Education and Research Section Continental Breakfast
Please join the Education and
Research Section at the Boston Annual Meeting on Monday, October 28, from 7:30-8:30
a.m. to discuss current issues.
The Annual Meeting will take place in
Boston (October 27-30). The preliminary program is available on the Web. Here
are the sessions being sponsored or cosponsored by the Education & Research
at the Boston Annual Meeting
The "International Actuarial
Association (IAA) Impact on North American Actuarial Education", Session
4IF, moderated by Curtis Huntington is on Monday, October 28, from 10:30 a.m.-noon.
This session will go over the guideline syllabus proposed by the IAA to specify
education requirements to be met by all members starting in 2005.
Applications of Markov Chain Monte Carlo Theory: Mary Hardy will offer a teaching
session (83TS) on Tuesday, October 29, from 10:30-Noon.
and Roger Feldman will present "Premium Death Spirals: Theory and Empirical
Evidence," the results of research projects funded by the Actuarial Education
and Research Fund (AERF), at Session 98PP on Tuesday, October 29, from 2:30-4:00
Applications of Quais-Monte Carlo Methods: Ken Seng Tan and Phelim
Boyle will offer a teaching session (144TS) on Wednesday, October 30, from 10:00-11:30
The Education and Research Section will host a breakfast at the
Boston Annual Meeting on Monday, October 28, from 7:30-8:30 a.m. to discuss current
issues over a free continental breakfast. Registration is required.
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Actuarial Exam System
by Leonard A.
are now midway through the third year of a radically re-engineered actuarial exam
system. Educators have by now had time to adapt curricula and to begin acculturating
the next generation of students in an exam process distinctly different from the
previous in both content and style. One might reasonably expect a period of stability
as we adjust to the new realities. But, alas, there is no time to relax as we
continue to be buffeted by new waves of taskforces, working groups, proposals
Last summer and fall witnessed spirited exchanges
concerning the proposed Quantitative Risk Analyst (QRA) designation, a central
feature of the Task Force on Education and Qualification 2005 (TFEQ-2005) report.
Details about the follow-on working groups, on preliminary education and on actuarial
education, can be found in the most recent edition of Expanding Horizons. These working groups are currently soliciting opinions concerning the various
new ideas, and we have been encouraged to provide input.
In this issue,
we focus on some of the issues raised in the ongoing discussions. Dick London
has kindly consented to allow us to run a piece he wrote last fall concerning
the TFEQ-2005 report. Also, the Education and Research Section Council recently
conducted a discussion on these matters, and we have included a summary of that
discussion compiled by council member Krzysztof Ostaszewski.
I have taken the liberty of using this venue to present an open letter to the
working groups that reflects my own reactions to the discussions to date, and
my personal hopes for the final product of their deliberations.
of Conversations may be interested in a marketing analysis being conducted by
the SOA under the direction of Deborah J. Bowen, the deputy executive director
of the SOA. Much of the material being compiled relates specifically to many of
the questions being raised concerning the future educational and exam processes
and content. Arguments for or against this or that proposal are often formulated
in the abstract, as theories without supporting data. In our next issue, we will
examine some of the survey findings dealing with market conditions and skill set
requirements over the next three to five years, as perceived by senior executives
in both the traditional actuarial and the non-traditional financial services sectors.
As always, your feedback and further follow-up thoughts, either in the form
of a letter or an article, are most welcome.
Letter to the Working Committees
by Leonard A. Asimow
Although I am an ASA (circa 1990), the following perspective is
essentially that of an outsider to the actuarial profession, albeit, as an actuarial
educator, an involved and very supportive outsider. My background is in "pure"
mathematics and I have been involved in teaching, research and, to some extent,
academic administration for more than 35 years. For the last 15 or so years I
have been a dedicated advocate of the actuarial profession, and I'm pleased to
have helped launch a significant number of actuarial careers during that time.
But I'm not really a party to the insider discussions on the changing strategic
environment, nor am I by any means expert on all of the factors determining the
new directions the actuarial leadership thinks are essential for the continuing
vitality of the profession.
So, as a math professor cum actuarial educator,
I must confess to viewing the TFEQ-2005 report and subsequent discussions with
a certain bewilderment. A month or two ago, when we were encouraged to weigh in
on these matters, I made myself a short list of a few general recommendations
I would submit to the working groups:
- Preserve some form of
a required first exam that includes calculus, or at least a lot of calculus-based
material (like the current Course 1, which I like). This should be an exam that
a dedicated student could realistically attempt by the end of the sophomore year
- Restore the early testing of mathematical statistics, ahead
of economics and finance in the exam syllabus.
- Scrap the notion of exam
waivers, at least on the first several mathematically-based exams, and avoid getting
involved in certifying or accrediting college programs or course sequences for
- Find a way to maintain the joint sponsorship
between SOA and CAS at a level commensurate with the current Course 1-4 offerings.
- Pursue the QRA idea. I think something like it (but significantly different
from last year's model) could prove useful in expanding awareness of the actuarial
profession. In a suitable format, it could also present an attractive goal in
its own right for a wider group of college undergraduates.
In light of recent reports and exchanges appearing on the academic relations list-serve,
it seems that most of these items have been more or less beaten to death and most
contributors are ready to move beyond them to the specifics. As best as I can
piece together from various sources, there is an old-guard remnant, mostly unreconstructed
math professors like myself, who cling to the hope that something like item #1
will emerge. There is sizeable opposition to a calculus exam, in particular, and
even to the whole idea of "preliminary" exams, in general. There is
support for a first exam on probability and statistics, as well as sentiment for
a comprehensive exam covering all of the preliminary topics of probability, statistics,
economics, finance and so forth.
exemptions and accreditation machinery seem to have been tabled for now. Joint
sponsorship does not appear to be a high priority item at this point and the outcome
will depend on what emerges from the current SOA deliberations. As for QRA, I'm
getting mixed signals. Despite the fact that some of the leading advocates for
the QRA are now saying it is on the back burner, it remains one of the central
features of the TFEQ report. The Expanding Horizons article by Stuart Klugman
on the new working groups
has QRA in all three of the items listed for consideration, so I suspect QRA,
although now dormant, is still very much alive.
the items on my list are for the most part yesterday's news, they are still principles
I would like to see incorporated or reaffirmed in any new education and qualification
system. I hope there is still some sentiment to revisit them in the work ahead,
although I confess that this hope is rooted in my now outmoded view of the actuarial
Antiquated View of the Profession
I generally tell prospective
students that there are three important characteristics that help to define the
- First, it is a branch of applied mathematics.
- Second, advancement is driven by an exam system that rewards mathematical
- Third, employment is found in the insurance industry (broadly understood
to include benefit consultants).
be sure, these are over simplifications. But I think, they are basically still
accurate today, at least for talking to high school kids. Moreover, I've found
that this combination of factors (together with the Jobs Rated Almanac ranking)
makes for a very persuasive pitch to academically high-end students with special
ability in mathematics.
For it means that the mathematically adept can
qualify for employment in a well-defined career track (in insurance) on the basis
of their ability to pass challenging, mathematically-based examinations. Further,
talented undergraduates who pass an exam can attain well-paid summer and/or school-year
internships while in college; college graduates whose degree does not say actuarial
science on it can still immediately embark upon a rewarding professional career
as an actuary; non-traditional age career changers can quickly and efficiently
qualify for employment if they have the mathematical wherewithal; and finally,
no one needs to invest in many more years of post-graduate education before entering
the profession. In fact, good students attending school near a metropolitan area
can be full-time (or near full-time) working professionals by the end of their
third year of college. In other words, the traditional hallmark of the actuarial
profession has been the "early math-based access" (a singularly actuarial
eMBA, so to speak). And, contrary to what some have said, most of the students
I recruit are attracted, not repelled, by the challenge of an exam system.
Since those three characteristics constitute a very attractive package for
attracting new talented, goal-oriented entrants, it seems self-evident that they
should be preserved unless there is suddenly some compelling reason not to. Also,
my rather extensive interactions with employers lead me to believe that they too
still favor early exams with a distinctively mathematical flavor as a vehicle
for easily identifying attractive actuarial job candidates. One can say that as
products of the system, the younger actuaries most involved with college recruitment
fall victim to a false consciousness. And, of course there are always going to
be problems with the exam system (too long, not relevant, etc.). But from my vantage
point, the process seems to be still working to the mutual satisfaction of both
students and employers.
Nevertheless, all three of these defining characteristics
are under challenge, and the total image of the actuary that they convey appears
to have fallen into complete disrepute in large and influential segments of the
actuarial academic and professional leadership. For many reasons, both good and
bad, the movement for a complete makeover seems well-nigh irresistible. Actuarial
science, it is said, is much more than applied mathematics; the exams must signal
that actuaries are serious about business and finance; the profession must be
expanded to non-traditional areas; there must be alternatives to the exam system;
non-actuarial or pre-actuarial subjects should not be tested. The list of discontents
goes on and on.
do understand that the actuarial establishment is concerned about a reputation
for attracting math whizzes with no concept of the business milieu in which it
all happens. But this seems to me to be a minor concern easily addressed. So sure,
require more evidence of general business knowledge before bestowing an actuarial
designation. But in doing so, keep a balanced perspective without abandoning the
historic centrality of mathematics in the actuarial profession. Rather than a
weakness or some sort of a handicap, I see this as a source of strength in crafting
a new look for the profession.
QRA (More or Less)
I found the rationale for the QRA designation appealing. In particular, I like
the idea of broadening the reach of the actuarial profession to create more opportunities
for students with quantitative training similar to that of the actuarial major.
But first, I see difficulties in creating a designation with broad appeal
if it is limited to "risk" analysis. Second, while universal, global
acceptance is a desirable goal, achieving that level of conformity may, in the
end, limit the breadth of the appeal because of the length of the syllabus. Third,
from the description in the taskforce report, it seems the framers were conflicted
between the demands of creating a " comprehensive body of knowledge"
type of designation versus a shorter, pre-professional "foundations"
qualification that would certify aptitude and basic understanding, but fall short
of validating expert status.
would like to see any such designation achievable for undergraduate students so
that it could be marketed to non-traditional employers as conveying a level of
mathematical ability not found in the typical business school graduate at the
bachelors' level. I have found that non-actuarial employers are very receptive
to hiring actuarial students as interns for general analytical work because they
place a high value on their knowledge of, and demonstrated aptitude for, mathematics.
One idea that
could achieve many of the taskforce goals would be to broaden the QRA designation
to something more like a QBA, or quantitative business analyst, emphasizing mathematical
modeling applied to business. The centerpiece of the syllabus could be designed
to be mathematical modeling with applications over a wide range of standard business
topics, not just risk and insurance. For example, bring back some of the topics
on the old operations research and decision science exam, which made a lot of
sense to me. By all means maintain the "integrative" and "applied"
approach to problem formulations. Exams could focus on the mathematical modeling
aspect without attempting to be comprehensive tests over economics and finance.
They could include the stochastic process models and applied statistics currently
tested in Course 3 and 4, but in the context of a broader range of applications
than is currently the case. The statements of the problems should be understandable
to the properly prepared mathematics student who has taken the core business curriculum.
Perhaps a set of study notes would be helpful. The material required for the QRA/QBA
would be within the reach of the typical U.S. college senior currently majoring
in actuarial science, and it would capitalize on the actuarial profession's credibility
as a keeper of the mathematical flame.
undoubtedly goes against the grain for those committed to a global QRA along the
lines of the TFEQ report, and it is probably anathema to those who look askance
at testing non-actuarial subjects. But, in my view, such an approach would help
to resolve such mutually contradictory goals as shortening travel time to ASA/FSA,
broadening the appeal of the designation to non-actuarial students and creating
a marketable credential among employers "outside the traditional actuarial
about forthcoming designs of the SOA education and qualification system may have
moved well beyond the ground covered here, so it may seem quixotic to be raising
them now. Perhaps they can be considered again when the inevitable Taskforce-2010
now though, I continue to adhere to the notion that a uniquely challenging exam
system, emphasizing in its early stages the mathematical nature of actuarial science,
bestows a special cachet on the profession that none of the other putatively competing
organizations can match. Rather than a "competitive disadvantage," I
see the exam system as the most compelling "competitive advantage" the
profession has. It provides easy access, it attracts high caliber entrants, it
satisfies employers and it confers status and prestige to the profession among
peers. So, in making whatever changes deemed necessary in order to shorten travel
time to better reflect the body of knowledge or whatever else, I continue to hope
that what emerges will preserve the essential features of a mathematically based,
exam-driven, qualification system.
from May 2, 2002...
Note: Prepared by the Society of Actuaries Education and Research Council
in response to a presentation by Mr. Richard London, FSA, at the April 13, 2002
meeting in Chicago, concerning the Report of the Task Force on Education and Qualification
of Actuaries Education and Research Council members:
Huntington, FSA, Chair
Dr. Claire Bilodeau, ASA
Dr. James Broffitt, ASA
Dr. Mary Hardy, ASA
Mr. Robert Myers, FSA
Dr. Krzysztof Ostaszewski, FSA
Dr. Esther Portnoy, FSA
Dr. David Scollnik, ASA
Dr. Virginia Young, FSA
- The Council expresses concern about
the changes in the structure of actuarial examinations and qualification standards.
The year 2000 overhaul yielded major problems. It is highly desirable that new
changes proposed be implemented in an evolutionary fashion, as reforms of the
existing system and with maximum effort for public understanding of them.
- The Council shares the concern about
the need to align the North American education and qualification standards with
the emerging world standards. However, we would rather welcome changes, which
merge the world standards into a portion of the existing examination system, or
as a pre- qualification standard. Concerns of employers about examination waivers
need to be addressed. The Council has also agreed that, while granting actuarial
designations without a requirement of a university degree has historically served
the profession well, new emerging global standards and greater diversity of employment
of actuaries, justify introducing a requirement for a university degree for holding
an actuarial designation.
Council is not convinced about the necessity of having three actuarial designations:
QRA, ASA and FSA.
Some of the Councils members expressed the following
reasons. First, this variety is potentially too confusing. Secondly, those members
are also concerned that if the QRA designation were to serve professionals in
areas other than actuarial work, then such designation should probably be created
in cooperation with professional organizations in those areas.
- The Council is concerned about the mixed message
of emphasis on finance and economics, with simultaneous traditional emphasis on
mathematical models, in actuarial education. Nearly half of the topics of the
proposed QRA designation education requirements are in the economics and finance
areas. The Council is not convinced that these topics should be tested so repeatedly:
for QRA designation, on Course 2 examination, on Course 6 examination and possibly
on Course 8 examination. Dramatic decline in the quality of mathematical education
in the United States makes education and qualification in some mathematical areas
relevant to actuarial work (e.g., life contingencies, statistics, pension mathematics,
graduation, demography and even the mathematical side of finance) possibly a more
important concern to the profession. This may become a greater challenge to the
profession than anticipated.
apply mathematical models in economics and finance and to understand business
implications of mathematical models are undoubtedly key actuarial skills. Basic
economics and finance material can be mastered through self-study more easily
than many mathematical topics.
solution suggested by some members, but not agreed by the entire Council is to
allow the fulfillment of the basic "economics/finance" requirement through
either QRA or Course 2 examination, or through a waiver of all of it (including
Course 2 examination) by passing Course 6 examination.
the QRA basic topics, asset/liability management and stochastic financial modeling
are the least well defined. In the widest meaning of the terms used, these are
not basic topics, yet other QRA areas are rather basic. A simplified version of
asset/liability management and stochastic financial modeling may be misconstrued
as endorsement of simplistic interpretation of them.
actuarial profession must reassess its relationship with mathematics research
and education, especially in the United States. Emphasis on finance and economics
is misleading for students attracted by Course 2 examination, but then potentially
incapable of passing Courses 3 and 4. At the same time, students with high mathematical
talents are not attracted to the actuarial profession because it does not sufficiently
support mathematics, either in its research or its teaching form. It is appropriate
for actuaries to feel some degree of ownership in the science of mathematics.
on E&Q (including QRA)
by Richard L.
To begin, I will let my bias be known: I am a member of the E&Q-2005 Task
Force (hereinafter referred to as TFEQ). Having had a hand in the creation of
the Task Force Report, it should come as no surprise that I fully support the
recommendations contained in the Report.
I have also read, with considerable
interest, the major documents and correspondence put forth in opposition to the
recommendations of the Report. Many excellent points are made in some of these
writings, and these points should be, and I am sure will be, considered by the
successor task forces to TFEQ. But, on balance, I do not believe the opposition
writings present a compelling argument. I believe there are two reasons for this:
- Everyone is fond
of saying that "the Devil is in the details," and we all know this is
so. But TFEQ was not charged with creating a plan complete in detail, and, accordingly,
has not done so. (The TFEQ Report describes a philosophical framework upon which
details are yet to be added.) But much of the opposition writing seems to presume
certain details, and then states its opposition to them. It is apparently easier
to object to details than to framework, even if one needs to first create them
in order to do so.
It is often stated in certain circumstances that "If you are not concerned
about thus-and-such, then you apparently don't understand it." In the current
instance, I believe it is correct to say that "If you are concerned about
the TFEQ Report, then you apparently don't understand it." (Of course, if
readers really don't understand the TFEQ proposals, the blame for that must lie,
at least in part, with those of us who wrote and reviewed the Report. It is clear
to me, in hindsight, that certain aspects of the Report could have been better
am particularly concerned that critics regularly refer to the Report as the "QRA
proposal." In fact, QRA is just one component of the TFEQ proposals. To refer
to the entire issue as the "QRA proposal" says to me that major (non-QRA)
components of the Report are being overlooked.
The thoughts contained
in this document are presented simply as my understanding of what TFEQ proposes,
and not as rebuttal to the opposition writings, except by implication. It should
be noted that I present my thoughts solely as an SOA member and as an educator,
and not as a spokesperson for TFEQ.
As I see it, there are three essential components to the TFEQ proposals:
- A modest revision
of the syllabus for the SOA examination program.
creation of a new (third) class of membership in SOA.
effort to evolve the model for education and qualification in actuarial science
a bit closer to the model used in other professions.
The critics cry "What? Again? Why didn't
we get it right the last time?"
I agree that it is somewhat unfortunate
that another syllabus revision is being proposed so soon after the prior one,
effective in 2000. But the discipline, and the profession representing that discipline,
are not static. Certain forces argue for another revision, and they should not
be ignored. But there are two pieces of good news:
needed revision, hopefully to be effective in 2005, is not nearly as drastic as
the one implemented in 2000. It will be easier to do at considerably less cost,
and it will be considerably less disruptive to students already in the qualification
importantly, this low-cost, low-risk revision will achieve certain valuable benefits
for the discipline and its professional societies.
going into details here (which, after all, are not yet established), the salient
nature of the revision will be to identify those topics in actuarial education
that, while important and relevant to actuarial science, are not uniquely actuarial.
These "actuarially important but not uniquely actuarial" topics, collectively
called the "QRA topics," are to be gathered together and placed at the
beginning of the actuarial education sequence. Very little change in the total
collection of the actuarial education topics is being proposed, and the proposed
reordering of those topics is not substantial. But the potential benefits of the
reordering are. These benefits include (a) an enhanced educational compatibility
for actuaries in North America with those in (at least) the other English-speaking
countries of the world, (b) an opportunity for improved professional partnerships
with other disciplines possessing an intellectual core similar to our own, and
(c) an opportunity to increase SOA membership, possibly substantially.
Third Class of Membership
At my university we often have graduating
students with fairly good quantitative and analytic skills, but not to the extent
that they are going to be successful with the SOA exams. These students are not
going to become actuaries, but they certainly have valuable skills to offer an
employer and are generally successful in obtaining employment (often with traditional
actuarial employers) that is satisfying to both themselves and their employers.
(In a company I once worked for, these persons were called "actuarial analysts.")
Other graduates possessing some degree of skill in the general area
of stochastic cash flow management seek employment in fields other than those
traditionally associated with actuarial science. Many of these fields are newly
emerging and are not yet organized as recognized professions. It would be to SOA's
very great advantage to offer these persons the shelter of a professional organization
before someone else does, and others, most notably the American Institute for
Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), are hot on this trail.
referred to in the prior two paragraphs could be brought into SOA in a new class
of members, tentatively designated as Quantitative Risk Analyst (QRA). The Vision
Statement of SOA is for actuaries to be recognized as the leading professionals
in the modeling and management of financial risk and contingent events. If others,
not already identified as a specific profession, are working in any area in any
type of "actuarial-like" activity, we should get them into our tent
before the AICPA (or someone else) gets them into theirs. There is already too
much fragmentation in the actuarial profession as it is. Once other mainline professions,
such as AICPA, establish a membership section of persons engaged in the "modeling
and management of financial risk and contingent events," then our claim to
be, and our vision of being recognized to be, preeminent in that area is gone.
We really can't afford to let this opportunity slip away, and we can position
ourselves to grasp it with very little cost and at very little risk. Unless I
am really missing something here, I do not see any significant downside to this
Professional Educational Model
In general, professionals are educated
in professional schools. Thus lawyers go to law school, doctors go to medical
school and actuaries go to "actuary school," except that it is of a
different nature than the first two. Law school and medical school exist in the
traditional institutional framework, whereas "actuary school" exists
in the SOA "virtual classroom" of self-study while obtaining practical
experience. In all cases, the professional educational experience, however constituted,
occurs at the graduate school level. The third component of the TFEQ proposals
seeks to evolve the actuarial educational experience a bit closer to the general
To undertake specialized professional education in
the law and medicine (and other) models, the student first obtains an undergraduate
education (and degree) in relevant background topics, such as social studies and
political science (for law) or biology and chemistry (for medicine). Often an
entrance exam is required as well in order to be admitted to professional school
and professional study.
The third component of the TFEQ proposals seeks
to apply this standard professional education model to actuarial science, to a
limited extent. The view is that professional actuarial education begins with
the topics that are specific to the discipline of actuarial science. Professional
medical education is not considered to include undergraduate-level chemistry,
although chemistry is an important background tool and is expected to be in the
medical student's toolkit. Professional actuarial education should not be considered
to include undergraduate probability, although this should certainly be presumed
to be in the actuarial student's toolkit.
Not totally coincidentally,
the collection of undergraduate background topics for actuarial science (such
as probability, statistics, economics, accounting, corporate finance, interest
theory, introductory investments and introductory asset-liability management)
are pretty much the same as the "QRA topics" identified earlier in a
different (albeit related) context.
The TFEQ proposal takes the view
that professional actuarial education begins with the study of topics that are
specific to the discipline of actuarial science, and that the necessary background
undergraduate education should be expected to preexist. Of course, the preexistence
of this knowledge must be demonstrated by the person seeking "admission"
to "actuary school," in much the same way that an applicant to medical
school must demonstrate the preexistence of the prerequisites for that admission.
TFEQ also recommends an entrance exam for "actuary school," which, at
least for the present, is called QRA Unit Six - Modeling. The applicant should
be required to pass this exam before being admitted to the virtual actuarial school
activity of sitting for the "real" actuarial exams. (In addition, if
demonstration of the prerequisite knowledge (QRA Units 1 - 5) plus passing the
entrance exam (QRA Unit 6) is to earn a person membership standing in SOA, then
a suitable Professionalism Course should be completed as well.)
point out that the total collection of prerequisites (QRA Units 1 - 5) are often
not available to all students at all colleges or universities, presumably because
some of them are offered in the Mathematics or Statistics Department located in
a Liberal Arts College, whereas others are offered in a Finance Department located
in a Business School. This may very well be the case. The TFEQ proposals recognize
this and accommodate this situation by allowing any student seeking to enter professional
actuarial school who lacks some portion of the prerequisites to have the prerequisite
requirement waived by writing (and passing) an examination on the prerequisite
topic(s). (These waiver-of-prerequisite exams are administered by the SOA actuary
school itself.) How many medical schools allow their applicants that kind of break?
It is likely that one of the most controversial aspects of the TFEQ proposals
will be the concept of waiver of SOA exam units as a result of associated academic
course work, and the Report does, indeed, refer to this concept of "exam
waiver." But if we can change our traditional thinking to embrace the idea
of educational prerequisites in advance of professional actuarial study, then
we begin to think in terms of the undergraduate academic preparation as the standard,
just as it is in all other professions requiring graduate-level work. We can then
draw on our tradition of proctored exams following self-study as an acceptable
alternative to the standard, in those cases where a student wishes to undertake
professional actuarial study lacking some portion of the otherwise-required background.
I would be happy to discuss my thoughts with anyone who wishes to contact
me regarding them.