Market Leaders Pick Their Market Leader: Who adds up to being the best actuary?

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The Independent Online
Tim Evans

Chief Actuarial Officer

Jardine Reeves Brown

ACTUARIES SUFFER the reputation of introverted boffins who want to stay in the office all the time but this just isn't true. These days the greatest requirement for a good actuary is the ability to communicate well and that's the one quality they're reputed to have least of.

I don't know if we're winning on that score but things in the office are changing. For me, the maths tends to be unsatisfactory and unwieldy, with no neat solutions. The joys are found in the consulting side: resolving problems, being made privy to the internal operation of a company and assisting that process.

One of the most profoundly influential actuaries for me was Sidney Benjamin, now deceased, who was a great lateral thinker. Now, I suppose I would single out an actuary who can come up with new ideas in the shortest possible time. A chap like this is Nigel Chambers of Johnstone Douglas who has a firecracker brain and hundreds of new ideas. I have no special admiration really for anyone but I have respect for most of the people in my field.

Kenneth McKelvey


Punter Southall

MOST ACTUARIES are good at number crunching - that's really what you qualify as - a number cruncher. But to be a good and successful actuary, you need to be able to make sense of your data and then communicate it in an interesting manner. It's not a sector in which things change very fast, they evolve relatively slowly. So it is not a sector in which dramatic innovation would necessarily be a good thing. The actuaries most admired are those who can combine the number crunching skills with the communication ones. Generally, actuaries hold each other in high regard. It would be difficult, therefore, to single out any individual. William Mercer, however, is a successful firm and its commercial strategy is very impressive.

Harvey Brown

Chief Actuary

William M. Mercer

OBVIOUSLY TO be an actuary you have to have a very good sense for figures and be a master of statistics but you also need to have a sound grasp of business problems. The buzz one gets from being an actuary is from the sense that you've applied knowledge and solved a problem for a company and by doing so add value to that company. There are a number of people I admire in the business these days. Of course it's difficult to single out an individual but having said that, Chris Daykin, the Government Actuary, is high profile and demonstrates lots of good actuarial qualities.

Alan Whalley

Managing Partner

Watson Wyatt Partners

THERE IS a growing need for the actuary to have very good communication skills as the consultancy aspect of the business comes to the fore. Obviously you are going to need strong maths and high intellectual horsepower in order to think on your feet and respond quickly to questions from captains of industry. To be a success you need to be able to negotiate the central paradox of the profession - the core of the problems we examine is the future and the future, of course, is uncertain. And you need a sense of fun - I mean, we're constantly studying mortality and morbidity rates.

There are a couple of guys who stand out for me in the profession. Chris Daykin, the Government Actuary. He is a very independent thinker with an open and honest approach and has heavily influenced the government agenda. He is very young and really does stand apart. Then there's James Crosby who is CEO of Halifax at the moment and by profession, an actuary. He is a sound thinker and is a very good business leader who now uses his actuarial skills in day-to-day business management.

Chris Daykin

Government Actuary

I ENJOY the challenge of new and difficult problems that I'm faced with. The essence of a good actuary is to be able to communicate the results of a problem to a non actuary. I particularly enjoy the fact that I have the opportunity to use my maths skills to tackle problems which affect the lives of millions, in the form of public policy.

One man I particularly admire is Tom Ross of AON, the risk management consultants, because of his public influence. I admire his willingness to stand up and be counted in terms of public policy issues.

Mark Duke


Towers Perrin

I THINK people join the actuarial profession because they are natural analysts and problem solvers. We get a kick out of the combination of intense analytic and technical work with the sense of doing something really useful. In terms of attributes, I really admire enthusiasm in people I am working with; the sense that the work they are doing really matters. And that's important. In terms of a person who has made a big impression, Tom Ross of AON comes in the great and the good category. He talks sense about issues and he has an eye to the broader public interest. He will talk about what matters to people at large and he understands that the work impacts upon the community.

Peter Tompkins

Actuarial partner


IT IS important in actuarial work to understand that you are not just someone doing calculations, you need to see how what you are doing refers to a client's business needs. A good actuary really needs to get inside figures. An actuary doesn't just measure value, they create value and so you really do need to get to grips with businesses. Chris Daykin is the ultimate all-rounder of the profession at the moment. He works in every sphere of the business. He also has a very good team working with him. Tom Ross of AON is technically very competent, with a good skills and managerial ability. That's a blend you don't come across very often.

Duncan Ferguson

Senior Partner

Bacon and Woodrow

ACTUARIES HAVE been laughed at traditionally for being the backroom number crunchers but this is no longer true for the majority of the profession. We do now play a highly valued part in financial transactions and decisions which can affect the lives of millions of people. For me, I love the variety of work I do and where I do that work. My career has involved work in 34 different countries so far.

I admired Sidney Benjamin, formerly of Bacon and Woodrow. He was a good communicator who could turn the most complex issues into terms anyone could understand. Technically he was outstanding and an innovator. The world is changing and it is important to be able to forecast problems which may be lying in wait. Benjamin was, in fact, the first person to introduce computers into the work. Chris Daykin, the Government Actuary, is the giant of his generation. His breadth of knowledge is exceptional. He travels the world and writes an enormous amount; he is very impressive. I should also mention James Crosby of the Halifax. It's good to find one of us at the head of a FTSE top 20 company.

David Freeman

UK practice leader, benefit consultancy

Hewitt Associates

ONE GENERAL misconception about actuaries is that they are brilliant mathematicians. In fact, you only really need to be comfortable with numbers and enjoy them. What is important is your way of thinking, analysing and dissecting. Another important quality is an ability to adapt to the changing world. Even in just 10 years the profession and technology used has moved on in leaps and bounds, plus there are additional factors to take into account like medical advances, genetics, for example.

Chris Daykin is an impressive figure in the profession. He has a tough job and he does it extremely well. He is a good ambassador for the profession. And Tom Ross of AON has done very well. He comes across as a very sensible person who talks sense and cuts through politics to get to the real issues. The no-nonsense approach is a good one.

Paul Thornton

President of the Institute of Actuaries

and Senior Partner of Watson Wyatt Partners

BEING AN actuary really is a fascinating career despite its reputation. You have to remember that as an actuary you are in the position of trusted adviser, often dealing with colossal sums of money and hundreds of people who are reliant on you. So the ability to shoulder responsibility is an important quality. To be a good actuary you need to be numerate, not necessarily mathematically but certainly statistically. You also need to be a good communicator. Chris Daykin is an extremely good actuary. He's a human dynamo. He has been a major contributor and has done a tremendous amount to advance education. He's the perfect role model.