My lovely niece Emma is in first year at University College Dublin doing actuarial studies. Her mother, my sister Rachael, is an actuary so it’s not entirely off the ground she licked it. Now I come to think of it, her mother is responsible for the D in pass maths I got in my Leaving Cert. I achieved that D – and for me it was a massive achievement – because the night before she spent two hours talking very slowly to me about theorems. I’ve never had any use in life for the D or the theorems, but it felt good to pass rather than fail. Thanks, Rach.
As a profession, actuaries get a hard time in terms of their reputation. If you search online there are pages and pages of jokes about them.
“An actuary is a professional who can solve a problem you didn’t know you had in a way that you can’t understand.” Harsh.
“An actuary is someone who didn’t have enough personality to become an accountant”. Burn.
“How can you spot an extroverted actuary at a party? She’s the one staring at someone else’s shoes.” Now, that’s just mean.
Here’s what actuaries do according to a definition I found online: “An actuary uses maths and statistics to estimate the financial impact of uncertainty and help clients minimise risk. An actuary can assess and manage the risks of financial investments, insurance policies, and other potentially risky ventures.”
If you are still awake, I’d like to point out that my sister and my niece, the only two actuarial people I know in real life, are often hilarious and have a lot of personality so in my experience the reputation for being zero craic is unfounded. If I had a euro for every time someone said “your sister is great fun ... for an actuary” I’d be quite well off, but obviously I’d need to get my sister to work out exactly how much better off I’d be.
Apart from bad jokes, there’s not much else about actuaries in popular culture. I looked up famous actuaries but only found a very long list of men’s names I’d never heard of going back to the 17th century. In the list there is only one woman’s name: Dorothy Spiers who died aged 80 in 1977. In 1923, four years after the British Institute of Actuaries had unanimously approved the admission of women at its general meeting, she became the first woman to qualify as an actuary in Britain. Jack Nicholson once played an actuary in a film called About Schmidt. At one point in the movie his character Warren Schmidt boasts about how he can calculate with great probability how many years a man will live, and gives himself a 73 per cent chance of being dead in nine years. I did also hear a rumour that Richard Curtis was thinking of a romcom remake with a financial twist called Love Actuary, but I’m not sure if it went anywhere.
Using the Find My Phone app, she was able to see that the phone was languishing somewhere on Bridge Street in Carrick-on-Shannon
It’s useful having one (potentially two) actuaries in the family. Whenever I get an email even vaguely pension related I send it to my sister and she then tells me things I immediately forget but for one brief moment feel more knowledgeable for having been told. I’ve never asked her to calculate how long I have to live, because she’d have no problem telling me and I don’t much care to know.
My niece recently joined the college’s actuarial and financial studies society. Completely contradicting the lack of personality trope, the first thing written on the student society’s page is “Know what an actuary is? Doesn’t matter – neither do we!” Of course they know, they are just messing with you. (Craic, see?) Other evidence that these actuaries-in-waiting defy the mean stereotypes about their profession: they play poker (I’m assuming they are great at it) and something called Spikeball which sounds like excellent fun. And, in search of even more craic, a busload of society members recently went on a magical mystery tour.
The bus set off from Dublin at 5pm on a Thursday stopping off at various hostelries in Mullingar, Carrick-on-Shannon and Sligo before returning to Dublin at 6am on the Friday. Emma then crashed in a college friend’s house, but before she fell asleep she used someone else’s phone to text her mother, my sister Rachael, to explain that she had lost her mobile phone somewhere along the tour.
It was Friday morning and in the spare few minutes she had available that day, what with being a chief executive with responsibility for important actuarial business in Ireland and several other countries, Rachael decided to track down the phone. Using the Find My Phone app, she was able to see that the phone was languishing somewhere on Bridge Street in Carrick-on-Shannon. By the law of averages, my actuary sister deduced, if she started ringing places on Bridge Street, surely she’d locate the phone.
First she rang Quidsworth, one of those shops that sells wonderful things you never knew you needed that don’t cost very much. Anna was on her own in the shop, but as soon as she got a chance she did a quick scout along the street in case Emma had dropped the phone somewhere outside. No joy. Next up was Maureen from Crumbs Sandwich Bar. (They do a Christmas sandwich, called the Turkey Plucker, on sourdough which sounds incredible). Maureen was also very helpful but even after a good look around could not locate the phone.
Finally, as my niece slept off the exertions of her magical mystery tour, my sister rang Liam from the Barrelstore pub “craft beer haven” and “cocktail den” on the street. Sure enough, Liam remembered the group of excellent craic actuarial students and said he had Emma’s phone safely behind the bar. He put it in the post and all weekend my sister watched, using the Find My Phone app, as the mobile winged its way from Leitrim back to Dublin where it arrived safely on Monday morning.
All of this is by way of wondering whether Bridge Street in Carrick-on-Shannon might be the kindest, most friendly street in Ireland? I don’t have any actual hard statistics to confirm this, but I do know a few people who are absolutely brilliant craic and have tonnes of personality who could help me figure it out.