inordinate amount of time debating what picture should go on the front cover – it’s amazing how animated we all became about this. One particular editorial that lives with me is one I wrote about time, and it seems quite fitting in some ways in relation to our current experience with COVID-19. I was trying to convey the message that we lead such busy lives that we dare not ‘waste’ time, but ‘wasting’ time can actually be just what we need to unwind and reflect.
I shall forever be grateful for the opportunity of being the editor and how it helped me connect with our profession. I would urge all members to volunteer in any way they can.