International Actuarial Association and International Congress of Actuaries 2014

Akio Morita, co-founder of Sony, famously said: “Think globally, act locally”. The biannual meeting of the International Actuarial Association (IAA) and the four-yearly International Congress of Actuaries (ICA) held in Washington DC in March/April reinforced this point to me.

Meeting actuaries and their representatives from around the world allowed me to reflect on whether lessons can be learned from their experiences. More important is how these lessons can be adapted so that they are relevant for our work at the Actuaries Institute.

First, it’s clear to me how important it is that your Institute continues to understand and develop the best approach and practice in providing the highest level of service to members. Meeting with our fellow actuarial bodies, in particular those from the US, the UK, Canada and South Africa, reinforced the lesson that no single organisation has a mortgage on best practice, and that we can learn from each other.

For example, I was particularly struck by the attention that the Canadians, the British and the Americans place on making sure that their organisations are regarded as a trusted source of information and advice for government, legislators, regulators, public policy professionals and opinion leaders. In their view there is a strong link between a successful program that promotes this effort, and a range of benefits for the profession including, enhanced reputation and better member engagement, all of which leads to an even greater capacity to influence outcomes that are of vital interest to actuaries.

From this point of view they were interested to learn about our print and digital advertising campaign, which was launched on 15 April this year, and promotes the role of actuaries in a challenging business world. The campaign runs for six weeks and we will be analysing its impact on a range of measures, including growth in the Institute’s online community and inquiries and calls to the Institute to learn more about actuaries. I will be interested to receive your feedback about how you think the campaign went.

Our major sister organisations overseas all have programs and resourcing to make sure they can influence stakeholders’ views on the profession. To do this they have developed a sophisticated approach which clearly differentiates between lobbying and rent seeking (not what we want to do), and the goal of becoming a trusted source of information and advice. This is an area of our activity I remain committed to continuing the development of, in concert with our other areas of service to members. Our recent submission to the Financial System Inquiry, and our follow-up efforts to publicise our submission, and meeting with Inquiry Chair David Murray, is one example of this approach.

Cooperation and collaboration in the field of education is also something that can help our members. For example, we are continuing to work closely with the Association of South African Actuaries (ASAA) in developing a Banking course for Part III, as well as helping them with developing materials for their Global Retirement Income Systems course.

Also relevant from a global perspective, are the services we provide to our non-Australian based members, particularly in Asia. There is a heightened relevance given the attention that our dynamic economic region is receiving from other actuarial organisations. I would take the most positive view and say that through the circumstances of geography, and our deep and established relationships as well as our long-term interest in our own region, Asia, we are very well-placed to continue offering enhanced and relevant services to the large number of our members who work there. Your Council is committed to making sure that HQ continues to improve our services in Asia and elsewhere overseas.

Daniel Smith, Glenn McGrath AM, and David Bell at the Financial Services Forum, Sydney
Daniel Smith, Glenn McGrath AM, and David Bell at the Financial Services Forum, Sydney

The presentation at the ICA that made the greatest impression on me was Professor S. Jay Olshansky’s talk on ‘The Longevity Dividend: Altering the Future Course of Health and Longevity’.

To paraphrase Olshansky, he contends that the conventional view that the historical increase in life expectancy will continue throughout this century in most parts of the world, and that most babies today will reach 100 years of age needs modification. He says that empirical evidence demonstrates that neither of these scenarios is likely and that two subgroups of the population are forming – one that will experience more rapid increases in life expectancy than anticipated by conventional forecasting methods, and another that has already experienced declines in life expectancy or are about to do so.

That was interesting enough but during his subsequent intellectual romp, he also challenged actuaries to ‘come off the mountain’, and stop acting like ‘high priests’ presumably on the basis of their superior knowledge in their own field of expertise. Rather, he says, actuaries need to embrace a more collective and inclusive approach to providing their advice, and that they should put their technical skills aside and ‘study the game’, so that they truly understand how business works. This would lead to the provision of advice based on a ‘proportional approach’. He did say that actuaries were part of a ‘great profession’, and had many opportunities to expand their influence over decisions taken both in business and for the public good.

For me the major insight from Olshansky’s presentation was that it reinforces the importance of the current project of the Institute’s Education Strategy Working Group, chaired by Senior Vice President, Estelle Pearson. That Group is focused on how we can best educate the actuary of the future, identifying the skills actuaries will need to be successful in the competitive business landscape both today and in the future. The Group will be reporting back to Council by year’s end.

CPD: Actuaries Institute Members can claim two CPD points for every hour of reading articles on Actuaries Digital.