Presidential Luncheon Speech, SOA 2018 Annual Meeting
James M. Glickman, FSA, MAAA, CLU
President, Society of Actuaries
I want to thank all of you for the honor bestowed upon me to serve as your 70th Society of Actuaries (SOA) president for this coming year.
In addition, I want to express my sincere appreciation to Mike Lombardi, our outgoing president, for his guidance and fellowship during this past year, as I worked with him, the leadership team, the rest of the Board, and, most importantly, the staff, in pursuing the goals he sought to accomplish during his presidential year.
Now, I would like to ask Andy Rallis, our next president-elect, to stand and be recognized. Since Andy was our treasurer this past year and a member of the leadership team, I know he will hit the ground running in his new role as president-elect.
Looking back on the journey I took to be here on stage with you today, I realize that equal parts good fortune, persistence, and timely shoves from my many mentors at crucial junctures throughout my career were the key. My journey began back in seventh grade with my first and, certainly, my most exciting job.
The Chicago Bulls had just entered the NBA as an expansion team, and my dad had become one of their season ticket holders. He suggested that I apply to be one of the ball boys for that inaugural season in 1966.
After much trepidation—and for reasons I cannot imagine today—I got over my apprehension, put together a resume, applied, and was hired.
This, in turn, led to my next big opportunity when, during the summer of my sophomore year of high school, I stumbled into a summer job—intended for college students—as a stock brokerage data analyst trainee, calculating the daily price of a proprietary mutual fund.
The next summer, in what seemed like bad luck at that time, I could not find a new summer job in the stock brokerage field—despite my experience and recommendations—due to an economic recession that began in 1970 and was causing full-time employees to be laid off.
I had always desired a business career with job security and one that would allow me to take advantage of my math skills. My summer job setback led me to search for a more secure career.
Fortunately for me, my dad—a general agent for Connecticut General Life—invited one of their actuaries, Paul Campbell, over to our house for dinner during a visit he was making to my dad's agency. Paul explained the opportunities an actuarial career offered; how it could combine my interests in math and business, while providing job security; and how it could potentially lead to an upper management opportunity someday.
This was exactly what I was looking for in a career, so I immediately was hooked on becoming an actuary. Shortly thereafter, I picked up some practice exams and sat for the first exam in my senior year of high school. Forty-seven years later, I stand before you today, truly excited about the opportunity to serve you during this upcoming year.
Before I discuss my goals for this coming year, I do need to mention the proposal we have recently announced for combining into one organization the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) and the SOA.
In my view, if both Boards move forward and both memberships approve, this may become the most important event for the betterment of the entire actuarial profession to have occurred during my lifetime.
As part of the CAS and SOA process of analyzing and then planning for this combination, I served on two different task force teams. The first one analyzed the viability of a possible combination and consisted of seven CAS and seven SOA Board members and leaders.
I was extremely impressed with the level of enthusiasm exhibited by all 14 members who unanimously agreed that this combination should be pursued. The second team (which was one of three teams of CAS and SOA members, simultaneously formed, and each assigned a different crucial task) was even more enthusiastic about the opportunity than the first.
The team I was on was assigned the project of developing the communication messages, for both the CAS and SOA memberships, to explain in detail how this combination would affect all the different stakeholders of each organization.
Our team's first discovery was how remarkably similar the CAS and SOA are in their mission, their vision, and their goals. In addition, we have each started to include predictive and data analytics into our education and practice areas.
Finally, we both aspire to create more opportunities for our members in new industries, expand the recognition of actuaries as potential leaders beyond purely actuarial functions, and to increase our organizations’ presence outside of the U.S. and Canada.
Each of these aspirations, none of which has any particular practice area emphasis or limitation, is more effectively achieved through a single organization with a unified mission and vision representing all practice areas, including ones that may not yet exist.
If not for a history of having been different organizations, there is no doubt in my mind that the CAS and SOA would already be one organization, with each of the different practice areas operating for the benefit of its membership, and an umbrella organization providing the combined power for all practice areas. Our combination effort is best embodied by the name of our joint website: StrongerAsOne.net.
As Mike Lombardi mentioned in his speech yesterday morning, the discussions with the CAS continue, and we are hopeful that we'll have a proposal that the two Boards of Directors can vote on soon.
Please continue to let us know your thoughts and suggestions about this combination.
Now, I would like to discuss my three biggest priorities for this coming year:
- Collaborate and cooperate with each of the other actuarial organizations;
- Enhance each member's experiences with the SOA, and to the extent possible, get more actuaries actively involved in volunteer activities; and
- Expand employment horizons for actuaries, both in non-actuarial management roles at traditional employers, as well as in new actuarial roles within nontraditional industries.
My first, and most important, priority is continuing and expanding the progress the SOA has achieved over the last several years in improving our relationships with the rest of the other actuarial organizations, especially those in North America. We must seek out more opportunities to collaborate and cooperate, whenever possible, and always go out of our way to avoid conflicts.
One of the most valuable lessons I learned over my 30 years as the president of LifeCare Assurance is that working effectively with other organizations is rarely a zero-sum exercise. That is because each side has different goals and attaches varying importance to each of the many aspects of achieving those goals.
Yet, without open communications, a willingness to identify the goals that are most critical to each side, and a genuine empathy for the other side's perspective, the best results are rarely achievable for either organization.
Just as my predecessor, Mike Lombardi, has maintained regular and open communications with each of his counterparts from the other North American actuarial organizations, I, too, have set up regular calls with each of the other presidents-elect.
Thus, whenever issues have arisen that might otherwise have created friction or ill will, I found that the friendships I have developed with my other president-elect counterparts have helped in crafting solutions, and creating better results than would have occurred in the absence of these strong relationships.
In my opinion, it will always be in the SOA's best interest to present the actuarial profession as the premier provider of impartial analyses regarding complex financial matters.
This is most likely to occur when all the actuarial organizations speak together with a single voice. By seeking to present a united view and sharing the credit among all organizations, the whole actuarial profession benefits. In addition, an inevitable outcome of repeatedly operating in this fashion will naturally be more joint activities, more opportunities for all actuaries, and a stronger future for the profession.
My second priority is to look for new ways to improve each member's experience. Over the past year, I have had the good fortune to view firsthand the organizational expertise of our SOA staff. I have continually been impressed with each staff member's dedication and professionalism. During my presidential year, it is my primary goal to look for even more opportunities to make our members' experiences better.
As part of the Board leadership team during the past year, I have had the opportunity to observe and participate in reviewing many initiatives as they have been developed and presented to the full Board for consideration. One new initiative, which I believe will be crucial to the continuing success of the SOA, is preparing our next generation of actuarial leaders for the challenges ahead.
During this past June's Board meeting, a special task force, formed to analyze and make recommendations regarding the SOA's engagement with our newest FSAs, presented its report.
Much to my amazement, this report revealed that the millennial generation—essentially those FSAs who are in their mid-30s or younger—is now the SOA's largest generational segment, at over 45 percent of total membership. Yet, for some reason, this group of our newest FSAs participates at a much lower rate than our other FSAs in our sections, as well as in other volunteer activities.
To better serve them and get them more fully engaged, the SOA recognizes the need to build cutting-edge tools that specifically appeal to millennials' style of interacting, not only with their peers, but also when networking with other FSAs and when participating in continuing education. I am pleased that the Board voted to add this goal as a strategic initiative for the upcoming year.
Another opportunity to enhance our members’ marketability and career advancement opportunities is to find ways, primarily through our continuing education programs, to deliver communication training—a skill set that actuaries have perennially endured a reputation for lacking.
To accomplish this, it will be necessary to deliver our continuing education content in a way that will resonate, and thus be sought out and utilized. I know, from my own personal experience as a young actuary, that increasing my communication skills was somewhere near the bottom of my list of things to do.
I felt, as I am sure some of you do, that our employability and career opportunities are just fine, based solely on the value of our actuarial credential. However, as a freshly minted ASA three years out of college, I was offered the position of life pricing actuary, reporting to the vice president of marketing.
Little did I realize where that new assignment would lead me. After developing my company's next generation of whole life policies, I was informed by my boss that I would be accompanying him on a 10-city trip to present this new product series to our field force.
I quickly dismissed the idea of making an hour-long presentation to the company's top agents. However, I was not given a choice; and it wound up becoming the turning point of my actuarial career. Although I was extremely nervous about my debut performance and had over-practiced for it, I made it through.
The next presentation went even better. By the 10th one, I was even able to ad-lib to some degree. When I look back upon it now, getting comfortable with effectively communicating actuarial concepts to non-actuaries was probably the most valuable skill I could have developed for my future career advancement.
Since developing communication skills is entirely voluntary—unless, of course, your boss makes you do it—the onus is on the SOA to develop new ways for our members to want to engage in this learning experience. In my opinion, the best way to do so is through innovative incentives to participate, together with fun and creative training programs to help each participant build confidence in those skills.
If we are successful at routinely adding communication skills to the other well-recognized skill sets of our FSAs, we will expand employment opportunities for all actuaries, especially into the non-actuarial management roles.
Someday, perhaps, we may even eliminate the stereotype that actuaries are great technically, but not particularly effective at communicating their conclusions beyond their actuarial communities.
As a member of the SOA for over 40 years, my volunteer roles have not only been an obligation I am fulfilling, but a source of many of my most rewarding career activities. Early on in my career, I would often attend SOA annual conferences and occasionally present at some of them.
Initially, that was the extent of my volunteer involvement, until another twist of fate led me down a winding path that has resulted in my presence on stage here today.
Exactly 20 years ago, at the 1998 SOA Annual Meeting in New York, I was surprised to find that there were no educational sessions on long-term care (LTC) insurance. It seemed to me that there should be some focus on LTC education, and that the best way to accomplish this would be to form a Long-Term Care Insurance Section.
Upon inquiring how to go about this, I was told how difficult and time-consuming the process was likely to be. As such, I was counseled to seriously reconsider embarking on that effort.
Apparently, this was just the encouragement I needed to push ahead; and, together with a dedicated core group of LTC actuaries, the section was formed four months later. Almost immediately, this brand new LTC Insurance Section decided that what the LTC industry needed most was an all-industry meeting.
The section envisioned that actuaries could come together with other LTC professionals, at a single location, to share information and network with one another. This was nearly 20 years ago, when companies selling LTC insurance were very proprietary about what they knew and quite reluctant to share any information, or work toward the betterment of the LTC insurance industry.
After serving on the LTC Insurance Section Council, I was invited by the SOA to run for the Board. I accepted that invitation and was elected in 2005. I then ran and was re-elected, as a vice president, in 2008. Shortly thereafter, I set my sights on SOA president, and after several attempts, I was fortunate enough to win last year; thanks mostly to the incredible effort of so many of you here today who actively campaigned for me.
Volunteering has always been at the heart of the actuarial profession for as long as I can remember. Specifically, for that reason, I would like to see every effort expended to make volunteering more accessible, more rewarding, and, most importantly, fun for our members.
One initiative I would like to see the SOA consider is the development of programs that would offer small incentives to retiring actuaries to stay involved with the SOA in a volunteer capacity, on a part-time basis, perhaps in return for a dues waiver.
Even though retiree dues are less than $100 per year, many retirees drop their memberships. Waiving these dues for those retirees who do volunteer might be just enough incentive for those FSAs to continue to participate and give back to the profession.
Another volunteer opportunity that might go a long way toward accomplishing one of next year's strategic initiatives would be pairing up of retirees, as mentors, with newer FSAs, perhaps organized by area of specialization. This could then logically be coordinated through a matching program, sponsored by each of the special interest sections.
Sections are already an important source for their members to obtain continuing education credits each year. I would like to see each section become even more of a factor.
Since so many section chairs and vice chairs are here today, I would like to encourage each of you to produce even more innovative and currently relevant continuing education materials for your members.
This would not only drive additional membership, especially from the newer FSAs, but would also increase volunteerism within the sections, as many more people would be needed each year to develop this expanded content.
Another opportunity that I believe many actuaries would find enjoyable, as well as bringing prestige to the actuarial profession, would be serving as experts to the media. This is where the SOA can be particularly helpful, by matching up section experts with the SOA's media contacts.
Beyond the opportunity to enhance the reputation of actuaries, this effort might also achieve the goal of increasingly being sought out by reporters to provide unbiased financial explanations and analysis regarding many topics of current public interest.
One final idea is to expand our efforts to sponsor and encourage international continuing education programs that are locally developed and presented in the native languages of the location where they are being presented. This is already happening with great success through the China and Greater Asia symposia. This effort should be expanded whenever and wherever it is feasible to do so.
My third priority is focused around the SOA's strategic goal of expanding employment opportunities for actuaries. The most obvious places to achieve this are in two areas where we now only occasionally see actuaries employed. The first, and the one with the most potential, is with new industries that would logically benefit from the skills that actuaries possess.
Banking and InsurTech come to mind right away, but technology, private equity, financial planning and several other industries that need financially savvy employees are all potential future actuarial employers.
The second area, and one where actuaries are heavily employed in actuarial roles today, would be to expand into the non-actuarial management roles at these traditional actuarial employers.
The SOA could be particularly helpful in this effort by highlighting and promoting the value that actuaries who have migrated out of technical actuarial roles have brought to their companies.
This not only encourages actuaries to look for these opportunities, but also creates a mindset where employers think first of actuaries when looking for non-actuarial management talent. I would like to see us expand these efforts even further.
I was thrust into my first nontraditional actuarial role over 30 years ago, when the senior officers of my then-current employer first gave me the encouragement, and then a small shove, to start my own insurance company—a goal I had often talked about, but never seriously considered acting upon.
Since I had been in charge of my prior company's reinsurance department, as well as its LTC line of business, it seemed quite natural to form an LTC reinsurer in what was then a very new product line.
My wife, Marlene, and I discussed the risks associated with investing all our savings, together with investments from many family members and friends, including all the top management of my former company. It was certainly a huge risk to take, but, as we all know, “risk is opportunity.”
This endeavor, not one that most actuaries would typically seek out, was one we had the courage to try, knowing that, if for some reason the company did not make it, my experience, together with my FSA designation, would enable me to readily move back into a high-level actuarial position.
The real key, I believe, in making progress in developing more of these types of new job opportunities is through changing the stereotypes that currently inhibit employers from seeking out actuaries to fill these roles.
Key among these factors is the ability to effectively communicate. This must become a routine part of the actuarial skill set. In addition, actuaries need to be even more proficient at making intelligent decisions, quickly, and with less-than-complete information. I feel the SOA can help its members develop these skills. I realize it is in our nature to be conservative with our decision-making, and to try and explain every nuance and technical detail to those who we provide with this information.
However, many of the non-actuarial jobs that actuaries are otherwise well-equipped to handle require the ability to make those decisions quickly, with a high degree of accuracy, and communicate the opportunities as well as the limitations to non-actuarial audiences in a simple and easily understood fashion.
Another important way to expand actuarial opportunities into these new areas is by focusing the SOA's media department on regularly promoting the expertise that actuaries can provide on financial issues of current interest to the public.
In 2017, the SOA's media efforts produced over 1.4 billion media impressions, where the SOA or its members are featured. This is an incredibly large number. It is the result of years spent developing relationships with reporters and media outlets, and then connecting individual actuaries to those contacts.
By increasing our relationships between the actuarial experts who can explain these complex issues and the reporters who can then educate the public, not only will society benefit, but the recognition and reputation of the actuarial profession will be significantly enhanced.
A likely byproduct of a successful outreach will be to attract even more highly skilled students with strong math abilities, who then seek out careers in the actuarial profession.
The SOA has set diversity and inclusion as another one of its strategic goals. Over the last several years, continuing education sessions, keynote speakers and significant volunteer efforts have gone into helping actuaries become more aware of the win-win value proposition of actively encouraging diversity and inclusion.
However, one of the best ways to increase our impact in this area is through expansion of our support of The Actuarial Foundation; particularly, the foundation's efforts to provide math-oriented educational materials in disadvantaged communities.
As you heard yesterday, the SOA has been involved (recently) in a pilot program with The Actuarial Foundation on Math Motivators. It matches volunteer actuaries with math tutoring roles in local, often disadvantaged schools, helping students develop their math skills, and perhaps enabling some of them to one day become actuaries.
This may be another opportunity to match up our retiring actuaries in a way they would find personally rewarding. All that I suspect is needed is for the SOA to organize it, make it easy for them to participate, and possibly provide some modest recognition or reward for their participation.
Also, we should examine ways to raise awareness among children in economically disadvantaged areas about the opportunities offered by our profession.
The CAS and SOA Joint Committee on Diversity and Inclusion is working on new ideas to accomplish just that ... and I encourage them to continue and expand upon that effort.
As a final note, I would like to publicly express my appreciation to my wonderful wife of 42 years, Marlene, who has supported and accompanied me through this life journey while raising our three sons and helping me to build our insurance company. I would also like to recognize each of my three very successful sons.
Steve, my oldest, is home in D.C. with his wife, Christen, awaiting at any moment the birth of their second son. Steve and Christen are both attorneys in D.C. Marc and his wife, Sharada, are both FSAs, and I am thrilled to have them sharing this moment with me today, together with their son, Sammy, and daughter, Maya. Finally, Robert, a software engineer, is here today with his wife, Gina. They both flew in from Seattle to help me celebrate this event.