Brexit, politics and your perspective – President’s Column

In this month’s column, President Lindsay Smartt shares his thoughts about the current political sphere, Brexit and his recent international visits within the actuarial community. 

Before updating you on recent activities (see Actuarial Community below), I wanted to touch on the above – no I’m not getting political, but please feel free to tell me otherwise. Is it just me or are we in the midst of a very busy period in politics, both globally and locally?

  • At the time of writing, the ASX hit a two-month low apparently on fears of Brexit actually taking place (more on Brexit below).
  • Our own federal election on 2 July is approaching – politicians and candidates are saturating the media with a range of promises and attacks on opponents’ policies.
  • The US Clinton -v- Trump battle still has a way to run but provides an interesting spectacle, to say the least. On a personal note, I find it is extremely disappointing to see that even the horrific event in Orlando this week is being used for political point scoring.
  • Back on the domestic front, page one of the Australian Financial Review carried a story this week about the Queensland government’s intention to “raid” the public service superannuation funds to the tune of $billions despite advice from the state actuary. Good to see “actuary” appearing prominently in the media, and being relevant!

CEO David Bell and I were in the UK early this month holding an event for our Members in London (we also managed to squeeze in a tour of the historic Staple Inn buildings). I was invited to present to the Council of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) in Edinburgh, which was a great opportunity to present our strategy and current thinking.

Being in the UK for a few days drove home just how much focus there is on the 23 June vote to Remain or Leave the EU. Both sides are arguing their cases in every form of media, and by all reports, it will be a close call. I don’t pretend to understand all the issues or motives of the two camps, but suffice to say there is plenty of passion being expressed about the issue. On a global scale, the uncertainty and potential exit from the EU is starting to weigh in financial markets.

So I wasn’t surprised that the 23 June date came up in casual conversations with our UK colleagues in Edinburgh. In fact, as I was talking with Colin Wilson, the incoming President of the IFoA, he remarked how he was very focused on 23 June. However, to my surprise, he said it wasn’t about Brexit! Having been so conditioned through the media that 23 June was all about the Brexit Remain or Leave vote, it didn’t occur to me that Colin may have been talking about something else. 23 June is in fact the day he assumes office as President and delivers his Presidential address.

I thought about this exchange later and it reminded me of the importance in communication of understanding your counterpart’s perspective. We each bring assumptions and our own perspective to the table.  However, it will be a very one-sided conversation if you don’t consider the other side of the coin or the other person’s perspective. This applies in many situations but it definitely has an application in business. As I chair Council I am interested to hear diverse views, different perspectives and for there to be robust debate and discussion, resulting in sound decisions.

Coming back to politics, it is, of course, a great privilege to be able to vote. I was reminded in a recent trip to Ballarat, and hearing again of the Eureka stockade, voting wasn’t always for the masses. Men and women had to separately fight for the right to vote and run for parliament. We will hold our Council elections later in the year, but I feel it’s never too soon to remind you of the importance for eligible Members to vote and have your say. Let’s aim for a record turnout when the time comes.

President Lindsay Smartt and Actuaries Institute CEO David Bell at Staple Inn, UK


Actuarial Community

You may recall one of the themes from my Presidential message was Our Place. With considerable international travel over the last month, I was certainly able to observe first hand and contribute in a small way to Our Place in the international actuarial world.

First to Asia. We held functions with our members in Beijing, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. We also took the opportunity of meeting with the local actuarial associations and in some cases the regulator. Our members are held in high regard. One member observed that the reason the FIAA is valued is because we test for judgement and this produces new actuaries who are good problem-solvers from their first day on the job. Close to 15% of our members live in Asia and we are presently working on strategies to be able to provide improved levels of support. We found a number of areas where we can cooperate with the local actuarial associations and we look forward to closer working relationships with them.

Apart from the UK visit I mentioned above, the European visit took in the International Actuarial Association (IAA) half yearly meetings in St Petersburg. We have a number of members who volunteer on the various IAA committees and of that number we had about 10 who participated in the meetings in St Petersburg. I had the opportunity of presenting to the Presidents’ Forum on Data Analytics and leading a discussion on opportunities for global collaboration. We have taken this important first step and there was considerable support to move forward. While I am going to be working for some solid developments, sometimes global cooperation means that progress can be slow.         

Before concluding, let me share a little of what took place at the June Council meeting. My regular report on the Council meeting is available here

One key decision was to conduct a comprehensive review of our qualification education system over the next six months. Education is such an important focus for Council and our motivation is to ensure we have a robust sustainable system that is reflective of modern education and appropriate for our profession. Members will of course be consulted prior to any changes being adopted.

We have commenced a review of our Disciplinary Scheme and a review of our Code of Conduct is also underway.

In my presidential message I stated I was interested in continuing to improve transparency of Council. To that end, Council has decided to make its meeting minutes available on request once they have been approved (starting with June 2016 noting that any sensitive matters will remain confidential). I will, of course, continue to provide the post Council meeting report to members and always welcome feedback.

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