Talking Sustainability with Louise Pryor
In this article, Keziah Baskerville-Muscutt interviews Louise Pryor, who is a sustainability actuary and President-elect of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA). Keziah asks Louise about her work, her views of the actuarial profession and how it links to sustainability, and her advice for aspiring members.
You are a freelance actuary working in a range of positions. What do some of your roles involve?
I do a lot of work for the IFoA. As President-elect I’m working with the Presidential team probably 3-4 days a week, attending meetings and trying to get things organised. The IFoA is going through quite a period of change: we approved a new strategy last year, we’re re-organising how quite a lot of the volunteer and corporate boards work, so there’s lots of work to do.
I also do some work with – we do mainly pension and social security work in emerging economies and my job is to support on the modelling side. At the moment, we’re not doing any explicitly sustainability work, but in the past I have done some research work for I’m a non-executive director of the , which is one of the smaller building societies that is very values driven and lends on various green building projects, and chair of the , which is partnership of organisations looking to lead on climate change adaptation and resilience to extreme weather in London.
What projects are you working on right now?
I have just starting some interesting work on carbon offsetting. With many firms and governments pledging to go carbon neutral, lifetime carbon neutral offsetting is going to needed to achieve this. But what are you actually doing with offsetting? You’re paying money today to offset current emissions, but those offsets will take a number of years, or even decades, to be realised. A lot of the problems with offsetting are therefore similar to insurance and pensions problems. In insurance we tend to think about differences in timing of money; the premiums and contributions going in and the benefits going out. With carbon, it’s the difference in timing between emissions and uptake. There’s a lot of thinking that can be done on how offsetting can be achieved in actuarial terms.
From your view, what is the role of actuaries in the transition to net-zero?
I think actuaries can have a really important role to play, they can be both reactive and proactive. On the reactive front, actuarial clients and employers are increasingly going to want actuaries to think about climate risk. This could be driven by regulatory pressure – in the UK the PRA is driving quite hard at the moment and the Pensions Regulator is on the same track – but also I suspect social and reputational pressure. Increasingly, there are pressure groups trying to get insurers, pension schemes and general corporates to think about issues such as divestment or ESG.
On the proactive side, actuaries could have quite a lot of leverage because we have influence in the financial world. This is where the risk management aspect comes in: actuaries need to be clear to people that even if the regulators aren’t pushing them to think about climate risks, they have a responsibility to do so. For example, the CEO of AXA has cautioned that more than 4 degrees Celsius of warming this century would make the world "uninsurable." Certainly, actuaries in the risk function should be thinking about strategic risks as well as the day-to-day risks.
How do you see the role of the ‘sustainability’ actuary evolving over the next 3-5 years?
We’ve already seen over the last couple of years a huge growth in the number of actuaries involved in ESG investment, which is great. I think the risk management outlook on sustainability is a limited but certainly very valuable outlook and a role that actuaries could perform very well. It could be an easy way in for actuaries.
In June you’ll be taking up the IFoA Presidency. What will your focus be whilst in office?
I’m still working on what my theme will be, but sustainability will be involved, how could it not! I think it’s important that Presidents don’t come in and try to turn the ship in a completely different direction to the previous president. I want to continue focusing on the new strategy that came out at the end of last year, which focuses on how to create a thriving future actuarial profession. It’s all about developing the skills we need to thrive in a changing world, how we could use those skills, where we could use those skills and recognising that we need to keep learning throughout our working lives. I also want to ensure the IFoA becomes even more member focused; everything comes from our members and we must think about what we can do for them.
Have you got any advice for actuaries wanting to get involved in sustainability?
The first thing is to learn a bit about sustainability. You can do this very easily, there are lots of online courses on platforms such as edX or Coursera, or you could get involved with volunteering. This should give you an idea about the type of work there is in the field and what you might find interesting.
The next step is to forget about being an actuary. What I mean by that is think about the skills you have and what problems we can solve using them, rather than thinking of the specific areas in which you’ve always used them. Try not to get too status conscious. It is likely that you will not be as well paid in the sustainability field compared to traditional actuarial work, but if you want to do a job and you can afford it – and I recognise that may not be the case for everyone – then that’s a decision you have to make. On the other hand, if you’re delivering value to your employer and your clients you should be getting paid for it. That’s happened in my lifetime – when I started out in my career there were very few actuaries in general insurance and there were no regulations saying you needed them. But some actuaries started working in that area and gradually they took over because they delivered value to their employers. And that’s what you must think about with sustainability: what value are you bringing?
Read the full interview on the Sustainable Finance Community’s