Reflections on a game-changing conference

Shot of the opening session of IFoA Conference

Following the inaugural IFoA Conference on 22-22 June, IFoA CEO Stephen Mann reflects on the successes and learnings from our first fully hybrid, cross-practice event.

It was with a great deal of excitement and perhaps just a little trepidation that this time last week, we opened the doors to our first ever fully hybrid, cross-practice IFoA annual conference.

The excitement was down to our enthusiasm for new formats, new types of sessions and the chance to see many colleagues and members in person; we knew that we had a fantastic two days ahead and that our theme of ‘tomorrow’s actuary’ was already hitting home with our members with nearly 400 signed up to attend in person and nearly as many again virtually. But the trepidation? Well, it’s fair to say that I was a little concerned about the effects of the train strikes in London; plus, though hopeful, and confident of success, I was aware that our duo of firsts - a fully cross-practice approach and a fully hybrid event – was a brave approach for the inaugural annual conference. Getting a text from our opening speaker, President Matt Saker, about his positive Covid-19 test two and a half hours before he was due to address the conference in person hardly helped the pre-conference nerves. I was very relieved that the team were able to work around this and we kicked off on time with our President joining us virtually instead.

So, I’m delighted to report that despite the challenges, and any uncertainty, our 2022 IFoA Annual Conference went fantastically and given the uncertainties involved it couldn’t have gone any better; it was really evident that we had both an attentive and buoyant atmosphere for the event.

We have learned a lot from this experience and while there are some things we will put in place or do differently next time, the big things we wanted to test worked well.

Trying a cross-practice format at this scale was a first and we wanted to see how it resonated. The programme was packed with engaging and high-profile speakers, who discussed cutting-edge and stimulating topics, reaching across and beyond the entire actuarial profession and which shows IFoA is a good “draw”. It was heartening and encouraging to hear from delegates again and again that accessing to cross-practice content, which usually falls outside of members’ specific practice area or technical area of interest, enabled a very valuable perspective that challenged their assumptions. There was definitely a sentiment among delegates I spoke to that most jobs have some cross practice element in them and getting exposure to topics and discussions that do not normally arise in the course of their day-to-day work was enriching.

IFoA has a clear public interest duty, and it was great to join conversations where members and delegates were considering the content they were hearing and clearly thinking about the wider impacts on society and the role that the IFoA might take in seeking to address these.

And as for the hybrid format, this also worked really well, and our amazing technical team staged what seemed to me to be a seamless event for all those at the venue and all those who joined virtually. I know it didn’t always feel seamless behind the scenes and we are all still learning how to mix the virtual and the physical worlds, but speakers and delegates alike embraced the hybrid format. This gives us a good blueprint for future events, one which I suspect will become our “go to” format.

On a personal note, we were able to host an in-person new qualifiers event for the first time since January 2020, which I can only describe as joyous. It was fantastic to see them, and their families seamlessly mix with the delegates drinks at the end of day two, and hear wisdoms and encouragements being passed in both directions.

So, what have we learned from this inaugural, ‘test-and-learn’ conference? We’ve learned that there is a huge appetite for cross-practice content, and that our members are committed to exploring how actuaries can make a difference to issues facing the world. We’ve learned that we can successfully host a highly technical hybrid event, and deal with every last-minute challenge one could imagine.  In many ways it showed that much of the initiative and speed with which the IFoA moved during the pandemic was not a one-off. It was great to have some conviction to try something new and to be in an environment where our Council members are willing to back this sort of approach. Above all, we’ve learned that our strategy of supporting tomorrow’s actuaries and preparing the profession for the future, is resonating significantly with our members.

We need to formally go through a review process, but it seems inevitable that we will look to run a cross-practice event next year. In the meantime, if you are keen to experience or take part in more forward-thinking discussions about tomorrow’s actuaries and how the actuarial profession can impact society and its challenges, I encourage you to visit our Innovation Lab. Watch the video here to find out more: