The Pace of Change

The pace of change in the actuarial industry is astounding. Technology, globalisation, cut-throat competition, and an increasing receptiveness of industry to the value of quantitative analysis, are driving us into new fields every day. The Actuaries Institute’s advertising campaign is giving voice to the revolution.Alan Turing

The timing is perfect. Not only are there significant opportunities, but the threats to our traditional business are many and diverse. Just as the actuary of 50 years ago would hardly recognise the actuary today, in 50 years our profession is likely to be very different, if it survives.

We can’t carry on doing what we’ve done before, merrily heading down the road of obsolescence. Arguably, we’ve already missed out on some opportunities to become the acknowledged experts in important areas, such as derivatives, risk management, and banking. Data analytics is the new frontier, and there are many groups vying for that space.

Our route to success lies in our ability to rapidly develop and implement practical and innovative solutions. The actuarial department must be seen as the undisputed hotbed of innovation in any organisation.

Whilst the pace of change is breathtaking, it is not without precedent. The outstanding example of innovation and practicality was the work done at Bletchley Park. During the Second World War, this was the site of the UK’s main decryption establishment, where cyphers of several Axis countries were decrypted, including the famous Enigma and Lorenz machines. Mark Dodgson of the University of Queensland, an expert in innovation, recently presented an excellent program on Bletchley Park that I highly recommend.

Whilst there have been many technical masters, the people who stand out in my mind are the brillant leaders, the shrewd managers and the dedicated and resourceful analysts – all of them actuaries.

Dodgson’s emphasis is on the management of people and talent. To succeed at innovation we need to focus on the people aspect more, and worry less about the technical challenges.

We have to turn some of the stereotypes of actuaries on their head. You’re all too familiar with them – the actuary who is the brilliant technician but cannot manage people or communicate clearly.

My own experience in the UK and Australia for the last two decades has been exactly the opposite. Whilst there have been many technical masters, the people who stand out in my mind are the brilliant leaders, the shrewd managers and the dedicated and resourceful analysts – all of them actuaries. Universally, actuaries are recruited from amongst the highest performers. They are ruthlessly trained and pruned to weed out those who cannot communicate. I am continually astounded by the new graduates who join every year – each incrementally more capable than the last.

Dodgson notes that “Bletchley Park confronted massively complex technical problems and mastered them through inspired management of talent and brainpower in trying bureaucratic circumstances.”

Is there a better way to describe our challenge today?

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