Perspective | An Actuary: Not Our Maker, But Pretty Darn Close

By: | August 12, 2021

Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

Like most people, I have never met a god. The nearest I’ve come to encountering a divine presence was an actuary.  

This was circa 1975. I was financial controller at a small life insurer near the edge of London.

We weren’t large enough to employ an in-house actuary who could professionally assess our exposures, risks and evolving liability profile.

Annually, therefore, our entirely handwritten records would be reviewed and judged by a consulting actuary, the senior partner of an august and ancient firm of such luminaries.

(It was probably the very firm that advised Noah to limit his cargo to two per species.)

I’d not been working there long when preparations began for the year-end visit of the great man. New to insurance, I didn’t fully appreciate the criticality of his opinion and was therefore a little surprised by the grave importance everyone attached to his visit.

The company was also new-ish and therefore not exactly flush. It had to be explained to me that our very existence depended entirely on this fellow’s assessment of our accounting practices, for which, as CFO, I was chiefly responsible.

Weeks of overtime went into our own investigation, preceding the actuary’s visit. Every transaction, every entry, every possible detail was closely scrutinised to ensure that we passed muster on the big day …

… which finally arrived.

From my office window, I saw his gray Rolls-Royce drive up in stately fashion. A chauffeur opened the rear door and out stepped a man carrying about him an almost visible aura of godliness. He seemed impossibly old and wizened, but then that’s what a god ought to look like, I suppose.

Plus, I was, at the time, a callow youth.

The more troublesome staff had been given the afternoon off. Those who remained were told to look busy in case the fellow wanted to nose around. Only our most senior directors — two car salesmen — were allowed to interact with the deity.

My assistant and I hunkered down in my office, with some accounting records open on the desk. Actual work was out of the question, given the importance of the day and the imminence of our possible dismissals, if anything were wrong. Shock and awe were in play.

Suddenly, unannounced, God walked into my office, followed by the directors. He smelled of talcum powder; they of fear.

“This is our financial controller,” said the chairman.

The actuary shook hands with my assistant, who was too thunderstruck to point out the error. As was I.

“Everything in order?” asked the actuary. My assistant nodded.

“Good show,” spake the Lord. He was then ushered out by the directors.

Later, I was summoned to the chairman’s office. Normally, it had photographs of wildly expensive cars, but it had this day been scrubbed clean.

I expected to be condemned for not standing up for myself, but instead, the chairman shook my hand and said, “Well done on not pointing out his mistake. Wouldn’t do. Wouldn’t do at all.”

Score one for religions that promote self-effacement. Honesty, it seems, is not the best policy when meeting a Supreme Being. &

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