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General Session Speech, SOA 2017 Annual Meeting

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Jeremy J. Brown, FSA, MAAA

Past President, Society of Actuaries


When I became SOA president elect in 2015, former Society of Actuaries (SOA) President and current American Academy of Actuaries (the Academy) President, Bob Beuerlein gave me a lot of good advice, including that the next two years will go by faster than you think. Did they ever!

Last year at the 2016 SOA Annual Meeting & Exhibit in Las Vegas, I ended my first speech as your president by asking for your help to guide this organization’s path. And you’ve answered that call head on.

Thank you for all of your assistance, feedback, volunteerism and ideas this past year. I stand here today proud of your accomplishments and ready to tell you how they made a difference.

Together we have carried through on our efforts to implement curriculum changes and provided new professional development offerings, particularly for predictive analytics. We have released a wide range of research on topics ranging from pensions to climate change, and of course, provided objective perspectives on the Affordable Care Act.

You and I spoke in the halls after professional development sessions and meetings. You’ve read and shared my articles and social media posts about the industry and STEM education. You’ve sent me emails with ideas and responses on recent SOA developments. All of this I’ve taken to heart, and I appreciate everything you have done and continue to do. You have my thanks. 

We stand together.

What a whirlwind year—and I say that as an actuary and as SOA president. Such valuable experiences this year. Such great work by all of you in representing this profession. Let’s take a moment to revisit our mission statement, as we harness research and education to advance actuarial knowledge and improve decision making, ultimately to benefit society. These words embody who we are and what we strive to do. Remember, our mission is only as strong as our actions that strive to accomplish it.

As president, I’ve seen such energy and spirit from our candidates and brand new SOA associates. They represent the future of our profession. A bright future!

I’m also impressed by the seasoned associates, fellows and retirees who volunteer their time and expertise. The Valuation Actuary Symposium is one such example of how we gather the best to discuss both timely and technical topics. The August event was cancelled due to the hurricane in Texas. And yet we were able to find new ways to share this valuation thought leadership and best practices through webinars and also live sessions taking place here in Boston.

We succeed through the combined efforts of our members, staff and presenters. We advance the profession through continued activities that will long outlive my presidency.

Now let’s both look back at the past year and also take a look forward. Let’s talk about innovation, participation and collaboration and of course, education and learning.

As actuaries we stay ahead as a leading career by continuously learning. We can’t stand still, nor should we. Business issues need answers. Our skills and professionalism are relied upon by our clients and employers. They seek our counsel and we’ve got to be ready for new challenges and prepared to develop new solutions. The SOA is here to:

  • Enhance the ability of actuaries to be trusted business and financial advisors,
  • lead innovative research for the industry,
  • provide and ensure the integrity and relevance of your credentials, and  
  • to provide continuing education opportunities.

I’ve had the privilege of helping implement the new 2017–2021 strategic plan. While the strategic plan isn’t something you probably think about every day, keep in mind it is there as a foundational resource. It touches upon all of the points I’ve just mentioned. This strategic plan was built with your feedback, along with thoughts from a wide range of stakeholders, including employers and future actuaries.

The past year has been filled with successes in applying key ideas from the plan in making important decisions. For example, the SOA:

  • is prepared to incorporate predictive analytics into our ASA curriculum as a key new skill set for actuaries. We will begin offering these exams in July, 2018.
  • it has kept a pulse on emerging issues impacting the profession,
  • provided the public with an understanding of key societal issues through SOA research,
  • continued to improve effective relationships with other actuarial organizations, and
  • worked with you to incorporate a global perspective in this ever-evolving world. 

The SOA is here:

  • to maintain the high standards of education and continuous learning that you’ve come to expect,
  • to ensure the degree of rigor our stakeholders expect is maintained, and the prestigious quality of your designations are globally-recognized, and
  • to support the significant importance and value that your credentials carry.

Our organization gathers perspectives from members and candidates, and strives to have employers and clients continually seek out actuaries for their skills in measuring and managing risk. That requires the development of actuaries’ skills and the promotion of actuaries’ thought leadership to increase awareness of the profession, such as through media outreach.

Actuaries do not sit still in terms of education. Filled with curiosity and the need for knowledge, we are an elite group of problem solvers. Researchers. Innovators. Leaders. Game changers. We are lifelong learners. It is in our nature. It is how we understand and manage risk. 

And with this in mind, I want to call out the SOA’s work with professional development, education, and exams to meet the industry’s needs. The SOA established the Learning Strategy initiative as an important part of professional development and continuous improvement in maintaining the quality of SOA exams and education. That includes identifying and incorporating new technology and improved ways of learning. Maybe you’ve taken one of the online courses on principle-based reserves, or participated in one of several predictive analytics offerings.

The changes to the ASA curriculum are also part of the SOA’s Learning Strategy, incorporating new assessment technologies and methods of education. The SOA offers a complete curriculum for future actuaries. It includes a better balance of the mathematics of long-term and short-term insurance, especially for the global market. These changes reflect employer-valued components and the quality, rigor and depth of expertise expected of SOA members. There is consensus that actuaries need to know more than the basic regression and time series methods that have been the focus of the ASA curriculum. With predictive analytics, it is critical to identify opportunities for applying our actuarial skills and expertise inside and outside of the insurance industry. The curriculum changes will really take shape in the summer of 2018 for candidates. There will also be changes to the FSA curriculum, which we announced in October. These changes reflect employer-valued components and updates on certain subject matter. If you’re curious, like me, about the curriculum, then check out the different syllabi online at SOA.org/curriculumchanges.

I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the contributions made regarding  education. There’s the ASA curriculum changes, the Predictive Analytics Certificate pilot program, and the inaugural Predictive Analytics Symposium. For being our very first symposium dedicated to predictive analytics, it was wonderful to see attendance well exceeding expectations. We had almost 250 attendees.

Overall, the SOA team met challenge after challenge, and I would like to specifically recognize the Education staff and volunteers for their leadership in pulling these programs together. We’ve had great conversations with candidates, SOA members, and university and college faculty, about the curriculum changes. It was especially humbling to speak with students and alumni from my alma mater—WPI. Consider speaking to your university or nearby schools about the actuarial career, or maybe help mentor candidates and young actuaries as they start out their career. If you need some ideas on how to start mentoring, give SOA customer service a call and they will connect you with someone who will help.

Our organization strives for cooperation and engagement with, and on behalf of, the profession. The SOA succeeds only with your participation. The end goal is to help support your career and level of engagement with the profession. With the member recognition program, you can earn points through volunteer and engagement activities with the SOA. These activities advance the SOA and the profession. As a token of our appreciation, you earn SOA-branded items that will make you the envy of all your friends. Seriously, be proud, wear those shirts or use those coffee mugs, and when someone asks you where you got it, tell them … “By giving back to the profession with your time and expertise.”

Furthermore, tell them where you found those volunteer opportunities, and what you learned from them. The SOA has an easy-to-use database to identify volunteer opportunities based on type, area of interest, and level of commitment.

Last year, 11 percent of SOA members volunteered for one or more opportunities. I count myself as part of this group. I’m a long-time volunteer, especially with education. I urge you to consider taking on one or more volunteer opportunities, from education to research and professional development to section-focused activities.  There are a wide range of options to consider. As part of this volunteerism, some of you have worked with the staff to speak with the media—providing actuarial perspectives on leading issues and insights on SOA research reports.

I’m especially proud of the volunteer efforts with respect to socially-relevant research topics. There have been great articles out there on mortality tables and pension plans. Retirement risks, longevity and aging. Members have provided objective viewpoints on the Affordable Care Act and health plans. Actuaries have made national and local news around the United States in discussing health care costs, health exchanges and related health challenges, with Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, and many other media. In fact, we’ve achieved a new milestone for our organization. This year we exceeded more than a billion media impressions, which is the number of views of the articles. 

Through our work with the media we’re helping expand awareness of our profession. It is achieved through your actuarial skills, perspectives and involvement. Another significant achievement is that the North American Actuarial Journal—the NAAJ—was selected as a listing in the Emerging Sources Citation Index, a new index in the Web of Science Core Collection. This means increased visibility to readers and potentially elevating the importance of publishing in this prestigious, peer-reviewed journal. 

Congratulations to the NAAJ.

Participation can mean local efforts, national projects, and professional interest sections. There are many SOA sections to consider joining and volunteering with, plus you can gain new ideas by working with different sections. Participation also means efforts that transcend borders.

One of the best parts of serving as SOA president is connecting with, and learning from, so many actuaries around the globe, members and non-members alike. These opportunities arise with my visits to major SOA meetings in the United States, Canada, China, and Greater Asia. This travel does not lack adventure. I have had trips interrupted by blizzards, hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires, and too many airport delays to even try to count. For instance, I arrived in India about an hour after the national government took nearly all the cash out of circulation. That made paying for a cab ride from the airport interesting.

There’s also been plenty of discussions and meetings with actuarial organizations around the world, from Latin America and the Caribbean to India and Africa. Once again SOA members participated in the Executive Education Exchange program with the China Association of Actuaries. In 2016, we hosted the events in the United States, and this year members traveled to China, including Shanghai and Beijing, to meet with academic leaders and counterparts from leading companies. The SOA was one of several organizations hosting meetings in Chicago for the International Actuarial Association, and of course we regularly participate with the North American Actuarial Council. There’s also the combined group efforts from the Academy, the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) and the Canadian Institute of Actuaries (CIA) for the Actuaries Climate Index—a tool providing insights on severe weather in Canada and the United States.

It’s important to embrace the world around us. I’m talking about diversity and inclusion within our profession. The SOA is committed to helping address gaps and identify opportunities. Let’s continue to encourage others to join this great profession. My predecessor, Craig Reynolds, helped get these efforts rolling within the organization and I’m proud to have played a part with these ongoing efforts.

Why you ask? Because it is simply the right thing to do. It helps to attract best and brightest to the profession and it brings new approaches and ways of thinking. It incorporates ideas from people from all backgrounds, cultures and diverse experiences. Let’s work together to support greater inclusion and diversity—from bright, young students considering the profession to actuaries pursuing senior leadership positions.

Latinos and African-Americans are under-represented in STEM fields, and even more so in the actuarial field. To help address this, we partnered with the CAS, the International Association of Black Actuaries (IABA) and the Actuarial Foundation, on a study to examine the barriers to entering our profession. These organizations seek to address this discrepancy and cultivate a more diverse actuarial profession. This research will help us determine what investments can be made, or programs undertaken, to achieve the greatest impact on inclusion and diversity in the profession.

Earlier this year the CAS and SOA launched a Spanish language version of BeAnActuary.org , an important step in reaching out to the Latino audience. I also attended two informal receptions of the newly forming Organization of Latino Actuaries, and I look forward to supporting its mission to connect Latino actuaries and aspiring Latino actuaries to each other, and to the profession. I want to extend a happy 25th anniversary to the IABA. Resource groups like IABA are a powerful force for inclusion.

The SOA, on its own and in collaboration with other actuarial organizations, will launch new resource groups in the coming year for LGBTQ, women, and any group that desires a connection to each other and the profession, as well as a forum to discuss and elevate issues important to them.

Let’s work together to increase the number of diverse candidates and members, and provide these groups with opportunities for advancement and leadership. The SOA needs your help to do so. If you haven’t already, please volunteer your demographic information in your SOA profile. This information is kept confidential and is strictly used to understand our membership demographics. Just go to your SOA profile and include this additional information.

I encourage you to seek new ways of looking at the world. Be open to different perspectives. For instance, don’t miss Scott Page’s keynote on diversity during tomorrow’s presidential luncheon. You’ve probably noticed me mentioning the wide range of organizations we partner with regularly. I wanted to further call out the important growth of these relationships. The profession’s elected leaders work together as a group to support you as actuaries, and to make our profession stronger.

I’ve worked closely with the leaders of the other actuarial organizations, and this has been one of the most satisfying aspects of serving as president. There are far too many organizations and individuals to name, but I would like to offer my sincere thanks to CAS President Nancy Braithwaite and Academy President Bob Beuerlein. 

The SOA needed to markedly improve its relationships with the Academy and the CAS, and Bob and Nancy deserve more credit than anyone for making this happen. Nancy could not be with us today, but Bob, could you please stand? Let’s recognize their enormous contribution here.

The CIA–SOA memorandum of understanding on education is another example of these partnership efforts. We have a long and successful history of working with the CIA to advance the actuarial profession’s service to members and the public. It is important to us to ensure this education partnership continues to grow and strengthen many years into the future and this agreement helps us achieve that objective.

The agreement represents the culmination of renewed discussions, and I especially would like to thank both CIA Past-President Dave Dickson and CIA President Sharon Giffen for their leadership roles in making this happen. Dave could not be with us today, but Sharon, please stand and be recognized.

Sharon, thank you for your leadership and collaboration.

Last year, the SOA and the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) announced an agreement to establish a public interest joint venture called CAA Global. It oversees, delivers, and promotes the Certified Actuarial Analyst qualification. This qualification is designed to give those working in actuarial support roles, and in the broader financial services sector, a path to acquire sound technical skills and to bring them into a regulatory framework. As part of the joint venture, the SOA created the SOA Center for Certified Actuarial Analysts, a subsidiary for CAAs to join to gain networking opportunities through our professional interest sections and professional development catered to their needs. The joint venture helps to establish the CAA as a consistently recognized and sought-after global qualification. There’s been a fifty percent increase in the number of candidates for the CAA exams year-over-year; an important development for CAA Global, and an opportunity to grow more interest in it. 

Remember, this education program provides professionalism, ethics, best practices, and new learnings so that CAAs can provide you with better support. Innovation is important in this global, ever-evolving industry. The SOA encourages the expansion of new ideas and innovation, especially involving research and education on predictive analytics. The innovation and direction of the strategic plan is entirely inspired by the innovation and knowledge of you as actuaries. It is not just about a lot of data. It is how we can apply it to make a meaningful impact on business. 

Over a relatively short time, we have seen considerable interest and opportunities for actuaries around the world in working with predictive analytics. We have embarked on a campaign to promote the work of health actuaries in predictive analytics. These men and women are: 

  • consultants,
  • leaders,
  • creative thinkers, and
  • problem solvers.

And of course these actuarial skills fit for so many fields, including:

  • life insurance,
  • casualty insurance,
  • climate change, and
  • Finance.

Through our communications campaign, we’ve highlighted actuaries working with predictive analytics in life and health insurance. We have a collection of case studies and videos on our website, be sure to check them out.

The SOA sponsors actuarial internships to employers outside of the insurance industry. The internships help expose employers to the knowledge and skill sets actuaries can bring to their companies. The Summer Internship Program secured twelve internship positions with traditional and non-traditional employers, repeating the success of prior years. Employers include: Advocate Health, Horizon Pharma, and tech and data firms, Neustar and CarpeData … among others.

The SOA designed a new contest for fellows and associates through Kaggle, an innovative platform for data science competitions. The SOA encouraged actuaries to develop models and showcase their data analysis skills. We had overwhelming interest from members. I’m glad to see our organization tap into different ideas and find ways to highlight actuaries’ capabilities in this space.

The SOA Predictive Analytics Certificate Pilot Program is part of our commitment to help actuaries stay on the forefront of new methods and knowledge. The program will help shape future offerings in predictive analytics from the SOA.

The five-month program had six e-Learning modules and a two-day, in-person seminar. We selected 30 individuals out of nearly a hundred applicants for this pilot program. These individuals represented a variety of practice areas and actuarial expertise. Participants who successfully completed this pilot program received a certificate of completion. Their involvement will help shape future offerings in predictive analytics from the SOA. Just yesterday the SOA Board accepted the recommendation of the Professional Development Committee and will implement a predictive analytics certificate program. The Board authorized the committee to develop and offer additional certificate programs.

On a personal note …

I want to thank my wife for her unwavering support during the last two years. I had sort of promised to retire two years ago, and I guess that just didn’t really happen. Sue, thank you for being there every step of the way, you have been an inspiration to me and a big help.

Everyone else, thank you again for providing me with the opportunity to be your president. I sincerely appreciate the trust you placed in me. This leadership opportunity was a valuable and once-in-a-lifetime experience. Through the journey of this past year, we have accomplished a lot, and yet, there is always more to do in advancing the profession.

I want to leave you with the following: Education. Research. Inclusion. Participation. Innovation.

These areas are made stronger when interwoven together. Volunteer to give back to the profession and in turn help effect change. Help grow the profession through inclusion and diversity efforts for future generations. Embrace new ideas and innovation within the industry. And finally, keep being the sought-after professionals that you are.