Jessica Elkin deploys both brain and brawn in pursuing the many networking opportunities on offer from the Staple Inn Actuarial Society
I can admit up front that I am not the world's best poker player. Even after recalling what is meant by flush, royal flush, straight, full house, fold, blind, and other jiggery-pokery, I'm simply not very good at bluffing (or lying, as I prefer to call it). I'm just a very genuine person, that's all. It doesn't help that I'm highly risk-averse and fold at the first bump in the road.
Same goes for roller-skating. I've never been very sporty or coordinated, and as a child it seemed positively bizarre to want to put on dangerously wheeled shoes when you could get around perfectly fine in a pair of trainers.
And dodgems! What an unpleasant idea, being chased around by people in vehicles trying to ram you into oblivion. Enough said.
Yet somehow, since becoming an actuarial student, I have voluntarily taken part in all of the above. In fact, I have paid to do it. And it's all SIAS's doing.
An actuarial education
When the Staple Inn Actuarial Society was founded in 1910, it was known as the Institute of Actuaries Students' Society. According to the website, its original raison d'être was "to assist students in preparing for actuarial exams and to provide a forum to practise public speaking".
Whether you might consider boat parties and winter dinners to fit into the above or not, over time the society has evolved into a body offering a healthy split of education - offering talks on a range of actuarial subjects, many by students themselves - and social events, which include annual bowling and pool tournaments, dance nights, roller discos, wine tasting and annual poker nights.
These events are intended to allow budding actuaries to network, which is always fun. I used to be confused by the word 'networking' but have since realised it's simply drinking wine with nice people and socialising as part of your job.
A veritable Smörgåsbord
There's quite a lot going on at these events. The winter dinner involved live jazz, an open bar and free dodgems. Poker night included initiation for the uninitiated (me), food for the hungry (me), and prizes for anyone who ended up on the final table (not me), as well as some additional tables where people could gamble actual money à la Casino Royale.
The infamous boat party, on the same night as the opening ceremony for the Olympics, allowed everyone to celebrate in style on the Thames.
I may once have had some scepticism as to the relevance of such activities to a flourishing actuarial career, but it is surely the basis for some mutually educational experiences to discuss different practices in varying areas of actuarial work.
Besides, it turns out that actuaries aren't a bad bunch at all. At poker I was convinced I'd be faced with scowling uptight professionals who were annoyed that I didn't 'get' anything and had to be constantly reminded of the rules, but they seemed not to mind my floundering. It probably helped that I wasn't any kind of threat to them or their chance of winning.
Essentially, getting to know some of your actuarial peers can be no bad thing. Also, given the size of the actuarial profession, there's a fair chance you'll be working with some of these people at some point in your career.
These days, SIAS has over 7,000 members internationally, "representing and serving the interests of younger members of the actuarial profession" (I'll say). But let it not be suggested that socials are the extent of SIAS's purpose. It also arranges the aforementioned talks, has a representative on the Student Consultative Forum, sponsors charities and runs a jobsite, not to mention publishing a venerable professional journal that goes by the name of The Actuary. It has a full bag of tricks.
And so do I. In the end, as it turns out, I rather enjoy roller-skating and dodgems and poker. I may well invest in a pair of skates of my own, and gambling is now de rigueur on a Friday night. It's all part of networking, isn't it?
As an aside
Good luck to everyone receiving exam results this month - whatever the outcome, I hope you can all celebrate or commiserate in style. Remember, there will always be a next time!