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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

In the hot seat: Nick Dumbreck

How did you end up where you are today?
I studied maths at Cambridge, which I found
quite difficult until the final year, when I was
able to specialise in probability and statistics.
I joined the UK operation of Imperial Life of
Canada in 1976, and stayed there for nearly
ten years, ending up as appointed actuary.
When Imperial Life acquired another company,
relocated to Gloucestershire, and
created a slimmed-down senior management
team which excluded the appointed actuary, I decided
it was time to move on. I joined R Watson & Sons
(now Watson Wyatt) and became head of the insurance
and financial services practice in 1995.
What was the toughest challenge of your career?
It is probably still to come. As far as my career to date is
concerned, I think it relates to the work I have done in
the Caribbean, where some companies have taken large
mismatching risks. Formulating appropriate advice in
these circumstances is straightforward, but gaining
acceptance for it can be much harder. The lack of consistent
local professional standards has not helped.
What is a key strength and weakness?
My job involves a lot of competing demands on my
time, and I think I am reasonably good at remaining
calm under pressure except when driving! As for
weaknesses, there are plenty: I am not very good at
showing appreciation, for example, and have a tendency
to lose concentration in long meetings.
What good book have you read recently?
I tend only to read books when I am on holiday, but I
have been working my way through Patrick O’Brian’s
series of novels about two officers in Nelson’s navy
which I would happily recommend to anyone. I am
also reading Peter Ackroyd’s London the Biography,
but regard finishing it as a long-term project.
What famous person do you most admire?
I am wary of admiring people I don’t know personally,
because they often turn out to be less admirable than
first appearances suggest. Since I don’t know many
famous people, that narrows the field considerably. Of
the well-known people I have worked with, James
Crosby has impressed me the most particularly for
his energy and the quality of his strategic analysis.
How do you contribute to the profession and its
development? How would you like to see others
I am in my second term on the Institute Council and
my main role is in education, where I am deputy chairman
of the ECPD Board and chairman of the implementation
committee for the new education strategy.
I think there is scope to involve more actuaries in the
work of the profession, particularly as members of
research working parties. I am sure there are plenty of
people out there just waiting to be asked, but we tend
to pick those with previous experience.
What will be the most significant issues facing the
actuarial profession in the next five years?
One is how to attract our fair share of the most able
numerate graduates. I firmly believe that the actuarial
profession will continue to prosper for as long as it succeeds
in the war for talent. Another is how to broaden
the scope of the profession while retaining the distinctiveness
of what we do.
What is the one lesson you would pass on to young
members of the profession?
Put more into the profession and you will get more out
of it.
What is the key issue facing the insurance industry in
your view from your consulting perspective?
How to distribute its products in a cost-effective way,
particularly to lower income groups.
What was your dream career when you were younger?
I don’t remember having one when I was very young
I always assumed I would end up working in an
office. However, I have been interested in wine since
making my own as a teenager, and would love to have
been a wine expert.
What is the most frequently asked question of you
and what is your answer?
At work, I spend most of my time on mergers and
acquisitions and it’s ‘Do you have a conflict in relation
to XYZ transaction?’ The answer depends on the circumstances.
At home, it’s ‘Are you going to be in early
this evening?’ (early meaning before about 8.30). The
answer is not always reliable!
Where in the world would you most like to go to and
Of the places I’ve already visited, probably South
Africa. I went there eight times in 1998 when I was
independent actuary for the Sanlam demutualisation
and thoroughly enjoyed it, but saw very little of the
country. I would like to go back for a holiday. There are
also many countries I have never been to, including
Australia, New Zealand, and India, which I hope to
visit one day.
How do you spend your free time?
I like opera, antiques, crosswords, and watching cricket.
I also do a certain amount of DIY, but less than I used to.
I also like to spend time with the family at Southwold on
the Suffolk coast, where we have a cottage.