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SOA President on Equality: Our Call to Action

Dear Members and Candidates,

I come to you today with a message about a difficult moment in America’s life. I’m talking about racial inequality and injustice and what we, the SOA, can do to help address it. Recently, the SOA and I sent a message to all members and candidates speaking on this issue. I realize it wasn’t enough. As an organization and as a profession, we need to do more, and I want to talk with you about what we will do.

Before I outline these immediate efforts, I first want to share with you more about who I am and what has shaped my personal perspective. Being born a white male in America, I recognize that I’ve had many privileges that many others have not been afforded. I’ve made the most of my skills and worked hard to excel – but my accomplishments were grounded in opportunities that not everyone has had available to them. That’s the nature of privilege – without those opportunities at each step of the way – opportunities that I know were not equally available to those of other races, my life undoubtedly would have been very different. I feel strongly that we, the people who have had many privileges, must stop the cycle of racism.

I grew up in the era of civil rights in the 1960s. I was in elementary school when Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated but had no real understanding of racism or the significance of the event at the time. My first understanding of racism came soon after, at about 10 years old, when I wanted to have a play date in my home with my childhood friend Harry Garcia, a sweet and lyrical soul, who loves music more than anything. My parents were unsupportive – they were worried about what the neighbors would think if someone of color was invited into their home. In an instant, both Harry and I understood racism and on which side of the dividing line we each stood, but I cannot say I truly understood how painful it must have been for him. Harry and I still love each other 50 years later, and we shared that sentiment last week when I reached out to him to discuss this issue.  Since that time, I have resisted categorizing people by the circumstances of their birth.

I may have been aware of the existence of racism in my personal life as a child, but like many others, have still sometimes been blind to the breadth, depth, and persistence of it 50 years after that first painful experience with my friend Harry. The video of the killing of George Floyd has made it clear to all of us again, in a way that is unmistakable and unavoidable.  It’s hard to find the right words to describe those disturbing images. Grotesque. Inhuman. Evil. One thing is clear – those who died unjustly at the hands of police or others – George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and many others – their lives mattered.  Black Lives DO Matter!

In my tenure as SOA President I have been heartened by the candidates and members around the world who have chosen our profession as a meaningful and enriching part of their lives and have made our profession better because of their commitment to it. The SOA is an international organization and has members in many countries of many ethnic and racial backgrounds. I have been heartened as well by the efforts of dedicated members working in our organization and in others to address the issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. They are doing good work and have helped move the profession toward the vision that so many of us share. These members – and our organization – have been working to provide mathematics tutoring, scholarships, exam fee support, mentoring, summer actuarial programs, interview and resume training, High School Actuarial Days, and many other worthy programs.    

But the low numbers of African-Americans and other people of color among our candidates, members, and leaders here in the U.S. where more than 65 percent of our members live, show we need to do much more so that our profession can truly reflect the rich diversity of this country and realize our vision for an open, welcoming profession for all. 

To that end, I’m announcing steps the SOA will take to champion a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization. These steps are incomplete and are not yet as specific as we will ultimately make them. Addressing and filling in the specifics is important and we know members will want to hear about the details. However, it’s also important that we speak – now – before we’ve completed all our planning so that members and candidates know this issue is important to us and that our organization is responding. With that in mind, here are the steps we plan to take now:  

  • Condemn Racism; Support Disciplinary System; Review Additional Steps: The SOA condemns racism in all its forms and expressions. We acknowledge and note the actions of one member, Amy Cooper, whose recorded confrontation with an African-American man in Central Park has drawn widespread condemnation and raised hard questions about the profession’s disciplinary system. The SOA supports the disciplinary system and its steps for due process which are endorsed and supported by all U.S. actuarial organizations. And we will respond to any disciplinary reports and recommendations that come to us from the Actuarial Board for Counseling and Discipline (ABCD) with respect to the actions of this member. However, we will also appoint a Select Committee of members representing the diverse backgrounds in our membership to review this matter and recommend to the Board of Directors steps we should take now in response to this specific incident.
  • Add Resources; Train Volunteers and Staff: We will ensure that our organization is resourced and structured to help us address these issues by adding outside resources or staff focused on improving the diversity of the profession and our organization, ensuring that we are open, inclusive, and welcoming in all that we do, and helping us do our part to eliminate the racial inequities that exist today. We will prepare and conduct new training for our staff and volunteers to recognize and combat the effects of unconscious bias and racism wherever they may appear.
  • Focused Team Responsible for Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity: We will create a focused and nimble executive-level team reporting to the Board of Directors with responsibility for the SOA’s efforts and strategy in this area. This team will liaise with and support the SOA’s work on the Joint Committee on Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity with the Casualty Actuarial Society and will help extend the SOA’s activity beyond these existing efforts.
  • Research Issues Affecting Communities of Color: We will dedicate a portion of our ongoing research efforts to exploring issues unique to communities of color in America, including topics such as retirement security, access to and outcomes of healthcare expenditures, and social determinants of life expectancy and health morbidity. Our Health Section has already begun a research effort aimed at exploring the social determinants of health. We want to build on that idea and do more.
  • Educate to Prevent Unintentional Bias in Big Data and Models: We are currently developing a new certificate program in ethical and responsible use of big data and models in insurance. As we do so, we will include in the curriculum education that addresses the ways in which models and modeling assumptions can unintentionally support bias and/or racism in its outcomes. Through this education, we seek to ensure that those who take our course and earn our certificate have learned how to recognize and avoid such outcomes.
  • Increase Financial Support for IABA, OLA, Actuarial Foundation: We will significantly increase our financial support for partner organizations working on these issues in order to increase the number and proportion of diverse people in the U.S. actuarial profession and support their career development. These organizations, which include the International Association of Black Actuaries (IABA), The Actuarial Foundation, and the Organization of Latino Actuaries (OLA), provide many of the programs noted above (scholarships, exam fee support, mentoring, summer actuarial programs, interview and resume training, and mathematics tutoring among others) and we will increase our support for their efforts.
  • Increase Education on Racism; Review CPD Requirements: We will increase educational programs focused on issues of racism at our meetings, seminars, and webcast programs. We will review whether such programs should be included in the SOA’s CPD requirement and we will review our pre-qualification education programs to add professionalism learning opportunities addressing issues of racism and equal opportunity.
  • Review Governance Structure to Increase Leadership Diversity: We will review the SOA’s governance structure – specifically our election and appointment processes for President and Elected Board Members – to ensure these processes are structured in a way that allows us to achieve greater diversity in these important leadership positions.
  • Be Transparent; Publish Strategy and Dashboard of Results: Finally, we will be transparent about our work on Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion. We will create and publish annually our Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion strategy, expected outcomes, and a dashboard of results so that we are accountable for the progress being made on these efforts.

This is a long-term commitment, but we will begin now with immediate action. We are ready to listen and to learn. We have an obligation, as members of a society that believes in equality of opportunity for all, to do what we can to begin to help relieve and ultimately remove the burden that many have borne for hundreds of years. It is time for action and these steps will support and strengthen that action by the SOA. As a profession, we are by nature problem solvers. Let’s use those skills and that spirit to create real and immediate change within our profession and within society at large.

Sincerely,

Andrew D. Rallis, FSA, MAAA

President, Society of Actuaries