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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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It’s story time

Maintaining high standards can depend on a lot of people each making just a small contribution, suggests Matthew Welsh

01 SEPTEMBER 2012 | MATTHEW WELSH
Phil Wrigglesworth illustraiton
That’s right, children, gather round. I have a tale to tell you.

It all happened a long time ago, in a kingdom far, far away…

The princess of this kingdom was, unfortunately, not very attractive. She was so ugly, in fact, that it was an enduring embarrassment to the kingdom and other kingdoms would often taunt them. The king was, of course, worried about his daughter. So, as the invention of cosmetic surgery was still some way off, he decided to consult a local wizard as to what could be done to make the princess more beautiful.*

The wizard explained that he would cast a spell whereby the princess could become beautiful if she spent a night sleeping in a bath of milk. The snag was that every family in the kingdom must provide a jug of milk to be poured into the bath that night, just after sunset. So an edict to this effect was sent out.

However, in those days, milk was expensive. There were no large supermarket chains to drive down the supply cost, so milk was a significant outlay for any poor family. One particularly desperate farmer was so poor that he decided simply to pour a jug of water into the bath – no one would know, he surmised, as the bath would still look milky white. And anyway, he didn’t really care if the princess was ugly. He had bigger problems.
The farmer followed through with his plan and, in the darkness, the princess slipped into the bath and went to sleep. In the morning she awoke and looked in a mirror close by. Unfortunately, she was still the same ugly princess as before. In her frustration, she kicked the bath and it toppled over. What poured out of the bath astonished her. It was simply water. All the people in the kingdom had done the same thing as the farmer. The princess remained ugly, and the poor kingdom was resigned to putting up with international ridicule for ever more.

What’s that got to do with me? you ask
And so it is with so much in life – small contributions from a lot of individuals are what we require to maintain the high esteem that I believe the Profession is held in. But, what exactly am I getting at? The answer is, of course, volunteering.

Volunteering for the Profession is something of a no-brainer to me. It may seem like a thankless task to volunteer, but ignore it at your peril. The Profession does have a handful of full-time staff, but there is only so much they can do and they must rely on a steady flow of volunteers to ensure that the Profession strengthens its reputation.

A lack of time and effort expended can also have consequences beyond reputation. Indeed, ask anyone who has sold a home what the benefits of a lick of paint can do to the perceived value.

The Profession, however, cannot get away with just an occasional ‘lick of paint’. It is under constant scrutiny to demonstrate that it is ensuring best practice among its members. Avoidance in demonstrating this  could lead to the Profession becoming irrelevant in the eyes of others, and make businesses question why they are not simply employing statisticians on a significantly lower wage than actuaries would expect, to do some number-crunching.

Just tell me where to sign

So I hope I have convinced you that it is in your interest to volunteer for the Profession – not least because you’ll be eligible to receive a volunteer recognition pin.

So, what could you do? Choices range from involving yourself with SIAS, the 400 club or the Student Consultative Forum to the possibility of editing the student page of The Actuary magazine. That’s right, I have decided to pass the baton on – mainly because I am no longer a student.

If you are interested in taking on this most enjoyable of roles, please respond to the email address below. Best of luck, should
you decide to do so.

*Before I get any letters, these were feudal times and I wasn’t around to voice my disapproval of the prevailing social attitude towards women’s rights. Don’t shoot the messenger.