Frank Redington: The Man and His Ideas

Frank Redington in front of data sheet

Author of 'History of British Actuarial Thought', Craig Turnbull, discusses his forthcoming webinar, Frank Redington: The Man and His Ideas that reflects on how the contributions of Frank Redington may provide fresh insight for modern actuarial work, and how, with some trepidation, he prepared for his talk.

I am humbled to be invited to open the forthcoming Finance in the Public Interest 2022 series with a talk on Frank Redington, the man and his ideas. When starting my preparations for this talk, I felt more than a little trepidation - Redington is widely (and rightly, in my view) regarded as the most important British actuary of the 20th century, and his contribution to our profession's thinking could easily consume a whole course of to do justice to the entirety of this work in a single talk? 

There are several striking features that become apparent when reflecting on Redington's body of work. One is its sheer longevity - his first actuarial paper was published in 1935, and his final paper was published in 1982, almost half a century later. Another remarkable feature of his work is its breadth - whilst he spent his entire career in life assurance, he made some influential actuarial contributions in the world of pensions; in his technical work, he was equally at home with mortality risk or financial market risk; and when communicating and influencing, he was similarly effective with an audience of actuarial students or cabinet ministers. 

There is one constant that I think can be observed across his entire body of work - an uncompromising commitment to the ethical application of critical thinking. His papers and speeches constantly implore the actuary to question their methods, to think harder and to step back and ensure they are seeing the woods from the trees; and his ethical commitment to the public good compelled him to speak truth to power where necessary and to act, in the words of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, as a "zealous and clear-tongued professional watchdog".

In the talk I hope to identify a number of specific actuarial topics where reflection on Redington's contributions may provide fresh insights for 21st century actuarial work. But it is Redington's approach to professional actuarial life - his uncompromising intellectual standards coupled with his zealous commitment to the public good - that I think provides his most important legacy and inspiration for actuaries today.