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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Figurehead with head for figures

IN OCTOBER 2000the pope proclaimedThomasMore the patronsaint of politicians. StThomas is seen bymany people as asymbol of integrity,which clearly makeshim the ideal candidatefor the job.There are manyother examples ofwell-known individualsassociated withparticular professions.Nurses haveFlorence Nightingale.Doctors have Hippocrates. Is there an historic figurewho personifies actuarialness? Indeed, what are thecharacteristics that would single out someone as asymbol of the profession?If we could find a suitable person, it could come inhandy. Imagine how much time could be saved at partiesexplaining what an actuary was if you were ableto say, for example, ‘actuaries are the Nostradamusesof the financial world’. At worst, it would change thetopic of conversation from ‘what’s an actuary?’ to‘who was Nostradamus?’.So who would you choose? A suitable criterionmight be that, if the person lived today, they wouldmake a good actuary.One possibility might be Cassandra, daughter ofKing Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. The GodApollo was quite fond of her, and in an attempt towoo her, granted her the gift of prophecy, an idealquality for a career as an actuary. Unfortunately, manyof Cassandra’s prophecies were fairly pessimistic, andpeople didn’t take her seriously. For example, whenshe predicted that the Greeks would invade Troy in agiant wooden horse, she was dismissed as a madwoman.Perhaps if she had lived today, and decided to pursuea career as an actuary, studying subject 201 mighthave prepared her for the challenges of communicatingbad news to sceptical audiences. In any case, herfailure to be taken seriously might make her an unsuitable choice fora role model.Another mythologicalpossibility isJanus, the RomanGod after whom Januarywas named.Images of Janus normallyhave a headwith two faces, onelooking backwardsand one forwards.This could be used torepresent actuaries’ability to look intothe past to helppredict the future.On the other hand,the connotations of having two faces are generallyunfavourable, so I suggest we should rule out Janus aswell.I seem to be able to rule out more people than I canrule in. Nostradamus might also be unsuitable, owingto his reputation for not being any more successful atmaking predictions than Mystic Meg. I’m havingtrouble thinking of a suitable patron saint as well –not many actuaries’ regular duties include fightingdragons or chasing snakes or being put to a grislydeath by Romans.Clearly, I need your help. Do you know of anypeople of historical significance that possessed thequalities required in an actuary? Any patron saintsthat made financial sense of the future? Anyone whorepresents the ideals set out in the Vision and Valuespaper and whose association with the professionwould help to strengthen its image?A selection of suggestions received by 15 May will beincluded in June’s letters page.