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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Towards a merged profession

Recently I heard Tony Benn, the veteran Labour politician, describe how he classified people as either signposts or weathercocks. A signpost was someone who identified the correct direction for the future. A weathercock was someone who didn’t make up his mind until it was clear which way the wind of public opinion was blowing. Mr Benn has no time for weathercocks.

As with most things in life, I see a spectrum rather than absolutes here. Faculty and Institute Councils have identified what they believe to be the correct direction for the future, namely a merged profession, so I hope Mr Benn would look on us as signposts. But this counts for nothing unless you, our members, agree and vote accordingly. To that extent we have had to have one eye in the merger negotiations on what we think our members will agree to. I hope this will not condemn us as weathercocks.

My personal journey to get to the merger proposals has been a long one. When this issue was last discussed seriously, in 1995, I don’t remember feeling very strongly either way. I had more pressing work-based priorities, if truth be told. I could not afford to be distracted by things that didn’t really impinge on my own personal and professional activities. It would be very understandable if members took a similar view today. It could also be very unfortunate, because this time the issue is being put to a vote. A low turnout would probably favour those with strong passions, because they are more likely to vote. A silent majority could find themselves frustrated as a direct consequence of their silence.

House in order
In 2008, I feel the issue is relevant to the working lives of all of us. Events have not been kind to us so far this century. We have been buffeted by Equitable Life, the problems with defined-benefit pensions, the Penrose Report, the Morris Review and so on. We have reacted by putting our house in order and embracing necessary change, as a result of which we are now able move onto the front foot. We need to present a positive and united image to the world, and a merged profession will give us an ideal launch pad to do that.

In 1995, our Councils did not agree to merge but did agree to work more closely together. This has gone very well, and we have achieved considerable improvements in efficiency, but the 1995 agreement was never going to be the end of the story. The governance of the Profession remained top-heavy and inefficient. Our external profiles remained complex and sometimes confusing. Strange quirks became evident — the inability of Institute fellows in Scotland to play as full a part in our professional activities as Faculty fellows, for example. Another important development was the degree to which our overseas members and potential members are now looking to their local professional body for services. If they stay with us in future, it will increasingly be out of choice, not necessity.

So, by the time I knew that I was going to become Faculty president, I had become convinced that we needed to act. That was my signpost side. In my presidential address, and with the explicit approval of Faculty Council, I launched a consultation with Faculty members. That was my weathercock side coming out. Fortunately the response reinforced my conviction — the signpost and the weathercock were pointing in the same direction.

When Faculty Council instructed its senior office-bearers to start discussions with Institute leaders, it quickly became apparent that there was a strong chance of agreement. Almost all of our signposts were pointing in the same direction. It then became a matter of testing whether the signposts of our members were similarly aligned. In June we will find out whether this is so.

Work to be done
There remains a lot of work to be done. The leaders of the Profession need to communicate to you, the members, the substance and rationale of the merger proposal, and why it deserves your support. If the vote in June 2008 gives us a mandate, we then have to put the flesh on the bones. In particular, we need to develop a new Royal Charter for the merged body which, for technical reasons, will build on the chassis of the Faculty Royal Charter. There will also then be the matter of the name of the merged body — we plan to commission brand consultants to help with that. Assuming all goes to plan, there should be a second vote in 2009 to formally adopt the new Royal Charter. Although we regard the June 2008 vote as the pivotal one, the 2009 vote would be constitutionally vital, and the hurdles of two thirds of those voting (Faculty) and three quarters of those voting (Institute) would have to be achieved for merger to take place.

Finally, here is my ‘elevator speech’ in favour of merger. We are split for reasons that were valid in the 19th century but have no relevance now. We are too small a profession to be divided. It is time for us to move on to the front foot. A relaunch of a merged profession will help us do that. The proposed structure is the best way we can think of to promote the things that are important to us, and includes checks, balances and flexibility for the unknown future. Please give us your vote for the future of our profession.

I hope that if Tony Benn were an actuary in the elevator he would agree.

Stewart Ritchie is president of the Faculty of Actuaries