Reinventing the profession: A call to action

Gate with Staple Inn above it

Before I became President, many actuaries shared their views on what they most wanted to see change during my Presidential year. A key theme emerged: the profession needs to raise its game in thought leadership and become more influential in addressing the regulatory, social impact and sustainability issues of our time.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be powerful catalyst in reminding us what our public interest truly is and what we stand for as a profession. Are we just technical actuaries providing analysis and recommendations within the systems imposed on us? Or are our roles wider? Are we not risk professionals who can influence debate on the sustainability and soundness of the systems, and assumptions on which our models and analyses rest?

Tan Suee Chieh, President of the IFoA, discusses a new approach to thought leadership, and a talks about his new presidential speaker series.

The pandemic has unmasked many fault lines in our society: the adequacy of our health systems, income and economic insecurity, and social injustices - in addition to the climate and biodiversity crises which we were already embroiled in. 

Actuaries contribute to the functioning of all these systems. However, these systems are not as resilient or sustainable as we would like because new sources of uncertainty have come to the fore.  As actuaries, we have an obligation to address the systemic risk underpinning our professional work. Our public interest duty requires us to respond proactively and boldly on issues that we can influence like the pandemic, the climate crisis and widening inequality.

To think systemically and create solutions from a higher vantage point has always been the soul of the profession. But now we have to leave that behind, be bolder and more imaginative, and make the most difference where we can.

The Vision, Skills, Mind-sets, Domains (VSMD) strategy seeks to address these aspirations.  It calls for a modernisation of our skillset, including a multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving in response to the disruption created by the fourth industrial revolution. It also calls for a reinvention of the profession by embracing new cultural values, such as curiosity, the growth mind-set and continuous learning. We must believe that our mathematics enables us to work within the system, but our capability and judgement oblige us to work on the system. 

Starting in January 2021, we are pleased to say that we have curated a new approach to thought leadership. The new approach seeks to re-position the IFoA at the centre of the some of the key debates of our time. Some of these debates are profoundly actuarial; some extend beyond our traditional actuarial world, in keeping with our VSMD strategy and our desire for actuaries to access new domains.

It strives to cut through the noise, add to the debate and move the conversation forward, whilst engaging and inspiring our audience, whether that be members, politicians, regulators, academics, or the public. But above all, the approach aims to build the IFoA reputation as an authority in order to support our strategic objectives and to execute our public interest duties.

The Presidential Speaker Series seeks to convene experts in fields connected with the work of actuaries, to provide stimulating debate and discussion. We were delighted to be joined by academic and author Professor Andrew Scott who kicked off the series on 26 January. Drawing from his recent book ‘The New Long Life’, he outlined how longer lives and new technologies will fundamentally reshape how we structure our lives and transform the economy.

More fantastic speakers are lined up throughout the year, including economist Vicky Pryce and Professor Sir Adrian Smith of the Alan Turing Institute. You can register on our website.

In March, we will bring together renowned figures in financial regulation to explore whether the system we as actuaries operate within is still fit for purpose given the various disruptive forces at play. At Finance in the Public Interest, we will be joined by journalist John Kay (Financial Times) and Andy Haldane (Chief Economist, Bank of England). They will share their perspectives on how well our financial system is serving both its customers and the public interest.  

Finally, commencing in April to coincide with the anniversary of the European peak, the IFoA will host a fortnight of Covid-related events. Our colleagues from both the IFoA Covid-19 Action Taskforce (ICAT) and the Actuaries Response Group will showcase their work, including policy and data analysis that has led to the IFoA being sought after by governments and media.

Simultaneously, the IFoA will publish the final report of the Great Risk Transfer campaign, with recommendations that will touch nearly every field where actuaries work. My predecessor John Taylor continues to lead the conversation on this important initiative.  

With COP26 postponed until November 2021, there will inevitably be a crescendo of activity as the eyes of the world turn to Glasgow in the hope of renewed global, collective action against the climate crisis. President-elect Louise Pryor will be leading a range of IFoA events, including with Sarah Gordon, CEO - Impact Investing Institute on 24 February, as part of our overall campaign on climate.

Our hope is that this new approach will stimulate and inspire the profession to rediscover its soul, whilst shedding new light on both well-trodden and emerging topics. My hope is that it will also position the IFoA as the “go-to” financial services body for open minded, innovative and multi-disciplinary thinking.