Mark Dainty reports back on an evening of passion, policies and political persuasion
The two speakers on this eventful night were Steve Webb MP, currently the Minster of State for Pensions, and Steve Groves, CEO of Partnership - a leading provider of annuities in the UK.
Steve Webb is a great public speaker - and this is quite apart from the content of his excellent presentation. He is certainly someone to look up to and learn from on a soft skills perspective, which we, as actuaries, are working so hard to develop.
He had no slides, or notes, and very possibly a tough crowd. Yet he was engaging, clear and concise, adding some lovely light-hearted moments to deflect away from the reality that he and the government he is part of have "put a bomb under the annuity market". He took questions following the presentation, handling them all well before dashing off to go and vote in parliament.
I was a little dismayed - this was someone I had actually wanted to track down afterwards, buy him a beer, and thank him personally for such an enjoyable and genuinely interesting presentation. Luckily for me I wasn't too downcast for long as I listened to the counter arguments by the CEO of an organisation who had been affected so significantly by the previous speaker, that their share price had plummeted by 60% in a day (possibly a couple of hours actually)... this was going to be spicy!
Almost 30 seconds later I was flat again. The opening line of his response was "I agree with 90-95% of everything the previous speaker has said, however the devil is in the detail".
Now you have to realise that at first I was hoping for confrontation, actuaries on their chairs screaming for change, Steve Groves driving a counter argument that could bring down the government! And then there was the "detail". I had moved out of a direct actuarial role because detail in actuarial terms was never my thing. Even worse, detail in a SIAS presentation is not always a crowd pleaser!
To my delight, within another 30 seconds I realised I was hooked on every word of another engaging presenter who had clearly taken time to draft and prepare a presentation for SIAS. Given his day job you'd have forgiven him a few scribbled notes, and work it out on the night. Far from it.
We had case studies which were still being debated long after the seemingly endless buffet in the pub later that evening. Global insights into pension regimes and comparisons, and once again, accompanied by plenty of light-hearted moments to ensure we all enjoyed the session, and that it didn't feel like torture by CPD!
I even looked up and paid attention when the graphs were brought out! He was right. Detail matters!
The Q&A session which followed was equally engaging with some great questions from the audience. The whole night ended perfectly with a superb final question "What three things would you change if you were responsible for pensions under the next government Mr Groves?" He responded brilliantly and thought provokingly to all the questions fired at him. Importantly, I realised that here was a CEO who understood his business, and was committed to delivering great customer outcomes. How rare is that!
In summary, this was possibly the most impressive SIAS presentation I have attended. We covered politics, taxation, hardship, critical illness, and society in general, and it was all thoroughly enjoyable. I can't thank the two speakers enough for their contribution to the evening. The two Steves head to head in combat, and 90 minutes of highly topical debate.
I think we should also recognise the thought and preparation that SIAS had shown in organising this particularly memorable event. Not forgetting to mention, the free beer and buffet later.