The President’s Award – Matthew Edwards

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The President’s Award was presented to Matthew Edwards on 24 June 2021 in recognition of his intellectual integrity, imagination, and breadth of thinking in building and connecting the work across a number of different actuarial groups, each responding to the Covid-19 crisis in different ways: the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group, the Continuous Mortality Investigation (CMI), and the IFoA’s Longevity Bulletin.

Matthew is the founding co-Chair of the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group, Chair of the IFoA Continuous Mortality Investigation and Editor of the IFoA Longevity Bulletin. 

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What made you step forward to form COVID-19 ARG?

It was clear that COVID-19 was going to change the world, and at the time – February 2020 – we sensed a feeling of overconfidence, or lack of interest, in the UK, combined with ‘underconfidence’ in the IFoA that actuaries could contribute to navigating through the many problems likely to emerge.

Is there anything that ARG would do differently if you could turn the clock back?

I think we could have thought a bit more about the long term as well as the short term, and been more wide-minded about some of the issues, in particular Government policy responses. Perhaps we became over-attached to one of the two poles of dichotomised thought in that area.

Could you tell us why you decided to be an actuary?

I wanted to pursue a career that was mathematical, but mathematical in a practical way – hence I was not interested in academia. The idea of a profession that gave me internationally transferable skills was also important.

Tell us how did your love for mathematics begin?

There was the ‘fun’ aspect of maths that came out so well in Martin Gardner’s books and Scientific American articles, which my father introduced me to; later, a sense of awe at the intrinsic beauty of maths – Euler’s equation, for instance – and how it provides the bedrock of our reality.

Can you tell us a story from your childhood that inspires you to be what you are today?

I remember my grandmother recounting the family motto on her side, ‘non nobis solum’ – ‘not for ourselves alone’ and how this encapsulated the vital concept of service. In her case, she learned Braille so that she could help ‘translate’ books into Braille versions.

Can you tell us the biggest regret or mistake you have made, and what you learnt from it?

Nothing specific or dramatic; but looking back, I should really have devoted more time to keeping friendships going and staying in touch with former colleagues from various firms.

What is the most significant piece of voluntary work you have done or paper you have written for the IFoA?

I got immense satisfaction from my time as editor of The Actuary almost twenty years ago, and am now finding the role of Chair of the CMI to be an equally rewarding way to contribute to this vital part of the IFoA – obviously at a particularly challenging time for mortality and morbidity work!

If there is one thing you like to see changed in the IFoA and the profession, what will that be?

Actuaries should be, in the words of Saint Ignatius, ‘contemplatives in action’. This captures the two key points of thought and turning thought into deed. The actuarial profession needs to ensure that we do ‘act’, and not just contemplate.

Can you tell us something which is not widely known about you?

I enjoy juggling axes and medicine balls; I was an infantry officer in the Royal Anglian Regiment in my 20s; I enjoy writing (or rather, compiling) commonplace books, and am now on my twelfth; I met Boris Spassky in Reykjavik in 1972; I was an ActEd tutor for a couple of years; I was in remedial Latin class at school with Sam Mendes, the Bond film director.

What motivates you today?

The idea of service to humanity, but in a concrete way, not a feel-good abstract notion. In the bleakest months of lockdown, I found it essential to think every morning what concrete things I could be doing to help those close to me, to help colleagues, to help clients, to help others in the profession. Make the unfolding moment in front of you better for others than it would otherwise have been – even if it’s just picking up litter.

What would you like to do next in your life? Or what would you like to achieve in your life?

I am thinking more and more of moving into maths teaching, partly inspired by the likes of Lucy Kellaway.

Can you describe your CV in less than 100 word – try to cover aspects which are most interesting!

I’m a life actuary who worked in Italy for 4 years early in my career. In Italy, I worked partly in motor pricing and have since enjoyed transferring those P&C analytic techniques to life areas such as mortality and policyholder behaviour. I am the innovation lead for my firm (in the life insurance team) and am particularly keen on cross-fertilising ideas and methods from one field to another – for instance, enhancing mortality/longevity work through a better understanding of the medical aspects.