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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

100 years and counting

This month I had the great privilege of meeting Britain’s oldest actuary, Mr Edward Meredith Smith (‘Meredith’). Born on 16 May 1908, Meredith recently celebrated his 100th birthday, and took some time out to tell me about his 44-year career.

Meredith’s desire to become an actuary was triggered by a BBC radio programme on the actuarial profession in 1923, only a year after the BBC was established. At the age of 16, he left school and set about trying to find his way into one of London’s many insurance companies, and eventually secured himself a role as a clerk with Sun Life Assurance Society in the City of London.

He stayed in this role for a year and half, before joining the firm’s actuarial team, where he spent the remainder of his career. Meredith became a member of the Institute of Actuaries in 1928 and attained fellowship status in 1936. He still recalls the demanding route to qualification and cites it as one of the defining memories of his career. In particular, he recalls having to work extensive overtime to complete the company valuation following the great stock market crash in 1929, which required him to sacrifice his exams for the year.

Meredith’s career spanned an era of great technological change, and he described one of his most memorable projects: the mechanisation of Sun Life. When he joined Sun Life, the company relied on punch card machines to perform calculations (aside from the team of number-crunching actuaries whose processing speed often rivalled that of their mechanical colleagues). In the early 1960s, as the industry moved into an age of more modern computing power, Meredith was placed in charge of the project to purchase and implement a new computer installation on a budget of more than £400 000 (a great deal of money at the time). Under Meredith’s management, Sun Life became the first UK life office to update its records every day using a computer.

Travel featured heavily in Meredith’s career and his work took him on frequent trips to Paris, and to other parts of Europe. He also crossed the Atlantic to find out more about the mechanisation of life offices in Canada and North America, although he came back with the firm belief that the UK was well ahead in terms of efficiency. Meredith retired in 1969 and still resides in Kent where he has lived since 1929 and where he continues to enjoy his retirement.

A mere five years into my own career, it was both fascinating and inspiring to hear him speak about his experiences as an actuary, and prompted me to think about the stories of revolution and change that the current generation of actuaries will no doubt be sharing with future generations.

Amy Guna