Actuaries should seek to understand the phenomenon of ‘professions’ because much of our working life is influenced by the belief that we are a ‘profession’. This paper considers various theories as to why professions exist — do they arise naturally to fulfil functions in society, or are they created by the efforts of the occupational groups which aspire to become professions? Professions are shaped by the society of which they are a part. Ongoing changes in society are affecting professions in general, and the actuarial profession in particular. The difficulties which the actuarial profession will face as it seeks to expand beyond its traditional territory are discussed. Finally the author speculates on what institutional forms might replace professions in the twenty-first century.