[Skip to content]

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

Getting the message

Wise words, spoken over 30 years ago
by FM Redington, former president of
the Institute of Actuaries. And this message seems to be even more relevant to us today.

Promoting the profession
The Institute of Actuaries is right now working to encourage actuaries to gain training of a more general nature: communication skills, people management, report-writing, and sales skills. According to extensive research conducted by the Institute, these tend to be the skills which actuaries lack, and this can limit their employment opportunities. The profession is promoting itself in the business community, persuading employers that having an actuary on board can bring many benefits, and not just those traditionally associated with the actuarial role. But why is such an established profession having to be promoted so rigorously?

Telling of the doing
‘If you cannot in the long run tell everyone what you have been doing, your doing has been worthless.’
Erwin Scrodinger, physicist
This does seem to be the main downfall of actuaries the telling of the doing. Actuarial skills are acquired through many years of arduous study and toil, and result in mathematical abilities that contribute hugely to the finance, insurance, investment, and consulting world, and to society in general. Yet the profession is struggling to maintain its value because it seems to lack the skills to tell the world how it contributes. In short, many actuaries don’t seem to be able to sell themselves. Many other professions have to sell themselves to survive. Their clients are people, individuals with whom they must connect and communicate, whom they must sometimes reassure. If they are unable to do this, their clientèle will go elsewhere and they will be out of business.
Many actuaries work within organisations that require only their actuarial skills, so when they are employed it is for those skills, not for their personality, team-building skills, motivational skills, communication skills, or anything else interpersonal. For many this presents no problems, but there is no doubt that the acquiring of additional skills can open up many more opportunites.

Communicating at board level
In Frank Redington’s day, all chief actuaries reported directly to the chief executive. The norm now is for the chief actuary to report to the finance director, although there are exceptions, and these tend to be actuaries with good language and communication skills. Boards need personnel who will give them the facts without blinding them with science or mathematics, and this often means that they prefer to listen to a straight-talking finance director.

A basic skill
Actuaries tend to be intelligent people, but too many seem to lack that very basic skill that binds society together: the ability to communicate.
‘An actuary must then be a mathematician, but a mere mathematician will be a very incompetent actuary.’
Arthur Bailey
So few of the general public are clear on the role of an actuary. Indeed, many have never even heard of the profession. Yet it touches everybody’s lives, from pensions to life insurance, savings, and investments. Unlike politicians and councillors, who also affect people’s lives from behind the scenes, actuaries often remain anonymous. MPs tend to enter non-executive board roles and other advisory roles in a consultative capacity, in recognition of their knowledge and ability to implement and communicate that knowledge. Their professional scope is vast. Not so for the apparently mute actuary.

Think outside the box
So, what can be done about it? The Institute is investing a lot in educating the business community and preparing individual actuaries through training opportunities so that they can live up to the image projected to employers. But responsibility for the future of the profession lies with every single actuary.
Maybe it’s time to think ‘outside the box’, to dream a little about what you want and where your skills can take you, then see how you can improve your skills to be able to achieve those goals. But surely the first lesson you can learn is:
‘Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.’ William Butler Yeats