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Presidential Address: Building a Position for the Future

Presidential Address: Building a Position for the Future
by Edward L. Robbins

The SOA '06 Annual Meeting and Exhibit "The Power of Ideas," was truly invigorating as 1,600 actuaries from around the world came together to hear innovative practice–focused ideas and to be exposed to new, broader perspectives on leadership, risk management and global issues like the future of financial security systems. One of the most significant events of this year's annual meeting was the launch of a revitalized brand for the profession.

The brand revitalization is an important milestone in a key SOA strategic initiative, the Marketing and Market Development Plan (MMDP) to promote the broader value of actuaries to employers and clients, and, in doing so, help our members realize greater influence in business and society.

Past President Bob Beuerlein unveiled the new brand at the general session, first summarizing the process used to develop the brand elements.

Identifying a Foundational Brand Strategy
The development of the profession's brand involved an in–depth and rigorous process that began with review of member and employer research, interviews with a broad range of actuaries representing various areas of practice and organizations, employers and recruiters, and review of the MMDP. The result was the Brand Promise foundational document that contains key elements and attributes of the actuary brand. This foundational document was shared and validated by the Image Advisory Group, which includes staff and member partners from all of the North American Actuarial organizations, the SOA sections leadership, marketplace relevance strategic action team and SOA Board of Governors.

From this information, a brand positioning statement was drafted along with a message platform that was shared with the same key stakeholders for comment and further refinement. Following that, we engaged individuals from our target markets and conducted qualitative research with a dozen senior executives from Fortune 500 companies representing the insurance, benefits and broader financial services perspectives.

The new brand positioning will help us bridge that important gap between perceptions of actuaries and our desired position in the marketplace. To support our brand positioning, we need to tell our story more consistently and widely.

At the annual meeting we introduced the three themes we will use in communicating with the broader world:

  • Strategies for economic and social change.
  • Real–world solutions for complex problems.
  • Future leadership.

Within these three areas are some compelling messages that we'll weave into all of our communications. For those who were at the annual meeting, these messages were repeated in our general session videos, posters, annual report and calendar. The storytellers were actual people in our profession, sharing their thoughts and ideas on how they are measuring and managing risk, identifying important problems and developing and delivering practical solutions. "The revitalized brand brings excitement to our profession," said Stuart Klugman, professor of actuarial science, Drake University. "It's real, it's about us. Actuaries have caught some fire as a result. It's not just people talking about it. It's us doing it."

The one final piece we unveiled at the general session brought everything together. As the banners unfurled, unveiling our new tagline, it marked the beginning of our future as actuaries. Risk is opportunity. It provides clarity and inspiration to our work ahead. It also shows the world, including the people in our profession, a different side of actuaries.

"Actuaries are stepping outside of themselves to promote our profession," said Graham Mackay, director, Navigant Consulting Inc. "Before now, I haven't seen many actuaries stand up and say 'I bring a lot of value to your business.' The brand is about our self awareness as much as it is about increasing awareness to our constituencies."

Living the Brand
In order to be successful, the momentum must continue beyond the annual meeting. On the day before the official launch, we rolled out the revitalized brand to a select group of actuaries in a Living the Brand workshop. These leaders in the profession will work in varying ways to reinforce the brand attributes.

It's also important for each of us to assume the role of brand ambassador. We have multiple opportunities every day–from meeting with the CEO to collaborating with a benefits manager about pension programs. Each of us needs to convey compelling messages about what actuaries do and how we add value to an organization and society at large.

In coming months, we'll arm you with tools to help you differentiate yourself and articulate what's unique and special about the profession. And you should regularly visit, it is your resource for information about the brand.

The SOA is working in partnership with other key North American actuarial organizations on an aggressive multi–year public relations program to reinforce actuaries as leaders in risk management. The program will combine a number of supporting mechanisms–from a spokesperson network showcasing "pioneers" who exemplify the brand to media outreach that will highlight our expertise within the three key themes. The SOA and its partners will also offer unified rewards and recognition to actuaries who are living the brand.

We are committed to sharing the profession's story with the world.

Bringing the Future into Focus
In asking actuaries what they see as the future for the profession, looking ahead, they shared a common vision: They would like to see actuaries respected as a group for their ability to solve problems, in any industry.

"Ten years from now, I envision us as having a greater influence outside of the insurance industry," said Mackay. "Our revitalized brand will help us cross that barrier so we can have an impact in other industries and the society at large."

Today, the world's view of the actuary is narrower than what the profession is capable of achieving. It's time for us to be viewed as creative problem solvers who see the "whole picture."

The SOA will work to ensure actuaries have the business and communication skills to pursue new opportunities and, as the profession directs its energies to our revitalized image, we'll work together to tell the world our 21st century story.

"When you say the word 'lawyer' or 'teacher' to someone, it has meaning," said Ken Seng Tan, professor, University of Waterloo. "A decade from now, I envision myself in a casual conversation with someone for the first time, and when I say 'actuary,' he'll be interested in hearing more. He'll be convinced that we are problem solvers and risk managers, making a real difference in the world."

On Tuesday night, it was fitting that annual meeting attendees toasted the profession with a special Actuary cocktail. We held our glasses high as we acknowledged a revitalized brand, and with it, new opportunities. Edward L. Robbins, FSA, MAAA, is the 2006–2007 president of the Society of Actuaries. He can be contacted at

Actuaries Support the Revitalized Brand
After the launch of a revitalized brand for the actuarial profession, the SOA conducted a quick survey during the Presidential Reception. Over 100 actuaries responded to questions about the brand and the results indicate strong support.

Nearly 70 percent are more positive than they were before the Annual Meeting about the possibility of building a stronger brand for the profession.

The same percentage of those polled say they also now have a better understanding than they did before the Annual Meeting of the importance of the messages being used to differentiate the profession from others.

Eighty–five percent said the remarks and presentations at the general session's brand launch were effective in helping them understand how the profession is being positioned.

But the most exciting news is that actuaries embraced the tagline Risk is Opportunity, with 91 percent saying they had a full understanding of its meaning.