Photograph: Hyon Smith
To kick things off, I want to ask a very important question. Is there a future in the actuarial profession?
I am sure you’ve been asked that question at least once in your life by teenagers or young students seeking career advice. We should all be asking ourselves that question with a new sense of urgency. If we ignore it, we do so at our peril. Let me explain…
Anyone familiar with travel agencies, banks and manufacturing plants can see that robots, automation and software can replace people. In these industries, productivity is at record levels, but we have fewer total jobs. A less dramatic but similar change is taking place in professional services. Artificial intelligence, big data and improved analytics are automating more and more complex tasks.
So much for tasks—and what about our softer skills?
As actuaries, we get high marks as skilled subject matter experts, but our stakeholders do not consider us particularly business savvy or great communicators. While we know actuaries who are great business leaders, we also know actuaries who fit the negative stereotype as well.
The challenge we face in the years to come is an existential one. Will we as a profession dwindle in numbers and importance? Or will we succeed in renewing our skill sets and our unique capabilities, rapidly enough and in harmony with emerging technology in order to preserve and expand the role and value of the actuary?
Complacency is not an option.
We need to do more, much more, to tackle these threats to our relevance and value—and by “we,” I mean all of us globally. Regardless of our home country or practice areas, we are members of the same profession and face the same challenges. It’s up to us, both as individuals and as leaders of actuarial organizations, such as the Society of Actuaries (SOA), to make sure we focus our efforts on achieving that brighter path.
Relevance of the profession will remain the overarching issue and the key litmus test for action and decision-making. This year, I will focus on three related themes:
- Collaboration with other actuarial organizations
- International growth
- Expansion of actuarial opportunities
However, in a larger sense, responding to the challenges goes well beyond me—and well beyond the SOA Board. You, too, have a key role. To move forward, we need your help. I am asking you to lend a hand so that together we can shape our common future.
Let’s discuss the importance of collaboration—with each other and also with other organizations.
Successful collaboration includes frequent communication, relationship building, and mutual trust and respect. We need to be reaching out to our key stakeholders and other centers of influence, communicating our key message.
We want to increase awareness of the value of the SOA credentials, and to promote actuaries as trusted advisers and leaders in the measurement and management of financial risks.
We are building bridges and working together with other actuarial organizations to ensure the continuing relevance and success of the actuarial profession.
Building a bridge means listening with intent. Not to respond, but to really hear what the other side is saying, and to appreciate what they desire and what they know. Bridges are actively built from both sides. Ultimately, it is about building trust.
So how can you as members lend a hand? It is linked to volunteer efforts. Volunteers are the lifeblood of nonprofit organizations and a way for all of us to give back to the profession.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our volunteers for their contributions—11 percent of you serve as members on our committees, on task forces or in sections. That’s an incredible amount of talent and expertise in the service of our profession.
Volunteerism is important. So, too, is the expertise we bring to our companies and clients. And we enhance our expertise through continuing education and by asking the right questions.
I encourage you to check the SOA volunteer database for opportunities to work on collaborative projects. I also encourage you as members to tell us what you think, to send us your feedback and to share your questions.
We need to stay ahead of the changing global economy and ensure our members have a relevant global perspective. We are a global actuarial organization with a rapidly expanding international member base in more than 80 countries.
As a premier provider of education and research, we have much to offer. And we recognize that our mission is to work collaboratively with local organizations, not supplant them.
What is the rationale for international growth? International growth provides more opportunities for actuaries to work with global companies both here and abroad, it promotes the value of our FSA and ASA designations and the CERA credential, and it facilitates the mobility of actuaries by expanding their opportunities and geographic reach.
It may surprise some of you that five of the top 10 SOA exam centers are now in Asia.
To remain effective, we need to tailor our services to our international members and stakeholders, and foster a sense of community with all members, regardless of specialty, practice area, section membership or country.
We strive to provide services to those members locally. We have hosted and will continue to host professional development events, from webinars to live meetings that are specific to those locations. Recently we added new requests for research proposals in China and Asia Pacific. The local offices in both Hong Kong and Beijing help address and reinforce our connections.
China is an important market for insurance and for actuaries. The SOA is very active in China. We train thousands of candidates, and we organize key events such as the China Annual Symposium and the recent 30th anniversary event with Nankai University.
What about other parts of the world? The demand for insurance, pensions, health care and actuaries in Latin America is beginning to grow. Through our Latin America committee, we have been reaching out to local insurance associations, universities, regulators and employers in countries such as Argentina and Brazil, in order to explore how we might engage in those markets.
Expanding actuarial opportunities
We need to significantly step up our efforts to deal with our rapidly changing environment. The challenge for any profession is to remain relevant to its key stakeholders. That applies to the actuarial profession as well. We address the question of relevance both individually and collectively. Individually, we do so by committing to lifelong learning and continuing education, which replenishes our skills and ensures we can meet the needs of our future employers and clients.
We also remain relevant by:
- Developing skills outside of our areas of expertise.
- Working on our weaknesses as well as our strengths.
- Improving our “soft skills.”
Actuaries are and should be the leading professionals in the measurement and management of financial risk. When employers think of actuaries, I want them to think of us as more than technicians. I want them to think of us as leaders, as problem-solvers, as an essential part of the team, contributing meaningfully and directly to company success.
Those we serve are undergoing tremendous change. Our future depends on adapting to that change and serving our customers well. In the SOA strategic plan, we have identified a number of key strategic initiatives, such as enhanced environmental scanning, strategic research and education in predictive analytics for both new and existing members.
The ultimate goal of our strategy is simple and resolute:
- We want to be relevant to employer and client needs.
- We want to serve a large and growing profession, and in turn provide meaningful work for current and future members.
- We want to be recognized and seen as credible with our stakeholders.
- We want to expand the frontiers of the actuarial profession though ongoing strategic research.
We need to make sure we remain highly sought-after professionals, and that stakeholders continue to seek out our members for their unique skills and high ethical standards. Let me conclude with a question and a challenge to you:
- What can you or any one person do to help shape the future—can you make a difference?
Commitment is the best way for you to help shape our future and make a difference. Let us:
- Work together to keep the actuarial profession vibrant.
- Focus on attracting the best and brightest to our profession.
- Collaborate with other organizations to advance our profession.
- Expand actuarial opportunities in emerging fields.
- Sharpen our actuarial skills and at the same time enhance our business acumen and communications skills.
- Prove the relevance of our credentials.
Together we will make a difference. I ask you to join us and lend a hand to shape our future.