The Institute of Actuaries needed to secure rooms in no less than three hotels to fit in all of the participants in their General Insurance Research Organization (GIRO) conference, which this year was run jointly with the CAS over three days in early October in Glasgow, Scotland. Due to many U.S. companies' travel restrictions, individuals' heavy workloads, and an understandable reluctance to take a plane and leave family in the wake of the wretched events of September 11, many U.S. actuaries who had originally planned to attend did not make the trip.
That was a shame, because, as those who did attend will undoubtedly agree, it was a "crackin'" conference.
Amy Bouska, the first American to take the stage, presented the results of a CEO survey on actuaries and talked about how we can better help our companies. In the CEO's view, the best actuaries understand the insurance world, and know when (and how) to take risks. According to those CEO's surveyed, we should improve our general business skills, give faster responses to management requests, and become more comfortable with operating under uncertainty.
Four actuaries with international experience gave their perspectives on working in different countries. David Sanders (U.K.), to borrow a phrase, described Great Britain as a nation of shopkeepers (traders), whereas the U.S. is a nation of entrepreneurs (individuals). U.K. law is concerned with what you can't do, whereas Napoleonic law in Europe tells you what you can do. Differences, though seemingly subtle, must be recognized in order to work effectively in other places. Lisa Walsh, a U.S. actuary working in Ireland, gave a good overview of the different actuarial organizations in the U.S. and the training and exam process of the CAS to the mainly non-U.S. audience. Terry Clarke, a U.K. actuary who has worked in the U.S., advised Americans to "have more patience" with those in other countries to "get to know where they're coming from," and to not express the attitude that "my view is the view." (He admitted that people of his homeland sometimes have too much patience.) Stewart Coutts, a British actuary working in Israel, told us there are a little more than 20 property/casualty actuaries working in Israel, where personal relationships are key in doing business. In Israel, there are no guidance notes to help, and actuaries must sign off reserves by law.
CAS President-Elect Bob Conger expressed a desire to focus on the positive aspects and reasons for working outside one's home base, rather than the prevailing attitude that "you'd better do it or be left behind." Bob would like to see actuaries focus on work that has business value outside of regulatory environments, like DFA, data-mining, and nontraditional occupations. These are areas that Bob said hold the key ingredients for a feast for the intellect and profession. He invited all to "get involved" internationally.
The evenings' social activities were splendid. The gala dinner was held in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, complete with participatory Scottish dancing and a menu featuring Haggis wi' Bashed Neeps an' Champit Tatties an' a Wee Drap o' The Cratur. [Translation: chopped sheep bits stuffed in a sheep's stomach (haggis) with mashed turnips and white potatoes, with a little gravy.] All rose as the haggis was ceremoniously carried into the hall by a contingent with bagpipes and drums. We toasted the haggis with whiskey as the kilted emcee "addressed" the haggis by reciting (from heart) the traditional Robert Burns' poem. He dramatically sliced through the hapless haggis as he came to the lines:
His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An' cut you up wi' ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entails bright,
Like only ditch:
And then, o what a glorious sight.
You get the idea.
All in all the conference was very culturally enriching and worthwhile.