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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Actuaries on the stage

Grace Huang, Hewitt Associates
In my previous life as a professional pianist, I envied people with ‘real jobs’ — imagine, enjoying music as a relaxing hobby! I decided I wanted to be one those people, and started my new actuarial career with the following foolproof plan: I would work in the day, study in the evenings, and keep my playing up in my spare time. No problem.

Suddenly one weekend, I noticed that there were piles and piles of ActEd material on top of my piano, where there used to be piles of music. I hadn’t sat down at the keys in about two months, and I was horrified to discover that my entire repertoire had gone right out of my fingers.

I realised how vital it was to keep practising and, as an incentive, agreed to a short performance on the South Bank earlier this year. It was definitely a challenge to fit rehearsals around work and study, but I always look forward to them, and feel rejuvenated afterwards.

Music will always be a part of me, and I’ve resolved never to neglect the piano again. My ActEd notes are now piling up in the kitchen instead.

Michael Hall, Alexander Forbes:
I was once accused of being too much of an extrovert to become an actuary. Yet after a few years away from the stage, I went and joined a local dramatics society, ending up with roles in productions of the Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire and the Gershwin musical Crazy For You. I played Steve in the former, a neighbour of Stella and Stanley Kowalski, with a habit of rowing with his wife and telling bad jokes about chickens, and Moose in the latter, one of a trio of singing cowboys bidin’ his time.

Now, although it’s safe to say the authors didn’t intend actuarial issues to be at the forefront of audiences’ minds, I did manage to fi nd a few references to things I’d studied in the exams. In Streetcar, Blanche DuBois bemoans the expense of paying for the funerals of members of her family. “Which one of them left us a cent of insurance, even? Only poor Jessie — one hundred to pay for her coffi n!” Aha, a failure to index the sum assured there.

Later in the play, Blanche tells how she and her family have lost their plantation: “Piece by piece our improvident grandfathers and father and uncles and brothers exchanged the land for their epic fornications — to put it plainly.” This seems to contradict the indivisibility of direct property investment holdings mentioned in CA1, although I don’t think the examiners would accept this reason for selling an investment.

Meanwhile, in Crazy For You, set at the ‘height’ of the Depression, the leading man sings, “My bonds and shares may fall downstairs who cares? Who cares? I’m dancing and I can’t be bothered now.” Or, as we’d put it, a collapse in the actuarial control cycle caused by failure to monitor the situation, exacerbated by the volatility of equity-type investments.

So, what have I gained from my dramatic experience? I feel my presentation skills have received a welcome boost — if you know what you’re going to say, or what you’re talking about, the thought of getting a message across to several hundred people in a suburban theatre or a handful of pension trustees in a boardroom shouldn’t scare you. Just make sure they can hear you, tell the story in the right way and don’t bump into the furniture.

Regarding the exams, I’m hoping that Tennessee Williams’ Louisianan purple prose didn’t infl uence my CA3 answer too much. I managed to avoid writing sentences like, “Oh Stella, your pension deficit is the same crimson red as the rage I saw in Stanley’s eyes.”

My dramatics group has gained a new committee member, by virtue of the fact I’m not afraid of spreadsheets. And a picture of me on stage slapping my bass is up by the printer at work, giving me a little boost each time I pick up a transfer value.