Letter From the President - Promoting Commitment, Innovation, Service and Excellence

Letter From The President
Promoting Commitment, Innovation, Service and Excellence

Cecil Bykerk, the SOA's president for 2008–2009, delivered his acceptance speech at this year's Annual Meeting.

It is a great honor to stand here as president of the Society of Actuaries.

Before I get started, I'd like to say a special thanks to Bruce Schobel for all of his great work as president of the SOA over the past year.

As Bruce Schobel and Greg Heidrich, the SOA's executive director, mentioned in their talks yesterday, we are looking forward to the launch of our new Strategic Plan in 2009. One of the Plan's main objectives is to promote a culture of commitment, innovation, service and excellence.


Volunteering plays a big role in creating this culture. I am now in the SOA's ultimate volunteer position–president of the Society of Actuaries. My lifelong path of volunteering began when I received my Fellowship in 1973. Shortly afterward one of my fellow actuarial employees approached me about joining an examination committee.

He persuaded me by saying: "Somebody before you volunteered for the Education Committees, so you could become an FSA. Now it's your turn to give back to the profession."

Since then, I've served countless hours in many roles, both as a member and a leader. But, for me, volunteering hasn't been all about giving. I've received so much more than I have given.

The exams I studied for and passed gave me the technical knowledge for this career that makes me happy to face each day. However, education doesn't end with the FSA. Through volunteering I acquired many skills that didn't come from the education process.

I learned how to run a meeting; how to motivate people (and motivating volunteers can be difficult when you don't control a paycheck); how to lead people (especially in projects that have been contentious); and how to build consensus.

These are valuable skills. Unfortunately, a recent USA Today article stated that the number of people who volunteer decreased from 2005 to 2007, from 65.4 to 60.8 million. I'm proud that my home state of Nebraska has the second–highest volunteerism ranking of the 50 states!

However, there is hope. Forbes had a June 2008 article on big companies that are donating not only cash, but work hours so employees can volunteer. Of course, the intentions are not solely altruistic. For companies, it's a way to develop future business leaders and retain employees. In fact, the article states that today's managers are under pressure to develop the next generation of leaders. The development is occurring in skills–based volunteerism.

There are many areas in which actuaries can get involved in the profession. You can participate in section activities, serve on a Basic Education Committee, speak at a Continuing Education meeting or contribute to our publications–just to name a few. Another easy way to volunteer is through the Actuarial Foundation. Their programs, such as Advancing Student Achievement, allow you to use your skills in a creative manner to address social issues.

In a nutshell, volunteering has taught me how to be a leader, both in the profession as well as in the workplace. I believe that my volunteer experiences helped me meet the challenges of being chief actuary at Mutual of Omaha.

Just to show that things have come full circle for me, I had the privilege of serving as a faculty member for a Fellowship Admissions Course in August 2007. There my daughter Andrea received her FSA diploma. Within weeks she was on an examination committee and was grading exams.

Now, as I promised, let me tell you a bit more about our new Strategic Plan. The Plan consists of four Strategic Themes:

  • Develop knowledge.
  • Transfer knowledge.
  • Cultivate opportunities.
  • Develop and promote professional networks.

We have a number of initiatives planned to support each of these themes. I'll tell you about just a few of them.

World–Class Education

One of the SOA's objectives is to promote the development of knowledge for members, candidates, our employers and the public. To do this, we must have a solid foundation to build upon, and that is our academic institutions. We need world–class education and research to create the best actuaries for tomorrow and to strengthen the services we provide today.

The Board has taken significant steps to achieve this goal. First, we will be designating Centers of Actuarial Excellence in North America. These Centers of Excellence will be selected based on rigorous criteria focusing on education, ties to the actuarial community and contributions to scholarship. The SOA will support these schools through education and research grants. These grants will enable our best universities to increase their contributions to meet the intellectual capital challenges facing the profession today.

The second part of this initiative is to provide stipends to our best and brightest to pursue post–graduate work. The Board has authorized a program to provide stipends to students pursuing an actuarial credential and a doctorate degree in a related field. The result of this initiative will foster a stronger profession through higher education.

We want as many schools as possible to achieve the high standards of Center of Excellence status. This is why the Board is considering programs for limited financial support directed at the hiring of faculty. This will help strengthen these schools' commitment to education and ties to the actuarial community. And finally, we know that business doesn't always understand the challenges faced by universities, and vice versa, so we will work to build ties between these communities over the next few years.

The ultimate goal of our education system is to ensure that everyone who receives our credentials has the education they need to succeed in their professional careers and can demonstrate mastery of that education. Our credentials are among the most respected in the business world, and are earned through a rigorous course of study.

The system to earn those credentials has evolved throughout the years to keep pace with best practices in adult education. The redesign of the Basic Education system is no exception. It shouldn't be a surprise that the delivery of adult education has changed significantly since many of us received our SOA credentials.

Today's education system is more learner–centered, better prepares actuaries for the future, provides a more practice–relevant syllabus and reduces travel time. It is the product of the contributions of hundreds of volunteers and meets the needs of key constituents including today's employers and the public, Sections, volunteers and candidates.

The rigor remains in the SOA exams. Our e–Learning modules demonstrate best practices in how adults are learning today. The importance of professionalism is reinforced in our Associateship Professionalism Course and the Fellowship Admissions Course. In addition, our Fellowship Admissions Course focuses on the business environment and exposes candidates to practical situations while reinforcing the need for actuaries to demonstrate good communication skills.

Plainly said, the rigor of the process to earn the credentials today has not eased since the days I sat for an exams. Today's candidates are still putting in a great deal of time and effort to earn their credentials.

Offering relevant, high–quality continuing education programs is another way in which we maintain the value of our credentials. It's the reason why we're all here. I would like to highlight the contributions SOA Sections make to our Continuing Education programs. In fact, the SOA could not put on a meeting like this one without the tremendous efforts of our Sections. All 18 contributed content, recruited speakers and, in the end, collectively delivered over 100 sessions for this year's Annual Meeting. Over 300 volunteers have been involved in some way.


In addition, Sections have created and produced over 20 face–to–face events and more than a dozen webcasts this year. As our grassroots connection, the SOA relies heavily on our Section networks to develop timely and relevant continuing education for the profession.

Developing networks within the SOA is important. It is also important to develop long–term relationships with actuarial and other professional organizations globally. This is crucial to the growth and success of the profession.

We are beginning to embark on an initiative to improve actuarial education around the globe. We are working with the International Actuarial Association, the Institute of Actuaries Australia and l'Institut des Actuaires in France to share the combined strengths of our education systems with other countries.

This effort will not only help develop actuarial talent worldwide, it is also an opportunity to contribute by making an actuarial education accessible to some who cannot currently afford one. In addition, this will help in our efforts to spread the word about the need and use for actuaries in traditional and nontraditional fields.

Each of the previous initiatives I've mentioned, from volunteering to our educational content, is part of our brand. Our brand is everything we say and do as a profession.

The Actuarial Brand

We continue to work to expand the actuarial brand as well as create and promote new areas of practice. Doing so will ensure the growth and future of the profession.

Our effort to have actuaries recognized as qualified ERM leaders continues via the CERA credential. Our goal is to ensure the public views it as the world's pre–eminent ERM qualification.

In addition, our Marketing Plan continues to cultivate opportunities for the profession. We are continuing in this long–term journey with our North American actuarial partner organizations to market the profession. Our promotion of actuaries as leaders and decision makers in the traditional and nontraditional marketplace is essential to the future of the profession. We are promoting our profession's expertise by connecting our members with the key business and trade media to position actuaries as thought leaders in a number of areas.

This year we've had several prominent stories in the media about the profession. This includes an Associated Press exclusive on the "Risks and Process of Retirement Survey Report," as well as articles in Newsday, US News and World Report, the LA Times and USA Today. We plan to continue this important work in 2009. You'll be seeing more media coverage in the near future.

Our Speakers Bureau is designed to reinforce the value of actuaries to employers by showcasing actuarial thought leadership, and by placing actuaries in front of high–level decision makers. In the past year, SOA members have spoken on behalf of the profession at events such as the Conference Board's ERM Conference, the Enterprise Risk Management Forum, the US Pensions Summit, and the Wealth Management and Retirement Planning Forum.

To help ensure a steady supply of actuarial candidates, and to foster the growth and the future of the profession, we've begun a University Outreach program. This program is designed to spread the word about the profession to college students, math and business professors, and college career centers. We are actively encouraging promising students to learn about and take advantage of all the opportunities an actuarial career has to offer.

Obviously, I've found this career to be very rewarding. And I hope that each of you feels the same way about your own career. Since our new Strategic Plan has shaped this talk, and will set the direction of the SOA for the next several years, there is one other aspect of the Plan which I mentioned earlier and I'd like to highlight now. It applies to everyone. That is to promote a culture of commitment, innovation, service and excellence in everything we do.

I hope that you will choose, if you haven't already, to become involved with the profession. Whether it's participating in Section activities, joining a committee, or giving back through the Actuarial Foundation, your involvement will benefit both your career and your profession. Thank you.