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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

GIRO 2007 between Horace and a hard place

So, from the charm of Vienna in 2006,
the behemoth of general insurance
conferences shifted back to the UK.
Newport was the destination of GIRO
2007, or more precisely, for those actuarially
inclined, the Celtic Manor Resort the destination
of the Ryder Cup in 2010.
The General Insurance Research Organising
(GIRO) convention brings together a wide diversity
of general insurance actuaries: pricing,
reserving, consultants, scholars, and recruitment
consultants to mention but a few. Their
combined mass reached 540 delegates, another
record attendance. Clamouring for CPD, a twoand-
a-half-day actuarial flight of fancy was concocted
to cater for all. For those who believe
that this translates to ‘death by PowerPoint’
please read on, you may find yourself surprised.
GIRO 2007 teed off on Tuesday 2 October. With
three championship golf courses on the venue’s
doorstep this was an opportunity for many to
take the morning off and spend a few hours
‘relaxing’ on potentially some of the most challenging
courses in the UK. The first day preamble
finished with drinks in the evening and
a buffet dinner.
Newcomers were invited and welcomed to a
separate drinks reception. There was chatter
that it would be akin to the freshers’ ball at
university, where the second and third years
use any excuse to gatecrash in order to assess
what the future may hold. In reality it was a fine
opportunity for first-timers to meet and
befriend actuaries at similar stages in their
careers with common interests. Identity crisis what do I do again?
The opening plenary was looked upon with
trepidation, a room full of around 500 actuaries
is a lot of IQ, and expectations were high.
The new chair of the GIRO convention, Darren
Michaels, following on from Catherine Barton’s
successful tenure, did not disappoint. The crowd
was enthused by the GIRO ‘2-double-0-7’ gag,
in reference to the forthcoming James Bond
casino evening.
Duncan Anderson reported on the progress of
the General Insurance Premium Rating Issues
Working Party, and was the first to plug the
powerful use of the Wiki to build and share
knowledge through the industry. Greg Taylor
reported back on progress of his research into stochastic
loss reserving based on a unified model
of paid losses and case estimates. This research
was aided by funding from the profession.
If I had to infer who had drunk the most coffee
prior to the morning plenary, my money
would be on Jose Vazquez and Linley Ah
Chung. They certainly stole the morning show,
bubbling with energy and enthusiasm. Their
exploration of the role of the actuary speculated
across a wide range of disciplines. I found their
take on actuaries infiltrating the board level at
companies particularly interesting. I expect
there to be progress in such avenues within general
insurance over the coming years, especially
as it is still very much a developing discipline.
Following the opening plenary, the first installment
of concurrent workshops began. Five concurrent
workshop sessions consisting of a total
of 55 separate workshops were held over the
course of the convention. Delegates were each
able to pick their preferred sessions, with a
diverse range of subject matter at their disposal.
Rating agencies in the dock
Wednesday’s plenary sessions included some
further discussion on Solvency II. Kathryn Morgan
speculated that it could become a worldwide
pandemic, with the rest of the world
following Europe’s lead. Martin White and Ian
Moran discussed the International Accounting
Standards Board’s Accounting Proposals and
Actuarial Practice.
Lunch was followed by a potential banana
skin of a session seemingly deliberately set up
to invite controversy. Simon Martin discussed
potential areas of development needed in the
rating agency industry. His analysis and questions
challenged the industry’s internal and
external practices. This was neatly followed by
Damir Bettini, a representative from Fitch. His
response was eloquent but precise and gave a
confident display of the rating agencies’ selfbelief
in their business model.
Mark Flower then reported back on the Reinsurance
Counterparty Credit Risks Working
Party’s achievements over the past year. The
working party was later buoyed up by the news
that they had won this year’s Brian Hey prize,
which is presented to the best paper submitted
with practical actuarial application; many congratulations
to Mark and the working party.
The plenary came to a close as Tony Jones provided
some insight into the ongoing work of
the General Insurance Reserving Oversight
Committee. Tony also announced he will be
standing down as chair of the committee, and
thanked all those involved. Lis Gibson will be
picking up the baton.
The first full day closed with concurrent workshops.
There were some interesting and hot topics
mixed with some potentially ambiguous
titles such as ‘Casualty catastrophes how well
do you know them?’ (for which my preferred
subtitle is ‘I never even touched the shredder
honest guv!’) and ‘Up close and personal’.
With brains full of all things actuarial, people
sped back to their hotel rooms to prepare for
the 007 casino evening, held in Liquid nightclub,
Cardiff. A throng of delegates was shipped
off to enjoy an evening of eating, gambling,
drinking, and dancing. Among the notable
guests were James Bond himself and his archrival
Jaws (who gave me his business card so
if you require an evil henchman for an upcoming
event or dinner party, please get in contact).
What carbon footprint?
On Thursday morning there were two sessions
of concurrent workshops, with subject matter
including ‘Solvency II: QIS 3 and beyond’, ‘Irish
issues’, ‘Reserving through the soft market
how can actuaries do better?’, ‘Price monitoring
for commercial insurers’, and ‘Practical
experience with GN12’.
These two sessions were bisected by a packed
plenary, in which Darren Michaels and Colum
D’Auria discussed the future of GIRO. Trevor
Maynard and Graham Fulcher reported on the
findings of the Climate Change Working Party.
Sima Ruparelia informed delegates about the
efforts to offset the environmental impact of
GIRO. Delegates’ carbon emissions caused by
travel to Newport and Sorrento next year will
be offset, the delegates’ goody-bags were environmentally
friendly, and even the free convention
pens were made from cornstarch and treasured free GIRO pen melting in my hand;
fortunately I have been assured it should last for
another couple of years at least.
James Orr and Steve Patfield discussed the
Lighthill Risk Network, and Julian Leigh
updated delegates on the work of the General
Insurance Board.
Horace Stick-In-The-Mud
Arguably, the highlight of the conference was
the final plenary on Thursday. The discussion
on the exam structure touched on the new communications
exam, practice modules going
online, and exam dates being fixed year on year.
Neil Hilary then introduced Horace Stick-In-
The-Mud (aka Simon Sheaf), an actuary who
wasn’t particularly open minded to change. His
reaction to having two ST general insurance
exams was that it is ‘the end of life as we know
it’. He also waxed lyrical on the good old days
when ‘actuaries just dealt with people dying’,
and he backed up his well rounded judgement
with a comment that he was still not convinced
about ‘the benefits of electricity’. There were
numerous other classic quotes followed by a
short presentation on the OHP.
Jeff Setter (aka Tom Harris) responded with a
similarly amusing take on the exams. However,
Jeff was from a more modern school of thought
‘a GI company is a bit like the Starship Enterprise’;
and he took a more global approach
‘there are all sorts of exciting insurance places out
there: Bermuda, London, New York, Norwich’.
The plenary continued with a report from the
Enterprise Risk Management Working Party,
and an informative presentation by David
Hindley on the new Continuing Professional
Development regime. Camilla Bennett gave a
timely reminder about the EU equality directive,
and Julian Leigh informed delegates why
they should look forward to ASTIN 2008
(touted as the best general insurance conference
in the UK in 2008).
The day’s events drew to a close with the final
concurrent workshops session and an opportunity
for delegates to sign up to working parties
for 20078.
Does anyone know what gala means?
The bad news for those attending the final
evening’s events was that the gala dinner was
unfortunately cancelled as no one knew what
‘gala’ meant. It was replaced by a less catchy in
name but identical in substance ‘drinks reception
and convention dinner’.
The wine flowed and a fantastic meal was put
on. There was no need for a stand-up comic
this year as no one could match Horace’s ramblings.
Instead an authentic Welsh male voice
choir sang the night away. An opportunity for
guests to join in with the choir arose, with
some eager beavers literally sprinting to get to
the microphone.
Peter Copeman was deservedly awarded the
GIRO lifetime achievement award, one of which
has been presented at each of the past six GIRO
conventions. Peter’s name had been inadvertently
mentioned numerous times during the
conference, and it was revealed the presenters
had a small wager on who could mention his
name most often.
Redundancy II and packed lunches
The final day saw two plenary sessions to bring
GIRO 2007 to a conclusion. There were talks on
‘An inconvenient uncertainty reserve ranges,
are you doing the right thing?’, which included
an informative stint from Rebecca Driver with
her ‘rivers of blood’, which describe the predicted
path of inflation, and insight into the
Monetary Policy Committee. There were further
talks on ‘ICA education and guidance
update’, and from the Open Source ICA Model
Working Party.
The highlight of the first plenary was the
presidential address from Institute president
Nick Dumbreck. His presentation explored the
consequences of removing the words ‘solvency’
and ‘capital’ and replacing them with ‘redundancy’
and ‘actuarial’, with outlandish results
for the profession!
The final plenary of GIRO 2007 was dominated
by ‘ethicability’, run by occupational
philosopher Roger Steare. He explored the
boundaries of ethics and also put forward a
business case for ethics. What would you do if
cash machines were paying out ‘double
bubble’? It appears the average actuarial answer
is to give the money back, of course, unless
there is a big queue in the bank.
So from Vienna to Newport, and onwards to
Sorrento, Italy here’s to another ground- and
record-breaking GIRO, see you next year.