Croissants and Calculations, or a Breakfast with the Actuaries

CIO Europe considers the changing face of the actuarial profession over a spot of tea and pastries.

The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) is holding a “how to be a CIO” guide over breakfast. It is aimed at enthusiastic young actuaries (not an oxymoron, I assure you) interested in becoming, well, CIOs—and if any magazine is going to be there, it’s Chief Investment Officer (CIO). Especially when breakfast is involved.

The lady at reception sighs sympathetically as I enquire where this breakfast is. Evidently I am not the first confused man in a suit she has, this very morning, redirected across the courtyard, just off Chancery Lane in central London.

At one end of the room is a glass cabinet filled with trophies and awards, while each chairman of the institute has his name on the long wall. At the other end, in a somewhat odd juxtaposition, are two wall-mounted memorials to actuaries who died in the World Wars. 

“We have a decent amount of women entering the profession. About 38% of our student membership is female and that’s been growing steadily in the last 10 years.”

Being the only journalist in the room, I am quite a novelty. Guest speaker Ian McKinlay, CIO of the Aviva UK staff pension scheme, informs the crowd that CIO is really a rather good read, and he would say that even if I wasn’t there. Quick, where are those subscription forms?

After the customary joke about journalists hacking voicemails we introduce ourselves. Trainee actuaries list the specific areas on which they want to hear McKinlay and fellow guest speaker Alasdair MacDonald of Towers Watson opine. Which of their acquired number-crunching skills would be most important in a CIO role? What else—besides liability matching and asset allocation—do top investors need to do? And how do you get the top roles?

Then they look at me.

Me (after awkward pause): “I’m just hoping to learn something from people far cleverer than me!”

I laugh nervously. I am unaccompanied.

As McKinlay and MacDonald tell about life as CIO and outsourced-CIO, the audience is engrossed and note-taking as they attempt to soak up this wisdom.

But there is something missing.

Regular readers will know that CIO takes the issue of women in asset management seriously. There aren’t enough in the senior roles, either as investors or asset managers—or, judging by this room, as actuaries.

Fortunately, IFoA President Nick Salter takes the issue seriously, too. On the phone a couple of weeks later, he tells me of his determination to address this imbalance.

“We have a decent amount of women entering the profession,” Salter says. “About 38% of our student membership is female and that’s been growing steadily in the last 10 years. When I started in the 1970s, the majority of people coming into actuarial work were male, and that has changed significantly over time.”

A better balance at the “bottom of the pyramid” should result in a better balance nearer the top in the years ahead, he says. Already roughly a quarter of the institute’s fellows are female.

Yet the snag comes in keeping women in actuarial work. There is still a higher rate of departure among females than males from the profession, according to Salter. This is largely an employer issue rather than one of the profession itself, he points out—something he hopes to address in the future.

“We are losing people we should be trying to keep,” Salter says.

Soon after, an encouraging email arrives. Barnett Waddingham has “grown its total number of qualified actuaries to 127.” I am encouraged to see that five of the six newly-qualified actuaries listed are women. Who knows? They may feature on these pages in the years to come in the next generation of asset owners. CIO may even take them to breakfast.