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2020 Annual Meeting President Goldman Speech

Wednesday General Session, President Roy Goldman

Hello everybody. Thank you for tuning in today. This is certainly not how I envisioned my presidential installation. I’ve been looking forward to this possible moment since 1975. That year my wife, Georgia, attended the Annual Meeting as a new Associate of the SOA – and as a new mom- and I attended as a spouse.  I was impressed by the Society of Actuaries and the breadth of subjects my wife was studying. Three years later, I had left college teaching, and I attended my first meeting as a new Associate while she attended as a newly-minted Fellow. Since then, both of us have remained active volunteers with the SOA and in civic and religious organizations in each of the dozen cities we have lived.  Georgia, thank you so much for all your support and guidance. I wouldn’t be here today without you. And thanks to my daughters Rachel and Leah for accepting those late family dinners.  Now they both have accomplished careers and their own beautiful families.

For me the highlight of the annual meeting is  the traditional presidential luncheon.  I’d be giving this speech in a packed dining hall with huge video screens behind me, and my family, friends, and fellow actuaries in front of me.  But the world hasn’t been like this since the flu epidemic of 1918, something I studied for on at least three exams as an example of an extreme event. However, it is still a great privilege and honor to be here with you all today. Nearly everyone in the world is affected by new risks like COVID-19 and climate change and ever-present risks including health care, racism, poverty and hunger. And while technology has accelerated some of these risks, it also gives us a strong platform to eradicate them.  If we have the will to do so!

This year has been a challenge for everyone, even actuaries who are trained to evaluate risk.  We adapt, we evolve, we grow, and we learn. But that is what actuaries do, and it is what I love about this great profession.

When the pandemic led to closing exam centers and cancelling in-person events, the SOA adapted quickly to the challenge.  We immediately implemented plans to reduce expenses to meet an expected $10.5 million shortfall.  Through the work of hundreds of volunteers and staff, we converted our major meetings and symposia to virtual ones, with some having greater attendance as a result!  We modified meetings in China and Asia-Pacific, and created over 160 webinars and virtual experiences to meet your Professional Development needs.

We have modified our exams so that they by the end of this year, all but one will be fully online [with computer-based testing at Prometric centers]. While we are not out of the woods, yet, we owe a huge thank you to everyone involved in adapting to a new reality.

Now I want to talk about the future and the two main challenges the SOA will address in the coming year: The Long-Term Growth Strategy and our response to systemic racism. These two efforts go hand in hand; strengthening our profession to face the challenges ahead while at the same time expanding our community to represent the demographics and the populations we serve. 

In terms of diversity, we must address: the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in our profession and within our SOA staff.  During Monday’s opening session, SOA President Andy Rallis spoke about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion, and I’m here today to assure you, I will carry on those efforts. Indeed, I have asked Andy to be the Board liaison to the newly formed SOA DE&I oversight team.  Jenny Haid, who just served on the Board, will be the Board liaison to the Joint DE&I committee while Sara Teppema, who has been intimately involved in DE&I activities, will join the Leadership Team.  We alone cannot end structural racism, but I trust that you can see that we are serious about  closing these gaps within our own organization. 

The research, co-sponsored by the SOA, taught us that the single biggest barrier for people of color to join the actuarial profession is the lack of, or late awareness of, the actuarial career. Ours lags behind other STEM careers such as engineering and computer science. Persons of color learn about the profession later in their education and, therefore, begin taking exams later, often too late to secure internships that lead to entry-level positions. Lack of knowledge leads to lack of support from their family, friends, and teachers,  and there are the financial barriers related to the cost of the exams.

So, what can the SOA do to improve awareness and provide support? We will provide more financial support to organizations connected to communities of color and increase our support to The Actuarial Foundation that has connections to thousands of students and teachers.

The SOA will expand our own programs to promote awareness. We build upon the High School Actuarial Day programs we piloted at DePaul University in Chicago and with Arizona State University. I propose that we harness the support of actuaries and universities and hold a virtual National Actuarial Career Day that will reach thousands of students around the country.  It is going to take a lot of work and financing to increase the representation of persons of color. And It’s going to take time, but as Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu once wrote – “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

After my address, I will have a conversation with author and journalist, Ta-Nehisi Coates about the forces of racism in America and how the history of exclusion and inequality affects our lives today. This is not only an honor for me as an admirer, but these are important conversations we need to have today and in the future. As Rabbi Hillel of Babylon wrote, “And, if not now, when?

Speaking of the future, we shouldn’t get there without a guiding strategy. Over the last year and half, the SOA Board and staff have met with countless actuarial leaders, teachers, students, employers and other non-actuaries around the world to understand the issues and environment that the actuarial profession and the SOA will face over the next 10-15 years. We have identified five clear trends, if left unattended, pose major challenges for us.


The first trend is the rise of data science. While actuaries were the original data scientists for the insurance industry, data science as a discipline has grown. It has become a competing career path for talented students. The SOA has seen the number of first-time exam takers decline over the last six years and data scientists have supplanted us in the top spot of career rankings.

The second trend is that AI will change the nature of work for all professions, including ours. An independent analysis by our consultants at McKinsey estimate that as much as 35% of current work done by actuaries could be replaced by automation in ten years, and as much as 50% of current entry-level work. On the other hand, AI can relieve some repetitive work and  gives us the opportunity to exhibit our other problem-solving skills, our judgment, creativity.

The third trend is the changing nature of credentialing and skill development. The environment in how individuals attain new credentials, micro-credentials and badges has changed the landscape.

The fourth trend is the change in member engagement. The SOA of today represents a model that has successfully engaged many generations of members. But this model needs to change as our membership becomes younger and more diverse. At the same time employers are rethinking their commitment to meetings and dues, members’ communication and networking preferences.

The fifth trend is the shift in growth patterns for the SOA. We need to recognize that changes affecting our traditional industries in North America, such as InsurTech, will be different than those affecting Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.

Those are the five trends. Our diagnosis is, at best, a challenging future. The Board developed a solution - a thoughtful and ambitious Long-Term Growth Strategy. Our goal: for actuaries to remain experts of choice far into the future.

The Board has spent this year developing this strategy based on five themes. In education we’re looking at what skills are needed as a result of the growth of AI. How can we provide a nimble, just-in-time curriculum? Can we provide off ramps for those who only need part of our syllabus and on ramps for those with, a strong technical background but no knowledge of insurance?

In professional development, we need to provide content valued by employers for relevance and timeliness. We need to serve all our members around the world. 

In the research area, we’re investigating how we can do more in-house, how we can make it timely, how we can serve the global community, and how can we monetize our data and expertise.

In the International arena we are studying how we better position the organization to serve our growing membership base outside North America.

Finally, we can improve member engagement by building a community structure that brings the SOA closer to members, candidates and also students who want to learn about the profession.

I can assure you of two things: first, the Board is here to support you as members and the SOA as an organization. Second, we will be transparent. I look forward to candid conversations with you over the next year, (maybe even face-to-face!). I call upon you to connect with us and help with these initiatives.

A major goal I have is to increase the voice of the Society of Actuaries so that we are looked to as a source of information for the public and consulted on solutions to societal issues that have an actuarial context.  My vision is that actuaries are viewed as professionals who make life better for our world.

We are the professionals who seek to understand risk and design financial security programs to protect society. I’ve worked in health care for much of my career, and I have felt a deep responsibility to the insureds and their dependents who rely on my products on a daily basis, sometimes as the difference between life and death.  I considered it my challenge and responsibility to design the most robust benefits that people could afford and still provide my employer with a reasonable rate of return. Furthermore, I felt a responsibility to work with healthcare professionals to design systems that encourage insureds to stay as healthy as they could, given their current medical state.

This pandemic has made it clear that our health systems must learn to not only react more quickly and effectively to outbreaks of disease, but also to remove the disparities that are evident. I am issuing a call for us to produce research and communication to address societal problems that have an actuarial component for the greater good of our world.

Our organization is volunteer-driven. Without you we cannot achieve our Long-Term Growth Strategy. Without you we can’t spread the word about our profession in your local schools or as a tutor through The Actuarial Foundation’s Math Motivators program or the Modeling the Future Challenge. The important thing is to raise your hand – the SOA will be there ready with opportunities to meet your interests and time.

I’ll share with you my own story. I owe my start with volunteering at the SOA to Julius Vogel, Chief Actuary at Prudential. Julius was elected SOA president-elect the same year I joined Prudential.  Julius loved being an actuary; he loved being called Chief, and he loved working for the SOA and serving as President. He encouraged us in the actuarial program to not only give our best to The Prudential but also to the SOA. It worked. Fifteen years  later I became General Chair of the Education and Examination Committee. More indicative of Julius’s impact is that three out of the four chairs who preceded me were from Prudential. All totaled I worked in various capacities of education for 30 years, and I can tell you that I learned a tremendous amount in all practice areas, met many smart and dedicated actuaries, and had a chance to visit nearly every major city in the U.S. and Canada. In between I published several papers, served on my local Board of Education and synagogue committees, all while working as CFO or Chief Actuary of two national companies and two regional health plans. But the greatest awards at work and in volunteering was the opportunity to develop young actuaries and give back to the profession I love. I know you too will find the same rewards. 

I look forward to serving you as president in powering the profession for the future. One actuary can only do so much – but together we can build a strong future. I urge you to join me in elevating the profession for today and the ever-changing  tomorrow. Thank you.