May 2013

From the EAS Chairperson: Face-to-Face Time

By Joeff Williams

Several months ago a human resource memo was leaked by Yahoo stating their decision to end most forms of telecommuting. This was a controversial decision at a time when many companies are embracing more flexible work environments. I do not intend to comment on the merits or pitfalls of this decision, but I was reminded of the advantages face-to-face contact with fellow colleagues can have on creativity and fostering change in a positive way.

In a recent article by Doug Guthrie titled, “Marissa Mayer: Choosing Corporate Culture over Worker Independence” on the Forbes website on March 8, 2013, the author comments that, “While employees may prefer being home, these high-tech innovators are trying to create a home-like environment in the workplace to build team spirit and to make room for the synergy that comes with camaraderie and brainstorming. It is not an illegitimate aim to create such a company culture.”

Nick Ortner, vice-chair of the Entrepreneurial Actuaries Section (EAS) and I just finished a one-day council chairs meeting where we were able to network with other sections and hear their endeavors while learning about new challenges within our profession that are arising and may impact our section. Nowadays we all lead very busy lives. Demands of work and family challenge us to balance our time. As I looked around the room and listened to the presentations of the 19 sections, I noticed the high percentage of attendance by the section leaders and how passionate and committed each section was to delivering valuable content to its membership.

The following is a summary of those discussions along with a highlight of the EAS two-minute presentation.

International Discussion
The EAS has a small percentage of international members. At first I wondered how our section could relate to the International topic. The longer the discussion went along I realized that there could be a possible opportunity to at least begin dialogues with other international organizations in established actuarial communities such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and other European countries. The initial efforts may need to be centered around just having open conversations of what an entrepreneur may mean in these markets and how we can reach those members.

Enhanced Membership Value
The SOA challenged us to brainstorm about ways we can attract new members, especially those new to the profession, while maintaining the value we bring to our existing membership. There was good discussion about whether we should consider Facebook and other emerging social media as additional means of communication. Another suggestion centered around developing mentoring opportunities at SOA meetings and inviting students and young actuaries to participate in section councils as friends. The statistics show that section membership may not adequately represent the range of ages in the overall population, which challenges us to think of creative ways to connect with those we may not be reaching, such as the younger population. How can we convince them of the value our section can bring to their career? Is being an entrepreneur a viable career path for younger actuaries?

Two-Minute Presentation
The EAS faces the challenge of a membership that consists of a variety of disciplines and backgrounds. Our membership is not as focused on a particular topic or knowledge base, but instead is looking for insights, networking and education opportunities focused on how they can enhance their entrepreneurial careers. Our membership may actually share identity with many other sections. So how does the EAS distinguish itself? We also shared that we want to challenge everyone to consider themselves as entrepreneurs and show how our section can enrich their careers even if they are not sole practitioners. We should be working to change “entrepreneur” from being used as a noun and focus on using it as an adjective. I want to thank Nick Ortner for his insights into helping with the presentation.

The uniqueness of our membership and the challenges of today’s financial situations with many entrepreneurs makes attending face-to-face meetings difficult. The various actuarial professional organizations have embraced online virtual meetings as a way to provide content. I attend these on a regular basis. They are a great way to keep up on current topics while meeting our continuing education requirements. But this past leadership meeting reminded me of the value of personal interaction with fellow colleagues. Here is a recent list I saw that reminds us of the values of face-to-face meetings:

  1. Body language is an important form of communication,
  2. They ensure the participants are engaged,
  3. Misunderstandings are avoided,
  4. Participation is enhanced, and
  5. Can be more efficient.

I encourage our members to look for opportunities to get involved with our section. We have plenty of opportunities for writing articles, presenting at SOA sessions, helping with networking events and even being a member of the EAS council. This is a great way to network with fellow entrepreneurs and be an active part of improving the content we provide our members. I would also appreciate any comments or suggestions for ways we can enhance our international outreach as well as improve our membership value.

We have some great sessions planned at the SOA meetings this year, so I look forward to hopefully meeting each of you at one of these events this year.

Please visit our webpage for ongoing activities and information.

Joeff Williams, FSA, MAAA, is a consulting actuary with Actuarial Management Resources, Inc. in Winston-Salem, N.C. and current chair of the Entrepreneurial Actuaries Section. He may be reached at