[Skip to content]

Sign up for our daily newsletter
The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Appreciation: Jack Plymen

Forty-five years ago Jack recruited me to be his assistant. I came to know him very well professionally. He was a pioneer. Within his chosen field, he made a substantial contribution. There is an old joke comparing an actuary with an accountant. It is that the definition of an actuary is someone who has found accountancy too exciting. Forget it. Jack found actuarial work exciting because his field really was so by normal standards. I want to share some of that excitement with you.

Jack was very lucky in that he was in the right place at the right time to employ his formidable talents to the full. He chose to specialise in applying mathematics to investment. Before 1948 a company’s accounts did not have to include those of its wholly owned subsidiaries. Something could be hidden by transfers out of the parent’s accounts into those of a subsidiary. As Jack would say, the books could be fiddled. This meant that the raw material of company accounts was not much use for analysis.

All this changed when consolidation of accounts became mandatory in 1948. With useful raw material available for the first time and with the arrival of computers, Jack was one of the group who developed techniques and pioneered investment analysis in the UK.

Jack played a leading role in founding the Financial Times Actuaries Index of the stockmarket, which was an accurate tool for measuring the relative performance of investment portfolios (this was similar to inventing the retail price index for measuring inflation for the first time). The index was the forerunner of similar indices all round the world. Jack was a member the actuarial profession’s investment committee for 18 years (starting in 1960) and chairman for seven years (1968–1975).

Jack was the author or co-author of no fewer than 13 formal papers about investment and analytical techniques ‘read’ to either the Institute of Actuaries in London or the Faculty of Actuaries in Edinburgh, or both. They were published in one or other of the actuarial journals and became reference works available worldwide. Jack, very ably supported by Eva, was also tireless in attending actuarial and investment congresses. He became very well known internationally. In 2000, in recognition of all this, he was given an award of honour by the Worshipful Company of Actuaries.

Businesswise, Jack was appointed investment manager of Atlas Assurance in 1947. In 1953 he left to join Grievson Grant to go stockbroking. In 1958 he switched firms to join W Greenwell & Co, where he remained until he retired.

At times Jack did not seem very interested in his conclusions. He could be very diffident about them. He had a lovely turn of phrase – simple English, a dry remark, a throwaway line, with lethal effect. I remember him going into Pip Greenwell’s office, that is, our senior partner’s office, and saying that he had been doing some research into a certain insurance company. Pip said ‘Oh yes’ and did not pay much attention. As Jack was leaving the room he said ‘they are going bust’. Pip grabbed Jack’s report, read it quickly and promptly locked it in the safe. If we had circulated it to clients and Jack had been wrong, we would have been sued for so much money that the firm would have ceased to exist. Six months later Jack was proved right and it was Vehicle & General Insurance that had ceased to exist.

Summarising, Jack was a pioneer, an excellent analyst, widely respected, both at home and abroad, and very able at marketing both himself and his firm. He was a great man.