Taking the Lead at the Actuaries Summit

The Plenaries

“Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of, who do the things that no one can imagine.” This is how we see Alan Turing. This is how Air Vice Marshal Margaret Staib and many others see actuaries.

The Actuaries Summit 2015 commenced with an elevated provocation of innovation, imagination, and vision-based leadership, by Margaret Staib. Staib through her experience in the aviation industry recounted how through innovation and leadership, Australia will soon have the most advanced aircraft positioning system in the world. We are to draw inspiration from her or did she draw inspiration from us?

Actuaries like to keep a low profile and don’t give ourselves nearly enough credit for what we have achieved. This theme resonated throughout Plenary 4 on Day 2, where Trevor Matthews, Fred Rowley and Melinda Howes recounted their careers. The lesson we can all extract from them is that ethics and culture are pivotal components of an actuary’s professional life. The seeds of innovation and leadership are sewn in years of toil, experience, dedicated mentorship and a keen eye for opportunities. Staib tells us that Turing was such a person. So too was Captain Cook, says Fred Rowley. Did Cook find Australia by chance? Of course he did. But he wouldn’t have done so if he was running off the ball. When Australia was there to be found, Cook was the only guy in the running. How can we be the modern-day Cook? How can we seize the many professional opportunities that made Matthews, Rowley and Howes who they are today?

Public policy is precisely where such an opportunity lies for our profession. It is front and centre of the new Institute strategy adopted by Council this year, and something that Institute CEO David Bell spoke proudly about. As Rodney Maddock told us in Plenary 3, don’t underestimate the level of expertise of actuaries and what we can add. Geoff Atkins showed us how it’s done, at the FSI. “Actuaries want to see good long term policies that are good for Australia,” according to Atkins. Poignant words.

So just exactly how well is Australia doing? Not badly according to Chris Caton and Alan Dupont. Apparently, we will outperform most advanced economies in the next 10 years. In Plenary 2 on Day 1, we learnt that Australia is still exporting lots of iron ore and China is still buying them from us to grow. But do watch out for unemployment and the Sydney property bubble. Pax Americana is coming to an end, very slowly, and our economic opportunities come with risks. Isn’t this where actuaries come in?

Just in case you hadn’t been inspired by the end of Day 2, the Summit closed with a Plenary on the future of medicine and big data. Professor Chris Parish took us through the latest cancer-curing insights, and Tim Trumper did the same in analytics. “Innovation has always been driven by breakthroughs in advances in measurement.” So here we are, actuaries, take the lead and seize the moment!

The Concurrents

The summit featured a record 56 concurrent sessions covering a wide range of topical issues facing the profession. Many concurrent sessions tackled the issue of how to get the most out of our retirement incomes, particularly challenging against the backdrop of retirees living longer and a distrust of financial advice channels. Barry Rafe explored the link between obesity and longevity, highlighting the need for further research into better predictors than just BMI to fully understand the relationship between the two. Cath Watson and Dale Jackson looked to the future of disability insurance and the challenging outlook of mental illness claims in the modern workplace.  The UK actuary magazine estimates as much as 30% of income protection claims were paid due to mental illness.  Julia Lessing and Abigail Marwick showed us just how useful actuarial skills could be in the area of child protection, drawing out key parallels to insurance functions we are all familiar with.  This was a particularly encouraging session, drawing out much interest from the audience in how they too could get involved to help out those in significant need. Sarah Galbraith and Sarah Johnson provided us with a view into the brave new world of the NDIS. Sally illustrated the challenges in developing a meaningful measure of the success of the scheme and highlighted the role that the family play in determining success. Sarah laid out the foundations of the structure of the NDIS and the similarities to the principles that underpin insurance companies. The scale of change was made apparent, with current participants in the NDIS of 30,000 forecasted to grow to 460,000 by June 2019. Robert Baskin pitted the generations against each other and revealed the surprisingly kid-centric shopping habits of Generation X and how your best customers may be the least loyal. Dr Bill Monday discussed the latest developments in cancer diagnostics; could DIY cancer test kits drive adverse selection?

The Networking

The Summit program kick-started with drinks on Sunday night at the Grand Hyatt.  Many delegates flew into Melbourne and it was a great networking event that connected people face to face from all over the world

The Gala dinner was a night that began with a high level of anticipation as people did not know what to expect.  In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the theme for the Gala dinner this year was “Taking the Lead”.  The night began with a few more drinks with delegates sharing their thoughts after day 1 at the Summit.  As always, there were the “cool kids” that stayed out a little too late the night before, but were sober enough and were wondering why the place felt “a bit too dark”.  Then the space transformer-looking robots came out and it all made sense why the room was dark.  After Optimus Prime’s visit, we had acrobat dancers as entertainment before we were served our entrée.

The night continued with live music on the stage and many ended up on the dance floor.  Good on those brave souls that kindled the dance floor into a flame, and well done to those with the energy after a full day at the Summit to dance into the night. We will never forget you! Viva Actuaries!

Check out further highlights from the Summit.

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