Actuaries' Lecture at Staple Inn, Holborn

Thursday 17th November 2016

If for no other reason, it was worth attending this lecture just to see the venue - another of those London gems that has eluded me thus far. A little taste of London from the time of Samuel Pepys, this rare survivor of medievil London was constructed in 1585, survived the Great Fire and was nearly lost in WW2; The stained glass had been removed to safety, but the roof of the Great Hall took a direct hit and so what we see now is a (very good) post-War reconstruction. The Actuaries use this place quite a lot and host this lecture anually. The Master, Sally Bridgeland, introduced us to John Kay, CBE who gave us a facinating and quite amusing lecture entitled Risk and uncertainty in finance and business - an annotated history. Basically, what's the difference between gambling and insurance.. not as much as we'd like to think in a nutshell! One of the examples he cited was the 1880's case of the Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. who made such extraordinary claims for its efficacy after two months "correct" useage, that a lady who promptly caught influenza after this period sued them - her husband was a lawyer. The defence was constructed by Herbert Asquith, later a PM, who suggested the advertised claims should be considered more of a gamble, than insurance against ill health... They lost. After the lecture, we enjoyed a good meal of duck confit and ice cream with plenty of merlot to see it down. It was only after supper we had questions and they were nearly as amusing as the talk. We wrapped up about 9.30 and dispersed into the chill night, pausing to admire the fine stained glass from the cobbled courtyard as a last treat.