Agony actuary: Honorary honesty
Dear Agony Actuary,
I see that we recently elected seven new honorary fellows of the IFoA. I disagree with the idea of awarding honorary fellowships on principle - partly on the grounds that: "If I had to pass all those exams, so should they" - but also on the principle of supply and demand: the fewer actuaries there are, the higher the salaries. However, I had a change of mind recently - a 'Saul on the road to Damascus moment', if you will. For it struck me that I have been a student actuary for 29 years now, having progressed as far as CT2, and I am not getting any younger. I have concluded an honorary fellowship might be my best path to qualification, and I have therefore nominated myself for an award. I took the liberty of naming you as my seconder. I felt it only best to tell you this, in case they get in touch for a reference.
Name and Address Supplied
Dear Name and Address Supplied,
Thank you for your letter. I shall expect a call from the IFoA, then, but I have to inform you that I shall be withdrawing my sponsorship of your application, just as I withdrew my sponsorship of your self-nomination for a knighthood. Yes, the Honours Committee phoned me up. I thought it peculiar that I should nominate a complete stranger for "Sundry Excellent Services To The Actuarial Profession", as I had no recollection whatsoever of doing so. Perhaps, I said to myself, I did it after the Staple Inn Poker Evening, the latter portions of which are very hazy in my memory.
There are a few things in your letter that I should like to address. First, it struck me that your comment: "If I had to pass all those exams, so should they," has more than a little irony when read in conjunction with your later statement: "I have been a student actuary for 29 years now, having progressed only as far as CT2". Has it crossed your mind, perhaps, that you are in the wrong career? It must either be the case that your preparation for the exams is unusually thorough, involving many decades of research for each exam, or else your pass rate is as impressive as Vlad the Impaler's record on human rights.
Also, if you object to the election of honorary fellows on the grounds of supply and demand, then I don't think you understand the nature of the qualification. It is unlikely that any of the recently nominated fellows will go into business as pensions consultants or start calculating solvency reserves. So your salary is safe. They have been given the award not because they would be expected to ace SA4, or because they could be entrusted to implement a pensions sharing order, but because they have achieved distinction in related fields or given significant service to the actuarial profession. They are people for whom association with the profession is expected to be mutually beneficial.
I have a suggestion. Instead of nominating yourself for all manner of awards that you have a cat's chance of getting (should I be expecting a call from the Nobel Committee any time soon?) a more productive use of your time would be to nominate a genuine candidate for an honorary fellowship. You should be able to think of someone. Maybe in your long and successful career as a student you have read books on finance by non-actuaries, or attended lectures you found interesting? Or encountered prominent members of the pensions or insurance industry? I can think of half a dozen off the top of my head - Eugene Fama, perhaps? Ros Altmann? Aubrey de Grey? Inga Beale? Steve Webb? Robert Chote?
If you can think of anyone, please don't write back to let me know, but do feel free to tell the world on Twitter - tweet @AgonyActuary with the hashtag #HonoraryActuary.
Finally, it occurred to me that as I am not a fully qualified actuary yet, but am someone who has undoubtedly contributed a significant amount to the profession through the medium of this column, I might be a good candidate. I therefore have just nominated myself via the form on the profession's website. I took the liberty of putting you as my seconder. I felt it only best to tell you this, in case they get in touch for a reference.