Nick Salter looks forward to a time when an actuarys worth and contribution needs no explanation
The problem with being prepared to tell jokes is sometimes they aren't deemed to be funny. My daughter Katie made this point when she was 11, pointing out that "you can tell when your joke is not funny Dad, when you have to explain it".
Take this example: "There are 10 types of actuaries - those who understand binary and those who don't..."
I received the reply: "You are going to have to explain that. What's an actuary?"
"Bother", I think. "Well, actuaries are experts in risk management. They are useful to many industries where a single decision can have a major financial impact..."
But it does make you wonder; how many people really know what actuaries do?
This point was brought home to me again when we had a very inspirational speaker at a recent Council meeting. Adam Bates is a forensic auditor, or a futurologist as he describes it, for KPMG. He runs a multi-professional team that includes actuaries.
He told us, however, that even with these highly valued members of his team, he has no idea what actuaries actually do. This is a problem, because not knowing makes it harder to place value on the benefits we bring to the organisations we work for.
Or to put it another way - why would someone recruit an actuary?
This is something we all need to address because it affects every one of us. Business leaders who have actuaries working for them often sing their praises. I believe I've mentioned in one of my previous columns the massive endorsement that actuaries have from Dominic Barton, managing director of McKinsey, who said "actuaries are brilliant".
An actuary's place
On that point, I recently had the pleasure of meeting the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, as a follow up to him speaking at our GIRO conference last year.
We discussed how actuaries can be useful to the financial industry, and it was a very fruitful conversation.
He said he sees actuaries in a different place, having a part to play in regulation in financial markets and in the banking world. We agreed that actuaries would be good people to have within banks - not necessarily as a regulated post at every bank, but particularly in risk management roles. This is backed up by a meeting I had with Jayne-Anne Gadhia, the chief executive of Virgin Money, about actuaries working in the banking industry. Her comments were incredibly positive too. She said that, although she has only one actuary on her team, on reflection she doesn't know why she doesn't have more.
Actuaries' skills and high standards of professionalism could be a healthy contrast to banks being run with a 'have a hunch, bet a bunch' attitude, as many consider to be the case with the banking industry now. This caution could help change the financial industry's reputation from a 'reckless culture' to something more stable.
At the Bank of England, where my meeting with Mark Carney took place, I smiled at a reminder of the banking industry from years past. There was a coat rack in the office with prongs going all the way down. Upon closer inspection, I suggested that it might actually be a 'bowler hat rack' where years ago bankers would leave their hats on the stand. This made me think about how much has changed in the banking industry and how those bowler-hatted gents would feel about it.
Although there hasn't been the same seismic change for us as actuaries, we need to be aware that the industries we've traditionally worked in are changing. These changes must lead to opportunities for us as a profession. Our high professional standards will benefit any business, not just those we've been traditionally associated with.
I can't say that our profession will undergo as much change in the next 30 years as the banking industry but, as Bates made clear, we would do well to keep our eye on the future and make sure our skills remain relevant and that actuaries are adding value - and are recognised for that.
And would we want to see more jokes about actuaries? Funny ones, yes, but any jokes where you are not stopped for an explanation should be deemed a mark of success.