Introducing David Bell – New CEO of the Actuaries Institute

My first column has been written during my second week at the Institute – we all know that starting a new job means a blur of meetings, getting to know your team (which I place a priority on) and trying to wrap your mind around issues that you are not completely familiar with, all in an unfamiliar work environment.

My early impressions of the Institute are very positive, and I’m looking forward to continuing its good work and learning as much as I can about the profession. Melinda Howes handed over an organisation that is well run and in strong financial shape. The Council has approved a strategy and business plan which makes it very clear where your Institute should be focusing its attention when it comes to member services, education, CPD and supporting events. Sustaining and developing the actuarial profession and the business of the Institute will remain strong points of focus for me, as well as making sure that we continue to enhance the brand of the actuary, the profession, and the reputation of the Institute.

I am looking forward to working with Daniel Smith and the rest of the Council, as well as the HQ team, to deliver the best possible service for all of our members. My previous experience of running an industry body (acknowledging of course the differences between the Bankers’ Association and the Institute), and my understanding of Council’s guidance so far, is that we should be maximising the benefits that members get for the hard-earned fees they pay their industry body and, in particular, paying close attention to, and taking account of, what members actually want from the Institute.

To make sure I stay grounded, and remain clear about what you want in terms of service delivery, I’m making it a priority to meet as many members as possible starting with the many Institute practice and other business-related committees. I will eventually take to social media as well – a form of communication I think has enormous potential for us to develop and use at the Institute. In the meantime, I encourage you to contact me, write me a letter, or drop into the Institute if you would like to catch up.

My contact details are:DB-smile-jacket
+61 (0) 2 9239 6106

And by the way, when you drop into see us please note that we are moving from Challis House to our new premises at level 2, 50 Carrington Street early April. by the time of publication we should have been able to let you know the moving date. The new HQ will have better member facilities, especially our large meeting and conference room.

I always like to understand the context in which I am working. It helps provide perspective and direction when making decisions, and trying to work out what should be immediate priorities. And for me, attending an economists’ forum in Sydney, just as I was writing this column, was instructive.

While it has been said that if you ask five economists a question you’ll get five different answers, the panel I listened to seemed to be on the same track when it came to 2014, with Australia’s prospects continuing to improve on the back of a Chinese economy that continues to grow (though not in double-digit figures) and despite the Economist newspaper’s most recent headline ‘China loses its allure’. Coupled with a seemingly improving US economy, a Eurozone that will hold its own, along with a steady Japanese economy, the right external conditions exist for a more positive year.

At the same time we have a relatively new Federal Government that is hitting its straps and is preparing to examine various aspects of our economy, including the much awaited Financial System Inquiry lead by David Murray, and the National Commission of Audit.

Having previously run the Bankers’ Association, you would expect that I have a strong interest in public policy and ensuring the right government policies and regulations are in place to ensure our economy prospers. I also understand the value of developing a good reputation for a sector or industry, and the benefits that accrue as a result. Of course, it’s absolutely critical that when the Institute represents the views of its members, those views must have been agreed to by Council, and have the support of the broader membership. While this takes time and care, it’s an important step to take. In doing so I also look forward to working with our designated and trained spokespeople from the membership, and helping them with any experience I’ve been able to gain in previous roles.

I am very interested in building the Institute’s capacity to influence public policy and make sure that the views of members are accurately and appropriately reflected when the Institute publishes its views.

So what does this potentially mean for my approach at the Institute?

Actuaries have a crucial role to play in business, not only as valued and expert advisors in existing and new fields like ‘big data’, but also as business leaders. Let me extend the point. We all understand that the Global Financial Crisis changed the financial services sector forever in profound ways. One striking example, I believe, is the relationship between senior business executives and the complex financial models which underpin the very existence of the financial services sector and some other industries. It’s critical that senior executives understand how these models work, and their relationship to the performance of their particular business. Actuaries are almost uniquely placed in the post-GFC world to do this because of their detailed and profound knowledge of these models. And it’s this type of ability that I think needs to be brought to the fore when people think of actuaries, and their potential to both lead and advise organisations. There are, of course, other similar examples which can show the important contribution of actuaries.

On the public policy front I am very interested in building the Institute’s capacity to influence public policy and make sure that the views of members are accurately and appropriately reflected when the Institute publishes its views through submissions and public commentary. The Financial System Inquiry is a great opportunity for us to get our views on the record for this once-in-a-generation review, and I’m committed to making sure we deliver the best possible submission and follow-up. Doing so can only enhance the standing and reputation of actuaries and the profession.

For those of you who are vaguely interested in my non- work life, I can report that I’m married to Wendy with three teenage/early 20s children (none of whom are studying to be actuaries). My army background remains in my DNA and I try to keep fit. I play an average game of golf, ride a Harley Davidson (tragic I know), yearn for a life in south west France one day, and help my family run a small cattle business near Taree on NSW’s mid-North Coast. In my spare time I’m doing a PhD on a World War II Australian general called Sir Iven Mackay, who led the first major Australian expeditionary contingent into battle against the Italians at Bardia, Libya, delivering a triumph of arms for Australia and its allies, at a time when hope and confidence were in short supply.

It goes without saying that I’m really looking forward to the job and really understanding the views and interests of as many members as possible, so that I can do my job even better.

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