The President’s Award – Sam Achord

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The Alan Watson award was presented to Sam Achord on 24 June 2021 in recognition of his intellectual rigour and cross-disciplinary synthesis in regulation, systems thinking, and new economics in the deliberations at the Actuaries for Transformational Change. The Alan Watson Award recognises significant contribution to the profession which is often unseen and ‘unsung’, and Sam’s tireless work personifies this.

 

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

An aptitude test in high school predicted my future as an actuary.  I laughed at the time, thinking how very boring.  Then 10 years later, I started my career as an actuary.  Fairness has always been of core importance to me.  The only real option was to become an actuary, or a policeman, or a judge.  My many mathematical awards as a child sealed my fate. 

What is the proudest piece of work you have done as an actuary?

When I started out as an actuarial student at Towers Perrin Tillinghast, I helped build a replicating portfolio model (stochastic and closed-form derivatives pricing) to assess the costs of options and guarantees on UK With-Profits savings business.  In my next job, I used the closed-form approach to assess the costs of guarantees (TVOG) on the French and Italian savings businesses.  Then I used it to back-of-the-envelop assess the TVOG of Nordic savings businesses’ guarantees.  In 2019, I used the same type of model to analyse Danish life and pension companies’ needs for cash liquidity from the central clearing of their hedging portfolios of interest rate swaps using QRT data.  This has brought us to today, where we are collaborating to improve the quality and usability of derivatives reporting for the monitoring of system risks at the national level.  When complete, this will be my proudest piece of collaborative work.  

How did your interest in economics and systems thinking arise?

There’s nothing new about economics.  During historical periods of growth, challenge and transition, myriad ways to view the world needed to emerge.  Many emerged post-1929, post-WWII, post-GFC 2008/9 and now (hopefully soon) post-COVID.  There’s always something new about economics:  new problems, new approaches, new goals. 

Systems thinking–from Forrester’s quantitative systems dynamics modelling, to the Meadows’ generalisable stock-flow models, to high-level thinking in systems–provides endless tools and perspectives to understand complex problems and the world around us. 

The world is generally too complex to model completely (though wouldn’t that be something!).  However, the wealth and breadth of economic and systems thinking give us tools and perspectives–with Values hidden between–for tackling everyday (actuarial) problems, be they tame, complicated or complex.  We must be brave enough to choose Values and objectives in order to define the systems we want and refine the systems we have.  

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

Fairness.  As a child, fairness is fundamentally important, though our childish understanding thereof is very ego-centric.  As a teenager, I was always enraged (invisibly, of course) by situations of clear unfairness–in sport, at school, in the news, in politics, in history.  After a while you become numb.  I spent my 20s concentrating on maths, science and knowledge.  It was the re-awakening of a desire for fairness and to understand fairness more deeply and more widely that is leading me to where I am going today.  Maths, science and knowledge still play a central role but are now supported by Values, with a capital V.

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

My biggest regret will have been not to have followed through with my raisons d’etre.  For that reason, it’s important to keep going and ensure that eventuality doesn’t come to pass.

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

Wanderlust & aspiring Spanish poet; maths teacher; consultant; pricing actuary; risk actuary; central banker; and only time will tell.

4. What motivates you today?

To make the world a better and fairer place.

5. What do you think should be the purpose of actuaries (profession) and the IFoA?

The purpose of actuaries and the profession is and must continue to be manifold. Especially in a changing world. There are core responsibilities for actuaries. These might be summed up as stewardship of long-term institutions, balancing competing stakeholders’ needs, assessing and communicating risk and uncertainty to laypersons and other professionals. Not least, nowadays, there is an imminent need for excellent work and communication in terms of climate risks. We as a planet have never faced such a difficult problem.