The Harrier jet of lifelong learning


As one of the IFoA’s 4700+ volunteers, Nick Spencer is Chair of the IFoA Sustainability Board. He featured as our ‘Inside Story’ in the December issue of The Actuary magazine. In this blog he provides some more details on the role of the Sustainability Board and answers some more questions on his volunteering experience.

The phrase that caught the editor’s imagination in my Inside Story was “Volunteering is the Harrier Jump Jet of lifelong learning … straight up and away.”

I totally believe volunteering has assisted my personal and professional development and helped me in my day job. The stream of knowledge and different perspectives, and working with regulators, are invaluable and sit alongside the softer skills of working within a board and chairing it.

The IFoA Sustainability Board

The Sustainability Board seeks to create meaningful engagement from all actuaries in understanding, and addressing the risks and uncertainties for economic and financial systems arising from climate change and other sustainability issues.

As Chair, I help coordinate the Board’s activities. In addition to the Board’s objectives, I have personally set three themes for my tenure:

  1. Make climate-related and sustainability risks part of the actuarial DNA
  2. Champion biodiversity, human rights and diversity
  3. Renew the IFoA’s focus on thought-leadership

A key step forward for the first theme has been the Climate-Risk Related Taskforce (CRRT). The CRRT was a joint Council and Sustainability Board initiative that I co-chaired with the President-elect, Louise Pryor.

Its core aim was to ensure that climate-related risk is understood and considered by our members in the same way as other major risks, such as interest-rate risk and mortality risk. Council supported this goal and endorsed the report, which provides an IFoA-wide action plan with 38 recommendations.

The adoption by Council of the CRRT report is a seminal moment for the IFoA in tackling climate and sustainability risks. It gives a clear, multi-year action plan across the profession that will help all members better understand and advise on the risks. I encourage you to find out more and get involved in our Sustainability Volunteer Group (see IFoA’s Volunteer Vacancies).

I also volunteer as a member of the Biodiversity Working Party and as a member of the Actuaries for Transformational Change. In these working parties, I’m free to engage in the research, the discussions and to help make connections.

The Biodiversity Working Party has already submitted a paper to the Sustainability Board and Regulation Board highlighting the importance to actuaries of biodiversity as an emerging risk

I’m also keen that the profession regains its voice, which I feel has diminished since the 90s when I first joined. So I’m pleased to be involved with Actuaries for Transformational Change (ATC) who are looking to address this.

What do you get from volunteering?

You get out in proportion to what you put in with volunteering. Working Party groups both expand your own knowledge as well as supporting others.

It’s also about working with others with a shared passion. In the sustainability space, there are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). If you engage at all with the world, then you will have a passion for at least one, and almost certainly many, of the SDGs. Join with others who share that passion.

Volunteering has given me the amazing privilege to Chair the Sustainability Board. I feel keenly the responsibility to undertake that role as best I can. It is such a privilege and blessing to be offered the opportunity to make a difference to the profession and beyond.

What word describes you? Bricolagist

In a single word, I would say a ‘bricolagist’: I seek to create a collage of different skills, perspectives and approaches to generate solutions.

I enjoy networking and connecting different ideas and people together. Expanding on fundamental principles and creating novel solutions is the foundation of creativity and new thinking – ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’.

All the problems in sustainability are ‘wicked problems’. There is no silver bullet, but a silver buckshot of many ideas collated together is our best chance of fashioning an overall solution. That also means don’t seek perfection, but experiment, fail-forward and ‘just do it’.

Your best career moment?

The actuary in me makes me hesitant in picking superlatives (scoring system anyone…), but seeing the Russell Investment’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee on stage at the Annual Town Hall was a great moment.  I was co-chair of the committee, the best part of which is the mentoring and seeing each of the different leads grow into their role.

So it was a brilliant moment to watch each of them shine on stage, talking to 250 of their colleagues with passion and clarity. Especially as I knew that some used to be nervous speaking to a group of five!

Get involved

View the details of the Sustainability Volunteer Group and a wide range of other volunteer vacancies available on the IFoA website.