Wednesday, August 26, 2015

30 Years Ago Today

Thirty years ago, I started on a journey. I arrived at a new job with a firm that no longer exists in the form that it was in back in 1985. Hewitt Associates (HA as it was referred to internally) was a consulting firm whose primary business was actuarial consulting on defined benefit pension plans in the US. It was a partnership. The number of firms like that that still exist has dwindled. In that size range of company, their number has dwindled to zero.

In any event, I was embarking on a career as an actuary. Frankly, I had no idea what I would be doing in that career. I had taken the first two actuarial exams because my starting salary depended on them. One was basic college math (mostly calculus) and the other was probability and statistics, so I thought I would be doing a lot of math in my career. I guess I have, but rarely that type of math.

I was going to be working on corporate pension plans. I didn't know what a pension plan was. I didn't know much else about what I was going to be doing either. I recall a friend asking me just the day before what I was going to be doing. I had no idea.

What I do recall is that I ran a proprietary computer program on a mainframe computer. As I was instructed to do, I took a lot of numbers from the output and put them in rows and columns on large green ledger sheets. Mostly, I added them vertically and I was very good at that. I then took the sums and placed them on other worksheets where I got to do addition and subtraction mostly. Sometimes, I amortized these numbers over time, usually using an HP-12C. It's still the calculator of choice in the profession.

Eventually, I took many of these numbers and used them to mark up something that I learned was called an actuarial report. My markup went to this ancient-sounding thing called a typing pool where a group of really good typists would make my ugly handwritten draft look pretty. They used another ancient device known as an electric typewriter.

I don't quite do the same things anymore, but some of it is still related to corporate pension plans. As time passed, my career moved from doing the grunt work to consulting based oftentimes on what others did.

It's a career that has taken me through highs and lows. I've made some of the finest friends a person could ever imagine. And, along the way, I think I've gotten pretty good at what I do. My profession has been good enough to honor me a few times. That was pretty cool.

One thing that has not changed at all about what I do is the respect and actual greatness of the profession While we are joked about as being boring nerds, actuaries are a rare, yet important breed. We tend to look at problems differently than most and that view that we take is often incredibly effective.

I'm proud of the profession. I'll take this moment to say that I'm pretty proud of what I have accomplished, too.

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