Julie A Curtis, FSA 1992, MAAA, EA
Brief description of the type of work you currently do:
Volunteer for the SOA
Primary Area of Practice:
Other Areas of Practice/Interests:
Health (interest – limited practice while working)
Why do you want to be on the Board?
In large part thanks to the SOA, actuaries are widely respected and play an important role in strategy and decision-making in many areas of society. Throughout my career, the SOA has played a key role in maintaining the integrity and relevance of our profession. As a Board member, I would like to continue to maintain, and even expand, our strong position among society’s decision-makers. I would also like to help the SOA’s strategy evolve to meet society’s ever-changing needs. I look forward to working with Board members, SOA staff and others to strategize for the future.
Ethics and Transparency
Ethics and transparency are essential to professional practice and service on the Board. How have you demonstrated ethics and transparency in the past? How will your own ethics and views on transparency influence your decisions and actions as a member of the SOA Board?
During my career, I have always been aware that almost all actuarial decisions affect different parties in different ways. One decision may be beneficial to some parties and detrimental to others. When dealing with inherent conflicts, I try to reach out to all parties often, consistently, and with a clear analysis so that everyone affected by a decision can see each alternative’s potential consequences and the underlying reasons that might favor one alternative compared to another. In providing analysis, it is important to remain free of even an appearance of a conflict of interest. It is also important to listen well to affected parties. I constantly question myself about any biases I may unknowingly hold. Finally, it is important to be willing to impart bad news, even if that is sometimes personally detrimental. Although trust can take a long time to build, once it is established, it is one of the most valuable and enjoyable aspects of a business relationship. Trust, created by ethics and transparency, will lead to stronger, better decisions.
As a Board member, I would extend that commitment to listening to others and questioning my own biases when relating to other Board members and the SOA staff.
Collaborative working relationships are essential to the governance function of the SOA Board of Directors, especially as board members work with each other, volunteers, and staff to achieve the strategic goals and mission of SOA. Describe a situation from either your professional or volunteer experiences that demonstrated you are a team player
As an in-house pension actuary for a large employer (over 150,000 employees) that has a strongly unionized workforce, I occasionally participated in collective bargaining as a representative of management. The teams would work intensely, and toward the end of the contract, the teams would often be sequestered for one or two weeks. During the negotiations, it was important to maintain strong, pleasant relationships within the management team, and to maintain a professional relationship with the union team. To accomplish both, we needed to establish clear goals and limits of what would be acceptable contract terms internally, and then communicate our proposals to the union team.
During one particular negotiation, pensions became a flash point – very important to union members and very costly to the company. As part of the team, I made sure that pension-related issues were communicated clearly, in terms that all parties could understand. I listened carefully to the needs and viewpoints of both the union and management teams. I encouraged brainstorming. The different perspectives of members from both teams helped greatly to arrive at a mutually acceptable compromise. I recognized that the pension was only one of several key issues and despite the many long nights and hours spent on non-pension topics, I made sure to remain responsive, respectful and patient. As a result of the negotiation, many of us on both teams have become lifelong friends. We share an abiding respect and fondness.
Board members need to exhibit curiosity and a desire to learn about areas that may potentially impact the SOA and the profession. How do you stay informed about what is going on nationally and internationally, and how do you apply that knowledge into your work with SOA and the profession?
During the past year, since I retired, I have participated in several large research projects with the SOA. I was the chairman of the group that oversaw the 2017 Credibility Theory paper that is now on the pension syllabus. I also chaired the group that recently oversaw the publishing of a paper on Retirement Adequacy. I participated in the oversight group for the Retirement 20/20 Project. I have enjoyed working with actuaries and academic professionals on leading edge projects that combine aspects of pension practice, health, annuities, and social security.
I have always been pre-occupied by current events, especially any factor that affects economic security or social justice. As a result of that interest, I am an avid consumer of news and analysis. For information that is more closely connected with the actuarial profession, I have written several articles for the Retirement Section News over the last year, and regularly moderate and speak at sessions sponsored by SOA and other actuarial groups.
I am constantly seeking information that will help discern future trends in demographics, tax policy, jobs, and health care. Some of those factors lie well beyond the purview of the actuarial profession, but all affect the level of risk we face and how we might approach measuring the risk and mitigating its financial effects.
As a pension actuary, my primary interest has been on the impacts of an aging population and how we can improve economic security after retirement. However, all of the above factors are related, and developments in the life insurance field due to changes in tax policy, for instance, could have an effect on pensions. As a Board member, I could see an even broader and deeper connection to the above topics and how they could influence future SOA strategy.
Respectful and prudent use of resources is an important function of all board members. Explain how you have demonstrated this characteristic in either your work or volunteer experiences and how it will carry over to your role on the SOA Board.
While I was the chairman of the Pension Section, I was acutely aware that our activities required the Council members to commit the scarcest resource they had: their time. I was mindful that every meeting, phone and project meant that the Council members, staff, and other volunteers were spending time that they could have spent elsewhere. To ensure that the time was well spent, we collectively tried to keep the meetings productive and organized, but also wanted to encourage creative thought and allow time to work through difficult issues. All meetings and phone calls had an agenda sent before time, and the agenda was specific, but also allowed time for thoughts, questions, and unexpected turns.
We used phone calls and web meetings whenever possible. But at the same time, we recognized how important personal relationships are, so we met three times a year in person. We made sure that the meetings addressed any topics that the members expressed interest in.
As a group, the Council took its budget oversight role seriously. Our goal was to be sure that the Section’s budget was spent on meaningful activities that would strengthen the profession, primarily through education, research, and communicating key information to the pension section members.
As a Board member, I expect that time will continue to remain a scarce commodity for the Board, the SOA staff and volunteers. Similarly, budgets will be a constraint. I think that organization and planning are important tools to be sure that these two resources are spent productively. At the same time, I recognize that it is also important to allow time to explore, develop relationships, and work through difficult issues. Achieving the right balance between focus on stated goals and infusing creativity can be difficult, but if done well, can have a positive result.
Provide a brief description of your professional background and the type of work you currently do and explain how these experiences have prepared you for the Elected Board Member role.
Since my retirement, I have volunteered extensively with the SOA’s Retirement Section—writing articles, participating in the communications and continuing education teams, overseeing several research projects, and servicing as a friend of the Retirement Section Council. Meeting new people, exploring new ideas and developing projects that help the profession have been extremely satisfying. I would like to expand my role into a broader area and work with actuaries from other areas of practice and strengthen the profession’s already impressive presence in broader society.
I worked for more than 35 years as the in-house pension actuary of a large employer. Because I was employed by the plan sponsor, I saw how our actuarial valuations and analyses affected many interested parties: the plan members, the plan sponsor, the plan’s fiduciary board, the unions representing the plan members, the investment community, and the regulatory agencies. When it came to design, funding, operational, or valuation decisions, few were straightforward. Almost all had consequences that extended to at least several of the parties mentioned. It made me realize how important it is to communicate potential implications clearly to all the parties so that they could understand, plan, and when appropriate, weigh in on the decision. Constant communication, trust, and respect were the most important elements of making good decisions and mitigating any detrimental consequences that might result from changing circumstances. Many of the changes we analyzed were shorter term and more operational or tactical. But some had long term strategic implications for the business. Strategy changes required the most commitment to communication, trust and respect.
I expect that the Board’s emphasis on the SOA’s strategy will require a strong commitment to taking the long view, listening to different opinions, and respecting the views and time of everyone involved.
Volunteer and Governance Experience
Describe how your previous volunteer, personal and governance experiences would strengthen your contributions to the SOA Board and organization.
I was elected and served on the Pension Section Council from October 2013-October 2016, first as co-Secretary, then as Vice-Chairman, and then, in my last year on the Council, as Chairman. During that time, I became more familiar with the governance and structure of the SOA and with the SOA’s educational, research, and professional activities. I also become increasingly interested in the broader spectrum of the profession, beyond my own retirement-related practice. I saw that it would strengthen the profession and make us even more relevant than we are in society’s decision-making arena if we could improve communication among the various actuarial practice areas. As a Board member, I would like to learn more about the various venues and mechanisms for “cross-pollination” across the practice areas. If we can make it easier to exchange ideas across the various interest sections, I think SOA members would find the profession even more dynamic and satisfying than it currently is. A broader understanding will put all of us in a better position to develop new strategies to address the future.