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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

The Greatest British Actuary ever®

The moment of truth has arrived, and the final round of voting is over. We have had considerably more votes than in previous months, votes which have been vetted, logged, and counted, and are also available for independent scrutiny. There may have been postal problems as a higher than normal proportion of the votes came towards the end of the count.

Frank Redington is the winner with 52% of the votes cast, while Andrew Smith (40%) must rest content with an honourable second place. William Morgan got 6% and William Thomas Thomson 2%.

An analysis of the votes suggests the reason for this outcome was that identified in the comment of one voter:

‘I very much hope that actuaries with a proper sense of historical perspective will vote [for Redington” and in large numbers. To cavil that Redington’s ideas on immunisation were flawed is like saying that Newton wasn’t the greatest mathematical physicist of all time because his laws didn’t apply universally.’

One voter said that, of the four nominees, Redington was the most worthy of the accolade, but believed that Andrew Smith would win and actually voted for him in the hope that that might increase the chances of his being awarded an FIA through election or becoming an honorary FIA.

It is also worth noting that other actuaries have expressed the belief that the current generation was undervaluing the contributions of Wilkie, Daykin, and Peter Moore.

Now that the process is over, we salute below the person who would probably have been most people’s predicted winner when we first set out in quest of the Greatest: Frank Redington.
Has the baton now been passed to Andrew, or is the profession split down the middle?

Let us salute the greatest British actuary ever: Frank Redington.

As one of those who voted for him said: ‘As a student actuary I found his work inspiring and, with the greater experience that came with age and responsibility, found it ever more remarkable that he developed his immunisation theory and Flock and Sheep essays without recourse to any of the technology that we take so much for granted today.’

Peter Moore, himself an academic, said in his paper on ‘Are Objectivism and Subjectivism compatible concepts?’ that: ‘The mark of a technologist which distinguishes him from a scientist is that he must act; everything he does has some sort of deadline. He has to manage therefore with as much truth as is available to him, with the scientific theories current in his time’

That is why I think that, for all his theoretical work on immunisation, mortality, statistics, and national pensions, Redington’s biggest contribution has been in the way he made Prudential’s long-term fund a peerless role model of shrewd husbandry of a proprietary life company’s long-term fund.

He had the knack for understanding which issues could really damage the fund and which would have only an ephemeral effect. Above all he worked on the principle that what was good for the Pru was good for the industry, and such was his stature and evident altruism that the industry took heed.

Dip in at pp137139 of A Ramble Through the Actuarial Countryside (the compilation of his work by Gary Chamberlin) where, in the debate on Tom Springbett’s paper of 1964, Redington talks of how the Prudential (ie himself) carried out valuations to preserve financial strength and determine bonus policy. This was years before Simon Margutti’s ALM model itself now prehistoric. Note the accent on market values, and note also the series of bonus reserve valuations that were carried out to get under the skin of the long-term fund’s finances. Above all, note the thorough analysis of revenue surplus, something that few companies can boast of doing today.

Today we have stochastic models without which, it is alleged, no self-respecting board could conduct its business properly. Redington sans stochastic modelling would have made a better fist of managing his long-term fund in recent conditions than most recent custodians of such funds have done. I grant that stochastic modelling is now necessary because long-term funds have come to such a sorry pass that more sophisticated tools are necessary but Redington would not have allowed his fund to get to that position.

He was also ahead of his time in saying that he was content to be the actuary of the Prudential, and did not consider it appropriate that the actuary should also be the chief executive or even a director. Were he alive today he would have made an excellent non-executive director.