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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

100 years of SIAS

The year 2010 will be remembered for many things, not least as the year the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries formally merged to become a single body and voice for the UK profession. This year has also seen many firsts: the first British coalition government in many years, the first World Cup to be held in Africa (although not the first time the England team failed to live up to expectations!). Perhaps less well known is that 2010 sees the Staple Inn Actuarial Society (SIAS) celebrate its first 100 years. To mark the occasion, this article takes a brief look at the Society both now, and how it was in the past.

The early years
First, we turn back the clock to the autumn of 1910. Back then, there was very little support for those wanting to become an actuary. For many subjects, there were no correspondence courses or even recommended reading lists. Not surprisingly, the demand arose for a forum where students could discuss their ideas and further their knowledge. Hence, in November 1910, the Institute of Actuaries Students’ Society, as it was then known, was officially born. William Palin Elderton (later Sir) was appointed the first chairman of the Society.

The original objectives of the Society included helping students prepare for exams and equipping them with the practical knowledge that is essential to being an actuary. Thankfully, actuarial education has come a long way in the past 100 years, so there is now less need for the Society to directly support students in the preparation of exams. Instead, the Society today aims to supplement the technical and softer skills students gain from taking exams, as well as offering a valued opportunity for qualified actuaries to gain CPD (something that certainly wasn’t around 100 years ago). The Society also supports a lively social calendar where members of the Profession can get to know each other.

Social events
Today the Society has a busy social calendar, with 10 or so social events each year. The highlights usually include a boat party on the Thames, a poker tournament and the Annual Supper. The last of these is another long-running tradition, initiated in 1929 when 73 members gathered after the AGM.

Today the Supper has grown into an event in its own right, with over 550 members attending each year. Many of the early suppers would play host to very popular amateur dramatics productions and reviews after the dinner. More recently the dinners have tended to adopt a theme, such as ‘James Bond’ or other film characters, which have resulted in some interesting examples of fancy dress. This year the event will commemorate SIAS’s centenary in style on 26 November at the magnificent Old Billingsgate Market and promises to be “a night of visual surprises and electric entertainment”. Anyone who attended last year’s Ball knows it’s an event not to be missed. Details of SIAS events appear in The Actuary magazine every month, and are also available on our website www.sias.org.uk

The meetings or ‘programme events‘ have always been one of the main tools to achieve the educational goals of the Society. The meetings have always begun with one or two speakers providing the opening remarks, usually referring to a paper or presentation they have prepared on an actuarial or related subject. Following this, the discussion is opened up to the floor. More recently, in order to maximise participation from younger members, an incentive is offered in the form of a bottle of champagne for, separately, the best contribution from a student, and a qualified actuary with less than five years’ experience.

Today, the highlight of the annual programme calendar is the Jubilee Lecture. Fiona Morrison’s introduction tells more of that story. The programme meetings, perhaps just as importantly, do have a social element to them. After the meetings, members usually head over to a nearby pub such as the Cittee of Yorke (or Henekey’s as it will be known by some) for some drinks and a buffet.

Many will be aware that SIAS publishes The Actuary magazine. Perhaps less well known are some of the other publications and magazines that came before it. The first was the Journal of the Institute of Actuaries Students’ Society (JSS), which was published in the early years to collect together the papers/contents of many of the early meetings. These were considered useful material for students preparing for their exams.

In 1947 the first edition of Random Muse was published, the Society’s first foray into a more lighthearted publication, including puzzles and humorous stories among some serious articles. However, the magazine came to an end after 18 months and 13 issues, before being resurrected one last time for the Society’s golden jubilee in 1960.

The desire for a magazine to communicate with members was not lost, however, and in 1978 a new publication was introduced called Fiasco. This new magazine was anything but a fiasco, quickly becoming a great success. Its ability to communicate very effectively with the membership also did not go unnoticed by the Profession’s public relations committee. So, in 1990 SIAS re-launched the magazine, but now with the support of the Institute and Faculty, to reach the Profession’s entire membership while acting as a more efficient medium of communication for the Institute and Faculty. From then on the magazine was known as The Actuary and, ever since, has continued to develop and prosper with, today, over 21,500 readers worldwide, an online edition and video content.


SIAS in numbers

At the Golden Jubilee in 1960 there were over 1,000 members of SIAS; at the 75th anniversary there more than 3,300; and today there are nearly 6,000 members worldwide.

What’s in a name?
As time went by, the name Institute of Actuaries Students’ Society seemed to less adequately capture what the Society was all about; by now it was focusing on the interests of the Profession’s younger members more generally, not just students, and also acting as the south-east regional actuarial society. Therefore, in 1986 the Society changed its name, drawing inspiration from its home, Staple Inn, to form what we now know as the Staple Inn Actuarial Society. However, we note that the Society has not always been able to call Staple Inn its home after a flying bomb destroyed the hall towards the end of World War II, in 1944. It was another 11 long years before the hall was fully restored in 1955. During the intervening period, venues such as the Chartered Insurance Institute were generously made available to the Society.

Another focus of the Society has been supporting other worthy causes. The most notable past projects have included the sponsorship of research projects at City University, and supporting the acquisition for the Institute’s library of historical actuarial texts. More recently, the Society offers means-tested bursaries to promising actuaries of the future, as well as a charity-matching programme and sponsorship of other research projects.

We are also supporting a Royal Society Education Research Fellowship being sponsored by the Worshipful Company of Actuaries’ Charitable Trust. This is an exciting five-year project to evaluate the benefits of mathematics education as a means of training the mind. There has been much speculation about the wider benefits of maths education but little or no hard evidence, and this research should make a real difference. A fantastic project to support as we enter our second century.

For those eager to read more about SIAS’s history, we recommend the Student’s Society Log published in 1985 or the series of articles written for The Actuary in the early nineties entitled the ‘History of Staple Inn Actuarial Society’ by Mike Kipling. It leaves us only to thank those who have given valuable contributions in writing this article, and to wish SIAS another prosperous 100 years!

SIAS Centenary content:

A century of celebrations by Fiona Morrison

100 years of SIAS by Richard Purcell and James Williamson

An audience with... Nick Dumbreck

SIAS profiles