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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Profession: Networks: Join the club

I am a member of the Scottish Individual Actuaries (SIA). As the name implies, we are actuaries based in Scotland (FFAs and FIAs), working as sole practitioners or with just one or two actuarial colleagues. We work in different areas of actuarial practice, but meet regularly to discuss matters of common interest. We are involved in most areas of actuarial work — pensions, life assurance, investment, legal support, mortality, and so on. Our clients range from private individuals and other professional advisers to small and medium-sized companies. Some of us also provide advice, direction and support to larger companies, institutions and government. While some of these clients are Scotland-based, many are based elsewhere in the UK and overseas.

Potential benefits of a professional network
While peer review is an obvious form of mutual support, we are acutely aware that, as individuals, we may not be fully conversant with all the issues that exist in all other practice areas. To address this gap, we correspond and meet on at least a quarterly basis, with a full and varied agenda. Each topic is tackled with a lead presenter, with opportunities for all present to ask questions and seek guidance from those with greater knowledge or experience. We recognise that we need to be aware of the broader issues that our clients may raise. We therefore use each other for support — a sort of peer network.

Since we are mostly self-employed, our standard of care and attention to client matters is not just a matter of personal pride as our reputations are at stake. Indeed, we may find ourselves providing independent advice that may contrast, or even conflict, with advice received by our clients from other sources. It is exciting and demanding, but immensely satisfying work.

How the SIA works
There is no formal chairman and secretary for our meetings — these roles are undertaken in alphabetic turn by all members, with the secretary responsible for recording each meeting and preparing minutes for distribution to anyone unable to attend. The secretary then chairs the next meeting. All very democratic! Our time at each meeting — usually between two to two and half hours — is recorded for formal CPD purposes.

Guest speakers are also a common feature of our meetings, and the specialists to date have included a director of BAS, a leading corporate lawyer, an accountant prominent in corporate finance and several authorised investment specialists. The small group allows significant interaction and questioning, and the debates usually continue through to dinner where, we would stress, there are no speeches or toasts.

We are not aware of any other similar groups in the UK. At our last meeting in March 2010, we reviewed the function and evolution of the SIA. We agreed that since its inception in 2003 it had been a successful and rewarding period for us all. Some of our members are coming to the end of their fulltime careers but want the SIA to continue and thrive. Thus we are inviting all eligible actuaries, Institute or Faculty fellows to consider joining SIA, to share common interests and learn from each other. Such actuaries will typically be working on their own or with one or two other colleagues at most and be able to attend our sessions in Edinburgh or Glasgow.

SIA is a self-help group, none of whose members have access to any formal support or research services that exist in larger firms. We help each other in a very noncompetitive way. As might be expected from a Scottish group, we have engineered matters so that there are no annual fees or charges, other than a nominal fee for the use of a meeting room. At the end of each meeting too, those members who wish to dine together in comfortable surroundings may do so.

SIA is informal, but constructive and valuable for its members. If you meet the sole practitioner or small firm condition, would you like to consider joining the group? We are also happy to assist any actuary considering setting up in business, developing research or extending an entrepreneurial ambition.

Gordon Bagot is a member of the Scottish Individual Actuaries. If you are interested in joining the SIA, please contact Gordon at gordon.bagot@googlemail.com