Announcement: SOA releases passing candidate numbers for September 2019 Exam P.

Road to Success

Road to SUCCESS

By Steve Eadie, Dale Hall and Judy Powills

 

THE SOA'S COMPETENCY FRAMEWORK is designed to put SOA members in the express lane to success by providing direction for their professional development efforts. Read on to see how you can more easily reach your next destination.

In today's changing and tumultuous world, self–assessment, competency building, taking responsibility for professional development and a commitment to lifelong learning are keys to success! The recent financial crisis has clearly shown that actuaries face ever changing roles. More than ever there are emerging questions that actuaries must address about risk management. What actuaries do and how they do it is constantly evolving.

Competency in actuarial science is the foundation of the actuarial profession. In a dynamic and rapidly changing world, an actuary's knowledge and skills must be continuously expanded to meet increasingly complex problems and to enhance the value added by actuarial work. The SOA education system has always maintained a strong focus on technical skills. Actuaries are recognized for their expertise in the quantitative skills area. Actuaries consistently demonstrate superior mathematical, analytical and financial modeling skills while assessing, anticipating and managing risk. They demonstrate the ability to apply advanced mathematics in a business or financial context. Specialized knowledge and skills are developed while progressing through the SOA's education system and through an actuary's on–the–job experience. Added value comes from continuous and lifelong professional development.

Employers know the value of lifelong learning and developing their employees. They no longer want experts in VisiCalc or Lotus 123 for DOS as that software only exists in museums. Actuaries must learn to use and adapt the latest modeling software that is available to remain valued for their technical expertise. Importantly, today's actuaries must apply their advanced technical skills within the context of increasingly complex business, decision making and management demands. Still, other nontechnical skills are also central to the actuary's success as a well–rounded business professional and advisor. It is clear that actuaries will benefit from continuous learning in various areas of competency to ensure that they are able to respond to our rapidly changing environment. Their employers demand it. Their clients demand it. Ultimately, the public demands it.

In 2008, the SOA Board approved and supported the development of a competency framework as a strategic initiative. The primary purpose for building a competency framework is to guide systematic and sound approaches to designing, developing and delivering effective professional development opportunities. The goal is to promote forward–looking professional development and lifelong learning that meet the needs of our members, their employers and the public. To enable this framework, the SOA will provide tools and support to members as individuals, to volunteers/Sections who are the primary developers of professional development learning options, to SOA staff and other actuarial organizations.

SOA Competency Framework  

What is a competency framework? A competency framework is a meaningful organization of competencies. The framework primarily focuses on skills necessary to provide a broad service beyond just technical and specific actuarial analysis.

So what is a competency? A competency is the synthesis of knowledge, skills, behaviors, attitudes and attributes that contribute to outstanding job performance. Two examples of competencies from the framework are "Strategic Insight and Integration" and "Relationship Management and Interpersonal Collaboration."

The concept of a competency framework or model is not new or unique to the SOA. Many organizations develop competency models to benefit individuals, teams and the organization as a whole. Our competency model provides a systemic framework for professional lifelong learning for actuaries, regardless of the types of employers they work for, the areas of their specialization or the career paths they travel. For the SOA, competency–based processes such as curriculum development, curriculum delivery, career development and career management ensure that the professional development direction and function align with, and support, the overall strategy of the SOA and the needs of the actuarial profession.

A competency framework supports the improvement of individual actuaries' performance thus benefitting actuarial organizations overall. A competency framework helps actuaries make decisions related to their individual professional development and career management plans. A competency framework helps the designers, developers and deliverers of professional development opportunities to effectively manage available resources by focusing on real needs and prioritizing efforts to address those needs.

MEMBERS POLLED

Over 3,100 SOA members reflecting the various areas of practice participated in defining the competencies—i.e., knowledge, skills and abilities—required for the actuary of today and in the future. (See sidebar on right) Not surprisingly, we found that there are many more commonalities across areas of actuarial practice than not. Technical competency is at the core, while nontechnical and business management competencies are often the key differentiators for individual success. Certainly, there is NOT a one size fits all—actuaries reflect a continuum from very versatile actuaries to those intensely capable in a narrower focus. Although the SOA can't and shouldn't provide all professional development learning opportunities in support of members' lifelong learning, it does need to create an environment to support the variety of paths that actuaries will choose for their professional development.

Later this year, members will be able to access a self–assessment based on the framework along with career journey stories of actuaries. Once an actuary has identified a specific skill as a gap, the actuary will then be able to create strategies to further develop in that competency area.

FRAMEWORK DEVELOPMENT

Key to developing the framework was wide participation by the right people to build a framework by and for SOA members. Our journey over the past year began with understanding the overall landscape—perceptions and needs related to professional development. We talked with a diverse group of stakeholders to gather their insights, and we administered a survey to understand the pulse of the membership overall. These discussions and survey responses were used as input to three larger–scale data collection rounds during the fall and winter—brainstorming, structuring and rating. The data collection process included the following steps:

  1. Distributing an electronic brainstorming survey to a sample of the membership. The focus of the brainstorming was to define the conceptual domain of practitioners' knowledge, skills and abilities. Respondents generated well over 1,500 responses to complete the following statement

    "Looking 3 to 5 years into the future, to be valued for their professionalism, technical expertise and business acumen, actuaries must have or develop skills that include..."

    Following collection of the statements, a set of 100 items for each area of actuarial practice was derived by removing duplicate statements, wordsmithing and clarifying remaining items.

  2. Next, the items were distributed to a quasi–stratified (by area of practice) and random sample of members. Respondents were asked to electronically structure (sort/group) the statements by identifying relationships between them and categorizing the statements by similarity. With sorts completed, respondents applied labels to depict the theme within each grouping.

  3. Following the sorting in Step 2, members were asked to rate the same set of 100 items on two scales—importance and performance:

    Importance: Rate each statement's importance RELATIVE to the others.1) Relatively unimportant; 2) Slightly important; 3) Moderately important; 4) Very important; 5) Extremely important.

    Performance: Rate the extent to which actuaries are currently able to deliver excellent performance.1) Not at all; 2) Only slightly; 3) Somewhat; 4) For the most part; 5) Very much so.

We initially generated frameworks for each of the areas of practice and from those, although still a work in progress, developed an overall framework for the profession comprised of eight competency areas. Each of the eight competency areas are viewed as very important and not surprisingly, at the overall profession level, there are essentially no performance gaps for the Technical Skills and Analytical Problem Solving and Professional Values competencies. The greatest performance gaps are in the areas of Communication, Relationship Management and Interpersonal Collaboration, Strategic Insight and Integration, Leadership and Results–Oriented Solutions.

NEXT STEPS

A competency framework is effective only to the extent that it is used. The competency areas and importance–performance gaps identified through this study provide a meaningful structure and serve as input to next steps. Performance gaps—i.e., the current level of performance as compared to the optimal level of performance—will change over time as individual actuaries navigate their unique careers. The SOA will use the insights gleaned from ongoing input to address professional development in general and to provide members with relevant and current offerings in key topic areas developed using effective instructional design methodology.

Although numerous applications of the SOA's Competency Framework will evolve over time, initially we will use the tool as the foundation for professional development, curriculum development, curriculum delivery and curriculum evaluation. Using a consistent framework provides a blueprint for systematically assessing needs and identifying gaps, prioritizing development efforts, developing quality curricula (i.e., linking competencies to learning outcomes), identifying the right instructional approaches (e.g., self–study, structured—instructor/facilitator led), selecting the appropriate delivery mechanisms or combination of delivery mechanisms (e.g., electronic systems including e–Learning and webinars, conferences/meetings, workshops, seminars, articles) and delivering professional development learning solutions at the right time (e.g., set schedule/cycle or on demand).

The SOA Transfer Knowledge Team (TKT), a strategic team of volunteer members formed by the SOA Board, has overall responsibility for developing a professional development plan that will be presented to the Board of Directors in October. The TKT will share information with the SOA Sections who are key providers of current professional development sessions to enable them to focus content for meetings on those competencies that are most important. It will be important for the SOA to demonstrate the value of its Competency Framework to employers so that they will continue to support professional development opportunities provided by the SOA for their employees.

Sidebar: DEVELOPING

SKILLS

This article has provided information on the SOA's competency framework. Turn the page for the article, "Is FSA Enough?" where authors contend that while developing additional skills is paramount for actuaries, obtaining an MBA may be equally important.