This spotlight article highlights two groups that both work to expand the knowledge base of the SOA membership.
By Sam Phillips
Two departments are highlighted in the final edition of this series intended to familiarize members with many on the staff at the SOA. The featured departments are Actuarial Marketplace Solutions (AMS) and Research.
ACTUARIAL MARKETPLACE SERVICES
Mike Boot, FSA, MAAA, FCA, Managing Director of AMS and Emily Kessler, FSA, EA, MAAA, FCA, Senior Fellow, Intellectual Capital
What are the key responsibilities of your area? AMS is responsible for helping develop intellectual capital for the actuarial profession, for supporting our basic and continuing education systems, and for supporting our Sections. Staff partners work with SOA volunteers to shape intellectual capital issues, including the role of the actuary. Most of this work is organized through partnerships with the 18 SOA Sections. Section specialists assist Section leadership with governance, operations and infrastructure to maximize the volunteers' contribution to thought leadership.
What is your main focus? The mission of AMS is to enable Sections and other volunteers to provide thought leadership and content development to help members develop content for continuing education, and to support our basic education system. We look at key issues the actuarial profession will face in the next three to five years and try to work those issues into our educational programs. For example, Mike Boot, FSA, MAAA, FCA, managing director of Actuarial Marketplace Solutions–AMS, is keeping a close eye on developments in principle–based approach for life and annuities and will work with SOA Sections to ensure that our research and continuing education provide members with what they need as reserving and capital standards change. He'll also work with our basic education system to help ensure these ideas make it onto our education syllabus.
How does AMS help SOA volunteers build thought leadership and intellectual capital? The four staff fellows (in Health, Retirement, Individual Life & Annuity (ILA) and Risk Management) regularly monitor and contribute to thought leadership in their area of practice. This includes research, basic education, continuing education and publications. One way to think about it is the staff fellows are always looking for ways to work with key volunteers to move ideas forward. For example, Section volunteers provide over 75 percent of the SOA's continuing education programming, and the staff partners work with the Sections to develop programs for these meetings, including the Spring Meetings and Annual Meeting. Staff partners are closely involved when a Section develops a new program; Mike worked closely with the Reinsurance Section and ACLI to develop the ReFocus Conference, which held its second successful conference with over 300 in attendance. In another initiative, we're developing new ties between our Sections and the basic education system to ensure that new ideas and techniques make it onto our syllabus. Our staff fellows will be facilitating those connections.
Staff partners are also a key face for the SOA and our members. Staff fellows work with other actuarial organizations to ensure that ideas are shared across the profession (e.g., Andy Peterson, FSA, EA, MAAA, FCA, retirement staff fellow, and Mike attend meetings of the Pension and Life, respectively, Practice Council meetings, at the Academy, and Bob Wolf, staff fellow, Risk Management Solutions, MAAA, is an FCAS and often presents at CAS as well as SOA meetings). Staff fellows also attend meetings of other organizations devoted to research and thought leadership (e.g., Pension Research Council Conference at Wharton School). Meeting thought leaders outside the actuarial profession brings perspectives inside the profession that help improve the applicability of our intellectual capital and strategic initiatives.
Staff partners also work closely with volunteers as they develop strategic issues. Strategic issues often require resources beyond those available to the Sections, including project management and links outside the profession. Key examples include: Enterprise risk management is an area of expansion for the profession, and the Sections and the staff partners are at the center of that intellectual capital development. Bob, the risk management staff fellow, and the Joint Risk Management Section are the center of the thought leadership that expands across the organization. In addition, Bob is working with the staff and volunteers on various components of the new CERA designation, including the basic education and EPP program.Meg Weber, director of Section Services, helped the Health Section Council develop the Untapped Opportunities in the Health Industry for Actuaries issue for discussion at the June Board meeting. The Board discussed how the SOA should respond to the shortage of qualified health actuaries in the traditional marketplace and what opportunities are in the rapidly expanding health industry that are a fit for actuaries.
Finally, the Pension Section Council works with Emily, and Andy on its Retirement 20/20 initiative to develop new alternatives for retirement systems. This project, in its third year, has attracted significant interest from outside the profession, including media coverage.
Tell us about the AMS team and how they add to the success of your department? What talent and expertise do they bring to the table? The four staff fellows1 are the engine behind the thought leadership and our work to support continuing and basic education. Meg's work in launching new initiatives has benefited the nine special interest Sections with which she works directly, as well as her efforts in coordinating activities across all 18 Sections to ensure that SOA services are provided efficiently. She's assisted by our three section specialists, Christy Cook, Sue Martz and Jill Leprich, who each bring enthusiasm, project management skills, organizational abilities and flexibility to the group. Finally, Sue Lamczyk rounds out the team by providing administrative support to Section Council members and staff.
Would you tell us about some of the challenges your area faces? The AMS staff plays a key role in continuity as Section Council members rotate each year (one–third of all Section Council members rotate off the council each year). The section specialists help new volunteers understand how the SOA works (just keeping up with SOA acronyms can be challenging!). Sue Martz has been on staff with the SOA for 18 years; she's a key resource to the staff partners and her fellow section specialists. Jill, our most recent addition to the staff specialist ranks, came from our Customer Service department and brings fresh insight as to how we can improve our relationships with members and volunteers.
With 18 Sections, you could easily get 18 different ways of doing things. That sounds great, but as a member association, we're challenged to do things cost efficiently. The SOA staff works with the Sections, as they develop new ideas and fresh perspectives, to incorporate those operationally into our work in a way that makes sense across the Sections and in ways that can be done efficiently for both SOA staff and volunteers. Sue Lamczyk divides her time between Section Council member administrative support–roster updates, e–mails to Council leaders, Web postings, and scheduling conference calls–and assisting the staff with travel schedules, expense reporting, and other duties as assigned.
In addition to our work directly with the Sections, AMS reaches out to other parts of the SOA, including basic education, continuing education, research, publications, strategy and governance. Not only do the staff fellows contribute their core subject matter expertise, but all staff partners bring the issues and perspectives of the Section leadership and Section members to the various issues. Christy, another section specialist, has taken on a key role in the development of our Leadership Resource System, a new tool that will help us manage our most important human resource component, volunteer members.
What are some of the group's successes you'd like to bring to light? We've worked to enhance and build the role of the Sections in the SOA and have helped move big ideas forward (e.g., ERM, Health Opportunities, Retirement 20/20). We're very involved in developing important initiatives with Emily spearheading projects such as the new CPD requirements and the Role of Academia project.
What are the department's greatest strengths? The strongest asset is that our department does whatever it takes to move ideas forward for the SOA and the actuarial profession in general. We are catalysts for change, growth and education and seek to advance the goals and ideals of the profession. That takes flexibility, strategic thinking, the ability to multi–task, a big–picture perspective and pushing toward goals, whether that means taking center stage or working behind the scenes. We are all highly motivated and it is this motivation that makes us a strong, proactive group.
What are your short– and long–term goals? Our main focus is on ERM, Principle–Based Approach, Opportunities for Health Actuaries, Retirement 20/20 and the Role of Academia. Leveraging the role of Sections in basic education, to provide another resource and ensure that we have the best basic education for new actuaries is another key priority. We're always looking for continuous improvement opportunities with the activities of the Sections. For 2008, we're focused on improving the newsletter publication process and how Section Web pages are used. In addition, we're working with our marketing staff to take our award–winning branding campaign to the newsletters and Section Web pages so people outside the profession realize the importance of Sections and the vitality of the actuarial brand.
Bruce Iverson, Managing Director of Actuarial Research
What are the key responsibilities of your area? The Research Department primarily conducts topical research projects and experience studies for the benefit of the actuarial profession. Typical outputs can be a practical report published on the Web site, new software, a research conference or symposium, experience study tables, or a paper published in the North American Actuarial Journal or The Actuarial Practice Forum.
What is your main focus? Our main focus is to provide expanded knowledge and new informational tools for the use of the membership, the general public and other SOA research stakeholders such as insurance companies, actuarial consulting firms and government agencies.
What are some significant projects that the group is working on right now? A number of valuable and highly visibility projects are currently underway. They include the Preferred Mortality Study which will develop new mortality tables that vary by underwriting level. This will allow insurance companies to more accurately reserve their business to reflect their unique risk. We also have a number of projects in progress that partner with the CAS and other actuarial organizations in the area of enterprise risk management. Another significant project currently underway is a series of short reports based on the 2007 Retirement Risk Survey. These reports are generating a great deal of high profile, positive publicity for the SOA and the profession. We also have a number of projects (in partnership with the American Academy of Actuaries) related to the developing principle–based approach. Another promising research activity coming down the road a bit is our effort to measure the impact of obesity on morbidity and mortality.
Tell us about your team and how they add to the success of your department. What talent and expertise do they bring to the table? The Research team consists of nine individuals (a managing director of Actuarial Research, three research actuaries, four research administrators, and a research librarian). The team helps to carefully and diligently put a management structure around the research projects, provide direction, library services, and to help monitor progress. We work with approximately 300 volunteers and about 30 subcontracted researchers to advance the full range of SOA research activities.
Would you tell us about some of the challenges your area faces? One significant challenge is that we have more good research ideas than we can do at any given time. The staff does a very good job leveraging resources and we get good mileage out of each person involved, but as our research agenda evolves, we likely will want to tackle larger, more costly and more valuable projects. That will require us to develop additional creative funding solutions and partnerships to build our current resource base. A second challenge is keeping the 60 or so projects moving. Each research actuary and research administrator handles a large number of projects concurrently and the unit completes 20–30 research projects each year.
What are some of the group's successes you'd like to bring to light? The 2008 Living to 100 Symposium was a big success, as was our Second Hand Smoke study. As I mentioned earlier, a number of projects related to aging issues such as our 2007 Retirement Risk Survey and the accompanying short reports have received a great deal of attention in the media. Other projects that have been quite successful include a research project that would help actuaries model the impact of a potential flu epidemic, and a number of very valuable industry experience studies.
What are the department's greatest strengths? One of the department's greatest strengths is the way the team works together. We look out for one another and have a strong connection to our jobs and helping each other. We also are able to cover a lot of research activities. The productivity of the area has consistently gone up each year over the last seven years or so.
What are your short– and long–term goals? Our short–term goals are to complete our review of existing research processes and to complete several experience studies that are in process. Our long–term goal is to reexamine the development of our research agenda, out role in developing the profession's intellectual capital, and how we best meet our mission to expand actuarial knowledge generally. This is actually one of our proposed strategic initiatives for 2009 and we're excited to get started on it. We're looking forward to finding ways to tackle larger projects that have more significant impact for the profession, the membership, and the public in general.
What do you hope to accomplish in the remaining months of 2008? We want to complete at least another 10 significant and unique research tools in the remaining months of 2008. We need to complete reviews we have underway on our research processes and library operations. We also hope to forge new partnerships and external relationships with a number of entities that have research interests similar to the SOA.
What big projects are slated for 2009? Beyond the approximately 60 projects currently in progress in 2008, the main one will be the strategic initiative I've just described. We are also reviewing the experience studies methods and products and in 2009 plan to implement recommendations from the study. In addition, we are evolving the SOA library to provide expanded services for members in 2009.
1 The Health Staff Fellow position is currently open; interested applicants can find out more information about the job at SOA Careers.
Sam Phillips is a communications associate at the Society of Actuaries.