Presidential Luncheon Speech, SOA 2016 Annual Meeting

Jeremy J. Brown

Jeremy J. Brown, FSA, MAAA, EA, CLU, ChFC

President, Society of Actuaries

Good afternoon and thank you.

Thank you everyone. I am honored to stand here this afternoon.

I take tremendous pride in being an actuary. This pride stems from the high standards the SOA sets for its designations and that we, as actuaries, set for ourselves.

As members of the SOA, you all know that same feeling of pride—the rigor, hard work, creativity and endless ideas that shape who we are as actuaries.

I know that many people, including my own kids, have no idea what we do … exactly. But, they know we do important work. They recognize that, through our commitment to education, research, volunteering and advancing the profession, we work tirelessly to inform the world of the actuarial profession, the rigor it requires and its importance in managing risk.

Looking back to my college years, I learned a lot from teaching others ... helping them with calculus and probability. One of the students I tutored was blind. To teach him, I had to learn a new way of understanding the material because I couldn’t use visuals to convey mathematical concepts. This new-found perspective and way of learning was instrumental in guiding me in passing my next exam and every subsequent exam.

I am a firm believer in, and subscriber to, lifelong learning. I am retired yet I am always up for learning new ideas and approaches to thinking. This is one of the reasons I am proud to be president of the SOA—because the SOA takes the same approach to serving members and candidates by constantly innovating and determining new directions for actuaries.

Let’s start with the new SOA Strategic Plan.

Just three days ago, your board approved the 2017–2021 strategic plan. It is exciting to have the opportunity in my year as president to steward this renewed mission and vision for the SOA. I look forward to continuing the work with predictive analytics, diversity among the profession, collaboration with the other actuarial organizations and, of course, supporting actuarial education.

Visit our website to see our mission, vision and strategy, which is described in the new strategic plan. You can also see the accomplishments achieved under the previous plan. You will receive a copy of the new plan with your December print issue of The Actuary.

There is a reason we call it a “strategy map.” The map focuses on actuaries’ knowledge, perspective, insight and influence. It strengthens our resolve when making decisions. It guides us when communicating with you—our members—and all of our stakeholders about how those decisions advance actuaries as leaders.

You can keep up to date on the plan’s implementation through our website.

It is important for you to understand this strategic plan as it guides our path forward as an organization.

I would like to thank those of you who participated in our many Listening Tour events, as we gathered member feedback on what you want the SOA to accomplish. The innovation and direction of the strategic plan is entirely inspired by the innovation and knowledge of you as actuaries. Actuaries have always been innovating. For example, early in my career, actuaries developed products and investment strategies when interest rates rose dramatically. Midway through my career, actuaries developed products to allow consumers to participate in rising equity markets with some risk protection. Today, they are developing products to deal with low interest rate environments.

As actuaries, we are involved more than ever with risk management. As companies prepare their Own Risk Solvency Assessment reports and implement principle-based reserves, there will be increased pressure. Management will want to tell a positive story. Regulators will want to hear a realistic, conservative story. Both groups will become increasingly reliant on the integrity of actuaries.

Innovation and evolution are necessary in solving these problems. To further address these, we also need to be stellar communicators. Top-notch actuarial solutions are only as valuable as our ability to make the concepts clear. Too often, great ideas are ignored because they weren’t clearly explained.

Is it your role, the SOA’s role or your employers’ responsibility to improve actuaries’ communication skills? I believe it is important enough to be a shared responsibility.

Good communication skills are a must for actuaries if they want to get or keep their seats at the decision table.

Another example of an important innovation area for actuaries will be to develop products to meet the needs of retirees, who, for the most part, can no longer depend on a defined benefit plan. Retirees seem unwilling to put their life savings into payout annuities, but there should be other solutions that provide protection to outliving their savings.

Recently, the American Academy of Actuaries and the SOA worked together to create an online tool to help identify the likelihood of living various lengths of time and essentially provides a range of outcomes for individuals. Thanks to this Actuaries Longevity Illustrator, the public can better understand the risk of outliving their retirement income, a very real challenge for the public today.

I intend to spur on and highlight innovations like these throughout my year as president.

Yesterday, Craig Reynolds mentioned some of the great new programs and activities on predictive analytics. I wanted to add how excited I am about these efforts—partly because of how swiftly the SOA identified predictive analytics as an area of opportunity for actuaries and partly because of the exciting programs already in place.

There are so many members and groups involved with this effort, including the Predictive Analytics Advisory Group and the Cultivate Opportunities Team.

Predictive analytics and the continued identification of existing and emerging opportunities for actuaries is a key component of the new strategic plan.

I will fully support and encourage this work during my year as president.

Actuaries are life-long learners. We don’t wait to build upon our skills, our history and our unique perspectives. We understand that new ideas and new ways of thinking are crucial to our businesses. It is how you propel them forward that makes a difference.

The SOA delivers education and tools today, for tomorrow’s needs.

Yesterday’s keynote speaker, Sal Khan, discussed how his company is helping students around the world with mathematics. Simple, down-to-earth videos are part of their online learning approach. Online videos and e-learning will be a major component of the new ASA [associate of the Society of Actuaries] curriculum changes. We intend to use new technologies to assess candidates’ ability to apply what they have learned.

For example, in the future, candidates could complete a computer-based project, where they are given a data set to analyze, and then asked to draw conclusions, make recommendations and ultimately communicate their findings in a written report.

We are also creating a pilot program for a certificate in predictive analytics, in 2017. It is a self-study program for SOA members who want to hone their skills in predictive analytics. The pilot will be open to a limited number of fellows. The program is an important example of how our organization continues to explore new learning in order to expand opportunities for actuaries.

We will analyze the feedback from the pilot, learning from the participants and then forge ahead in the direction that meets the goal of educating actuaries and expanding their opportunities.

Earlier this year, we announced curriculum changes for the ASA designation. In addition to incorporating data analytics here, the SOA plans to add continuing education programs in this area for members who have already earned their designations.

We will continue to share updates on the development of the new curriculum, which includes the added emphasis on predictive analytics and a better balance between short-term and long-term insurance.

Life-long learning is a substantial part of ensuring the future of our profession.

We will continue to strive for a complete curriculum, one that evolves regularly to meet employers’ needs, one that is relevant to global perspectives and knowledge.

As I mentioned, there will also be new ways we deliver actuarial education.

As part of our Learning Strategy, we are investigating new ways of learning, such as through video technology. This can be used in a variety of professional development activities. For example, we worked with the NAIC [National Association of Insurance Commissioners] on a series of short videos that are free to access.

This video learning series focuses on principle-based reserving, a very timely and important topic. I encourage you to take a look at these video segments, to help gain additional perspectives on principle-based reserving. You can find these at our website under professional development.

Another example is that new fellows now have access to online videos to further improve their communication skills, building on what was presented at their fellowship admissions course.

Aside from new educational delivery methods, we have crafted other new resources for you.

The new web-based Regulatory Resource provides a stream of updates for U.S. actuaries practicing in life and health. We built this resource based on your requests to help new actuaries keep up to date on the latest regulatory changes and what they mean.

All of this work connects with our ongoing research and education to inform public policy developments and public understanding of key issues.

On the topic of education, I would also like to mention another new development.

The SOA and the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries have a joint venture in place to offer and promote the certified actuarial analyst credential. This qualification is designed to enhance the skills of individuals with actuarial support roles. It is separate from the designations and credentials offered by the SOA. We have announced the SOA Center for Certified Actuarial Analysts, which will manage the CAA credential with the IfoA on a global level.

Now, let’s discuss how we work with others to advance the profession. This past year, the SOA was faced with its own challenges and growth opportunities.

To face these challenges, we take advantage of every opportunity to work with the other actuarial organizations in the U.S. and around the world.

We don’t always agree.

But the dialogue is meaningful, thoughtful and, most importantly, entirely about what is best for the future of the actuarial profession.

I have built good relationships with the elected leaders of the other U.S. actuarial organizations and the Canadian Institute of Actuaries. To improve communications, I have regular phone calls with the presidents-elect of each of these other professional organizations. As president I will continue to welcome these conversations. Craig was an excellent mentor in this regard, and I know SOA president-elect Mike Lombardi will carry these on as well.

The profession’s elected leaders work together as a group to support you as actuaries, and to make our profession stronger.

In particular, I would like to thank Nancy Braithwaite, who will soon become president of the CAS [Casualty Actuarial Society] and Bob Beuerlein who will soon become the Academy’s president.

Nancy and Bob have each made a difference as we continue to improve our relationships with these important organizations. Bob and Nancy are both with us today.

As a great example of where collaboration has worked well, in the very near future, the SOA, Academy, CIA and CAS will release the Actuaries Climate Index—an objective measure of severe weather conditions in the U.S. and Canada reflecting the actuarial perspective.

The actuarial profession and the SOA face another challenge: inclusion and diversity.

Craig provided a fine explanation yesterday of why this is so important for the actuarial profession. I won’t reiterate that today, other than to say that I completely agree.

In terms of supporting the profession as a collaborative effort, I want to express the importance of encouraging and supporting others to join our great profession.

Last year, the Board approved the formation of the SOA Committee on Inclusion and Diversity. This action set an important precedent moving forward. I plan to prioritize this work during my year as president.

From a personal standpoint, my own family is quite diverse, so I know how the diversity of thought can grow your sphere of understanding and grow your business. I recognize firsthand the importance of what our organization is doing to increase the diversity of the profession and welcome and include candidates and members from all groups. To attract the best and brightest, the pool needs to encompass everyone.

We do have our work cut out for us. We must strive to improve our outreach through all of our diversity efforts including those championed by the Actuarial Foundation and the SOA/CAS Joint Committee on Career Encouragement and Actuarial Diversity.

As Craig mentioned yesterday, we will learn a great deal about our next steps from the results of a new study sponsored by the SOA, CAS, IABA [International Association of Black Actuaries] and The Actuarial Foundation, to determine the barriers to entry and pursuit of the actuarial profession.

As part of the study, we will speak directly with the underrepresented, through online surveys and focus groups. I expect we will develop a better understanding of the issues. We will apply this knowledge, as a profession, to determine new ways of increasing the number of candidates from a diverse array of underrepresented groups.

I am excited about the prospect of finding new and diverse candidates interested in the profession. And I look forward to them becoming actuaries and taking on new roles. Many of these new actuaries may decide to volunteer and give back to that profession, through the SOA and other organizations.

I have been volunteering for the SOA since the beginning of my actuarial career, especially with education and exams. As soon as I began volunteering I knew I was part of something special. I was afforded the opportunity to help improve programs on professionalism, build my own professional network to advance my career, and along the way I gained a great number of lifelong friends.

My passion for supporting the mission and vision of the SOA has continued throughout my career. But the SOA succeeds only with your participation.

What is an engaged member? This past year, you may have participated in a new member recognition program. This program gets personal—it tells you how many points you have earned through volunteer and engagement activities with the SOA. Many of you were eligible for a token of appreciation from the SOA based on those points.

For instance, I received this indispensable phone charger. I have a lot of chargers, but this SOA-branded charger is my favorite. I don’t know about you but having back-up power for my phone has become an annoying but necessary luxury!

Now, I can’t figure out why I’m short a half a point for reaching the 67 point maximum.

I am hoping that by mentioning this program I’ll earn my extra half a point now!

All kidding aside, it proves that we all have a giving, albeit competitive, spirit, and all of your hard work as a volunteer does indeed make a difference.

As always, we will make sure you have plenty of opportunities to engage with the profession and to both increase your participation points and enhance your own career.

What I like about this program is that it isn’t all about the SOA—it’s about you.

The end-goal is to help support your career and level of engagement with the profession. Ways you can earn points include volunteering on SOA committees and projects, attending SOA meetings, and participating on webcasts.

Another way to engage, right from your desk or phone, is to join the online community exclusively for members—SOA Engage.

In addition to joining conversations with other actuaries in your practice area, you can engage with SOA Research or provide input into the latest issues and initiatives. You can also provide career guidance and advice to candidates in their online community.

I can tell you from my visits with candidates and students through Candidate Connect networking events and university outreach visits, it is very gratifying to answer their questions and offer your advice and mentorship.

Few things are more rewarding than helping a new candidate land their first actuarial position.

A point of pride for me is how we, as volunteers, are taking on new socially relevant projects, such as mortality and longevity, climate and health.

We are here to make a difference. For example:

  • The SOA analyzes health findings on the ACA [Affordable Care Act].
  • We will release research on public and private financing of catastrophic risks.
  • We work with the Human Mortality Database, which spans 38 countries.
  • We will develop a U.S. public pension plan mortality table study for 2018.
  • And there is much more.

Your insights and participation are important to supporting the profession. I will do my best to let the world know of your ambitions and accomplishments.

Thank you for this opportunity to represent you. I look forward to the year ahead, and I am confident the SOA is on the right track to help lead our profession forward. I appreciate your confidence in electing me. I will not let you down.

When you see me in the halls, receive one of my emails or read a post in SOA Engage, please share your thoughts and comments with me. To best represent you, I need to hear from you, good and bad.

Criticism can initiate discussions that often lead to the next great solution or idea.

I respect and appreciate what you have to say, and I look to you to help me with the organization’s path into the future.

Thank you.