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The Actuary Magazine

The mission of the Society of Actuaries (SOA) is to advance actuarial knowledge and to enhance the ability of actuaries to provide expert advice and relevant solutions for financial, business and societal challenges. A critical part of this mission is continuing education. Each year, thousands of actuaries attend meetings and seminars put on by the SOA, participate in webinars, listen to podcasts and read articles. While the SOA sections largely provide the content for these educational opportunities, the Professional Development Committee (PDC) has a role in assisting with coordination, identifying opportunities and improving quality. In addition, the PDC supports infrastructure with apps, such as the CPD Tracker, and other resources to assist presenters and authors.

Professional Development Committee

The PDC is a Board-appointed committee made up of experienced volunteers and SOA staff. It has been active since 2009, and it is charged with ensuring that the SOA’s professional development program meets the diverse development needs of the profession and provides the highest quality learning experiences. The PDC ensures that the professional development program is focused on both current and forward-looking technical and nontechnical content, making appropriate use of instructional technologies to assure timeliness of, and broad access to, relevant and engaging programs.

The PDC is made up of 10 voting members: a Board partner, five representatives from the professional interest sections, one representative from the Education Executive Committee, one representative from the International Committee and two SOA staff members. In addition, SOA staff supports the PDC with responsibilities covering education, events, marketing and general insurance.

Overview of PDC Activities

The PDC supports the development and delivery of professional development offerings, monitors and measures progress, and sets goals to improve the quality and number of offerings. Activities include:

  • Review the SOA Strategic Plan to identify any items related to continuing education.
  • Assist with the education content of the major meetings.
  • Monitor smaller meetings and provide assistance, if needed.
  • Monitor webcasts and podcasts.
  • Assess, analyze and propose strategies for programs aligned with the SOA’s Competency Framework, as well as the overall mission and goals of the SOA.
  • Meet with representatives from other professional associations to determine best practices for providing continuing education.
  • Align pre-qualification and professional development programs to ensure new methods and techniques are introduced to the professional development curriculum as they are introduced to pre-qualification education.
  • Approve partnership opportunities through strategic alliances or third parties.

The PDC meets regularly to accomplish these objectives. Generally, there are nine regularly scheduled conference calls and three face-to-face meetings in the course of a year. In addition, subcommittees are created and meet as necessary.

Meetings

A role critical to the PDC mandate is meeting support. PDC representatives are members of the program committees for the SOA Annual Meeting & Exhibit, Life and Annuity Symposium, Health Meeting, Valuation Actuary Symposium, ERM Symposium and Investment Symposium.

The SOA Annual Meeting & Exhibit is the largest SOA-sponsored event and is the biggest actuarial meeting held anywhere in the world. The 2016 SOA Annual Meeting & Exhibit in Las Vegas, which attracted more than 2,400 attendees, offered 167 sessions and two keynote speakers. The sections develop most of the sessions at the meeting, and the remaining sessions typically are developed by SOA staff or companies that sponsor a series of sessions. The special interest section representative from the PDC chairs the Annual Meeting Program Committee. Kevin Pledge has chaired the annual meeting for the last three years and is continuing in that role for the 2017 SOA Annual Meeting & Exhibit in Boston.

2016–2017 PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE MEMBERS

  • Joan Barrett Board Partner
  • Kevin Pledge Chair and Special Interest Section
  • Pat Kinney Vice Chair and Health Section
  • George Eknaian ERM/Finance Sections
  • Terry Long Life Section
  • Marcus Robertson Pension Section
  • Karen Anway Education Executive
  • Bill Sayre International
  • Mike Boot SOA Staff
  • Martha Sikaras SOA Staff

The SOA Annual Meeting & Exhibit requires a large amount of work from both SOA staff and volunteers. Selection of location and booking take place several years in advance. Even the volunteer work itself starts quite early. While the meeting takes place in late October, the Annual Meeting Program Committee has its kick-off meeting in January, with the goal of developing a list of sessions by mid-March. During the next several months, speakers are recruited and presentations developed. The result is three days of sessions, events and networking that appeal to actuaries from all disciplines.

Other meetings the SOA puts on are equally world-class; these provide focused education by discipline. Thanks to planning and commitment from the program committees and the presenters, all of these meetings consistently receive excellent reviews and feedback.

Meeting Improvements

Having stability of representation at meetings helps to foster multiyear improvements. Despite the success of the meetings, the PDC continually looks for ways to improve the quality of the sessions. Some of the improvements we initiated at each of the four major SOA meetings include:

  • Limit the number of sessions at which an individual may present. The PDC has concerns about an individual presenting at multiple sessions during the same meeting. Frequently, an individual who presents at three or more sessions focuses on one or two of the sessions at the expense of the others, and this is reflected in session evaluations. To address this, we have implemented a guideline that an individual should speak at no more than two sessions. Recognizing that exceptions will sometimes need to be made, the program committee chair can approve additional sessions if requested.
  • Expand the number of speakers. We also frequently receive comments about hearing from the same speakers at each meeting. An additional benefit of limiting the number of sessions at which someone may speak is that more speaking positions are available. The program committees are also encouraging recruiters to seek new speakers.
  • Improve the quality of speaker presentations. To help both new and established speakers, the PDC has introduced training for speakers and moderators. Efforts have included one-on-one coaching, webcasts and videos from professional speakers. For example, a moderator-training webcast was first provided for the 2016 SOA Annual Meeting & Exhibit. The turnout was higher than expected, and the webcast was extremely well-received.
  • Mentor speakers. Recognizing that webcasts and videos can only go so far, several experienced speakers have volunteered to mentor newer speakers. Mentored speakers will receive assistance as they prepare their presentations, and the mentors will provide feedback on the delivered presentation. It is intended that the same mentor will assist the mentee for more than one presentation so he or she can apply the feedback and improve.
  • Recognize outstanding sessions. Finally, everything comes together by recognizing great sessions. Beginning with the 2016 Life and Annuity Symposium, speaker gifts were eliminated and replaced by outstanding session awards. The program chair and the PDC representative select the sessions to be recognized, based in part on evaluations, but also considering other criteria such as attendance. Speakers for the outstanding sessions receive a gift and plaque from the SOA. Additionally, the speakers and the sponsoring sections are recognized in SOA publications.

Future

We expect the meetings to keep growing, both in terms of the number of sessions offered and attendance. In part, this depends on industry developments, but we also are seeing more and more people attend for networking and idea generation. In 2017, we continue to focus on improving the quality of professional development offerings.

  • A new Predictive Analytics Symposium was offered in late summer.
  • A Certificate Program for Predictive Analytics is being piloted this year. The PDC will review the results and make a recommendation on next steps to the SOA Board in October.
  • The outstanding session awards will be expanded to include the ERM Symposium and Investment Symposium.

Volunteer members lead all of these initiatives. The PDC and SOA staff are here to provide support. If you have any ideas as to how meetings or professional development in general can be improved, we welcome your feedback. Please reach out to a member of the PDC or SOA staff.

Terry Long, FSA, MAAA, is senior vice president and consulting actuary at Lewis & Ellis in Overland Park, Kansas.
Kevin Pledge, FSA, FIA, is president and CEO of Acceptiv in Toronto.