Editorial - The Pirates' Code?


The Pirates' Code?

When Captain Barbosa (in "Pirates of the Caribbean") interpreted the Pirates' Code as more like a set of guidelines than actual requirements he was, probably, using the Disney Studios dramatic license to create a touch of levity required by the scene. A little research reveals that, although there was not one single Pirates' Codes that applied to all pirates in the entire real world, whatever code did apply to any given pirate was taken seriously, or, at least, applied seriously to that pirate.

We actuaries, of course, have a code. I wonder how many of us think of the code more as guidelines than actual requirements. Maybe in a movie called "Actuaries of the Beltway" or "Actuaries of ERM" or "Actuaries of Stochasticity" it might be funny to think of our code as really more like guidelines, but it wouldn't be so funny in real life where dramatic license does not apply. Unlike pirates, whose code tends to protect them from themselves, our code serves to protect the public from us. The code only does that if it is applied more as a rule than a guideline.

Pirates, of course, were a scourge on the public, even though they may have been true to each other–honor among thieves and all that. We actuaries serve our clients and employers, certainly, but in the process we also serve a greater good. I quote: "The purpose of this Code of Professional Conduct ("Code") is to require Actuaries to adhere to the high standards of conduct, practice, and qualifications of the actuarial profession, thereby supporting the actuarial profession in fulfilling its responsibility to the public." Our code, clearly, is intended as a set of requirements supporting our responsibility to the public.

Argh, the public–who are they? If you're a pirate, the public is anyone not on your ship. For an actuary it's, perhaps, not as simple as that. And, finding a way to fulfill our responsibility to the public is harder still. When I was in second grade my responsibility was to take the milk order each morning. Some wanted chocolate; some wanted white. I learned two things from that first experience in responsibility–how to spell chocolate and that public diversity exists even as early as second grade.

So, how does a profession serve a public with diverse interests, wants, needs or points of view? Our duly elected politicians, by way of bad example, seem to have taken a Pirates' Code approach. That is, a pirate owes allegiance only to those on his own ship. That's why we have red and blue states and green, pink, purple and black and white solutions. Fortunately, because of the great diversity in nature, we will never run out of colors to label our diverse public interests.

A profession cannot serve the public by taking a side. With respect to our clients, our duty may lie in supporting, when possible through the reasonable application of actuarial science, the positions our clients have taken or decisions they have made. In doing this service for our clients we address our public service duty by not violating or helping our clients to violate any written law or regulation put in place to protect the public good. And, to separate our profession even further from the pirates, we ought to also consider the more subtle, yet unwritten, ethical impact of our client's endeavor on the public good.

Even without a client, we as a profession can, do, and should support the public interest by providing data on all sides of an issue on which we have some expertise so that well informed public decisions can be made.

Tom Bakos