Britons were perhaps surprisingly under-represented in the crowd that thronged St Peter’s Square for the canonisation of St John Henry Newman last October. Yet among the sea of Brazilian and Indian flags that occupied the foremost section of the congregation a solitary St George’s Cross stood out as it waved and fluttered from an extendable flag pole.
It was in the hands of Adam Walker, who had made the trip from Liverpool for the occasion. He is a dedicated Catholic, a supernumerary member of Opus Dei, a prelature which expects its members to sanctify their work.
In his professional life the 48-year-old is a scheme actuary, a partner at Barnett Waddingham, an independent consultancy dealing with risk, pensions, investment and insurance.
What does it take to make a good – or Catholic – actuary? “I am fortunate to be in an industry where there is very high stress placed on ethical behaviour,” says Adam. “We are a fairly small profession which is quite highly regulated.”
“Financial services are always interesting,” he continues. “We work for organisations which exist to make a profit, but clearly there is a balance between doing that and making sure that the pensioners that I look after, the policy holders and people who work in insurance, are rightly and justly provided for. It is about doing the right thing.
“We don’t forget that the whole point of the work that we do is to ensure that people who have saved for their retirement are protected and looked after. It might not be the most exciting job in the world, looking from outside, but the demands of justice mean that we do that as well as we can.”
He adds: “I am very lucky that my job gives me a platform to try to do things well and to do things as ethically and justly as I can.”
The financial service sector, he says, needs Christians in the same way that any industry or profession does. The reputation of finance and banking has suffered over the past half a century with the very public emergence of fat cats, corporate greed and a lack of accountability creating a perception of corruption and, in the words of Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi, a “market without morals”.
It could be argued that such a phenomenon is a consequence of secularisation. “It is very difficult to articulate why ethical behaviour is important if you are arguing from a completely relativistic standpoint,” says Adam.
“It helps if your ethics are based on something. Maybe that isn’t going to be Christianity for everybody but it certainly has guided me to do the right thing over the years.”
There have been times, Walker says, “when I have sat down and wondered how working in finance can be squared with the faith more generally.
“But this is how we provide for widows and orphans. Although we live in a time when people are questioning state structures and private sector structures, we have nevertheless built something which enables people to live their lives without fearing where their next meal is coming from.”
He adds: “There is clearly a reaction in the world now to some of the excesses of the late 20th century and certain extremes of capitalism. But we have also seen some of the great benefits of mankind organising itself with a view to being fair and just to people in society.
“For me, working in pensions, as people have grown older there has been a need to find ways to give them security. Personally, I would love to see a revival in the family and the strength of the family which in many cases is the natural context for people to be looked after in their old age.”
Still, he says, providing financial stability remains crucial. “The financial system is providing some scope for looking after the older generations with some dignity, but I think family will always trump finance.”