Sustainability and Coincidence

President Lindsay Smartt pens his second column, reflecting on society and the actuarial profession in the context of change, opportunity and development.

I’m writing this column on the eve of our Asia visit. Together with our CEO, David Bell, I will be hosting dinners and lunches with Members, as well as holding discussions with the actuarial associations and regulators.  I always enjoy meeting Members and also exploring areas of common interest.  I also find that discussions with other actuarial associations and regulators not only enhance understanding (hopefully in both directions) but can sometimes lead to innovations of benefit to our Members.  More on Asia in my next column.

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I was recently on holidays and took the opportunity to read ‘The Kid from Norfolk Island’, Alf Pollard’s biography written by Professor John Croucher (see Jenny Lyon’s book review in Actuaries Digital).  I attended the book launch, by our former Prime Minister John Howard, and caught up with Pollard family members and many actuaries.  Whilst knowing John, Geoff and Ian, I had only met Alf on a couple of occasions. Despite knowing well his extensive accomplishments and achievements and his global reputation, well beyond actuarial circles, I was keen to find out more about this quite unique individual, Alf Pollard.

I certainly was not disappointed – a very engaging account of an outstanding man who lived a life and achieved what can only be described as exceptional.

Apart from learning of background, details and many and varied encounters and events in Alf’s life, I was surprised with the number of times that places, people and organisations that were mentioned in the book crossed paths with my life experiences. Some fairly obvious connections such as Macquarie University, MLC and Munich Re were unsurprising.  However, when I read in the book of The Peoples Palace, Hawthorn, Canterbury Boys High, Henry St Ashfield, EU at Sydney University, Ron Giovanelli at the CSIRO Department of Physics and Eva Burrows, I found personal memories were triggered.  Perhaps this coincidence made me engage with the book in a different way.

As I thought about some of the situations described in the book, I found myself reflecting on our society and profession in the context of change, opportunity and development. So far as our profession is concerned, three questions came to mind.


  1. According to the book the population of Victoria grew from 17% to 47% of Australia’s population over the 10 years to 1861 (a time when Australia’s population itself more than doubled!) This was the time of extraordinary opportunity and people grasped it readily.

        Question:   Is this a time of extraordinary opportunity in our profession waiting to be grasped?    

  1. The book described Sydney’s tram system of 1930 as not only the largest in Australia but the second-largest in the British Empire. Sydney CBD streets are presently in chaos while trams are being reintroduced. I am no expert on trams and I am not trying to be political, but like me, many Sydneysiders are now asking why we removed trams only to find we now need them.

        Question:  When we make decisions to change, how can we guard against short term expedience at the expense of long-term sustainability?      

  1. The pioneering Macquarie University actuarial program, launched in the 1960s, was unique in the actuarial world and was, some say, a “brave” experiment. Its track record and results speak for themselves. Other Australian university programs were born (there are now seven universities accredited), Australia has been innovative and led actuarial educational developments.  

        Question:  Is our current education system in Australia for actuaries sustainable or does it need to adapt for the current environment?

You may recall that sustainability is one of the themes I’m focusing on in my year as President. The above questions boil down to a question of sustainability.  In its decision making, Council has a clear focus on sustainability and I can assure you that Council is engaged on these questions.  

Actuarial Community

I also spoke in my Presidential Message of the importance of a strong actuarial community.  In this section of my column, I’ll keep you updated on happenings in my interactions with our actuarial community.

It’s been a busy start to my year as President. I’ve caught up with many of you at events and dinners around our vast country. I haven’t made it to Tasmania yet, but hope to find time in the schedule for a visit before too long.

Council has settled into its new operating rhythm with two new members joining in 2016.  We started the year with a strategy day, where the energy and discussions ensured we set ourselves up well for the year ahead.  As you would expect, there were no major changes in strategy but rather affirmation of direction combined with some fine tuning. I encourage you to have a look at the output if you haven’t done so already. It describes our focus and priorities.

Chairing Council is one of my key roles as President, guiding the agenda and ensuring we have a balanced discussion and all views are heard before decisions are taken.

Council had a constructive and wide-ranging discussion with the President of the US Society of Actuaries, Craig Reynolds, when he visited Australia with Senior Director International, Ann Henstrand.

You can view the Report here on the first Council meeting of the year in case you missed it.

Regarding Council, the culmination of the Governance Review Taskforce was the constitutional changes voted in at the AGM held on 27 April 2016. The changes mean that there will be three vacancies for election each year rather than the variable numbers we had previously. Council terms have been reduced from four to three years, with the distinct advantage that a shorter term should make the role more attractive to potential councillors.

In the public policy arena, we released our second Green Paper ‘Unlocking Housing Wealth – options to meet retirement needs’, as well as lodged 12 submissions on a range of issues.  Work is also underway on a third Green Paper on the impact of big data on the future of insurance.  I hosted two successful round tables over lunch with journalists and we have another planned in Melbourne in coming weeks.

I look forward to catching up with many of you at the Financial Services Forum in Melbourne on 16 and 17 May.   

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