Our global profession – A look at the South African actuarial experience

President Jenny Lyon details some thought-provoking presentations from the recent South African Actuarial Convention in Cape Town, including the state of the profession there; metrics for effecting ‘big change’; and a new take on driverless cars.

In November 2016, I was delighted to attend the Convention of the Actuarial Society of South Africa (ASSA) in Cape Town. Their conventions are held annually, alternating between Cape Town and Johannesburg, and attract a majority of their members.

The profession in South Africa is smaller than ours with around 3,850 members (figure correct at October 2016) members, of whom 1,245 are Fellows

Each session I attended at the November Conference was professionally presented with very high quality speakers.

It was particularly interesting to hear the experiences of an environment very different to Australia.

The ASSA Conference was attended by 1,500 delegates

Economic and political transformation

Economic and political transformation continues to be a key focus in South Africa.

This message was underlying in many presentations and is a challenge the profession is trying to embrace.

One aspect is diversity, the overall demographic of the profession in South Africa is 80% white and 70% male.


However, this is changing as demonstrated by research at the University of Cape Town (UCT) which presented statistics on the mix of new entrants to the profession by gender and race.

According to the research, in 1988 new entrants to the university program were 10-15% and included no black Africans. By 2000 this had increased to 24% female and 20 black African. In 2013 females had increased further to 37% and black Africans to around 35%. These are significant increases and demonstrate the increased diversity in the profession. However, the premise of the UCT paper was around the significantly poorer success rate and persistency of entrants compared to white males, and the need to change the level of support provided. It was emphasised that there is a need to think differently if there is to be real progress in this area across the profession.  For further information, see the UCT Presentation and Paper.

Making big differences

The keynote speaker was Joan Lamm-Tennant, CEO of Blue Marble Microinsurance, a conglomeration of eight insurance and reinsurance entities established in 2015. 

The organisation focuses on food insecurity, safety nets, incentives for micro entrepreneurs, and financial inclusion. They have recognised the need to focus on behaviours rather than purely on funding because in circumstances where there is hunger and poverty, people become more accepting and tend not to change but just “to survive”.

Joan articulated the idea that we are wired to solve “small problems” because we feel they are achievable and that we have some control. However, to make a difference we need to find new ways of solving big problems. This requires trust combined with the power of collaboration to be successful.In micro insurance there is a strong need to think about metrics and how to measure success.

ROI is important because there is a need for profitability in order to be sustainable.

Social impact measures they are looking at using include:

  • Scale – the first and best measure because if it is not valued then it won’t be used
  • Consumption metrics, for example birth weight of child or number of calories per person

An empowering ride

While Joan spoke on many fascinating concepts and experiences it was her comments on driverless cars which stood out for me. I had attended a number of conferences and discussions in 2016 where the debate on driverless cars had covered the following important questions:

  • Will there be need for car insurance in the future?
  • How will we determine who is at fault?
  • Can cars be programmed to protect the driver or pedestrians?

I had never heard anyone mention Joan’s perspective that “driverless cars will empower the blind and paraplegics?” Driverless cars could indeed mean that such groups will be able to travel as readily as most of us take for granted. A great reminder that we should look for the good in things and consider many different perspectives.

 Two other things of interest which emerged from the conference for me were

  • The society is transitioning its CPD to an outcomes based approach. Instead of recording hours or points you will need to set KPI’s at the beginning of the year and then record progress and achievement against them.
  • There is a requirement for one member of their Council to be a recently qualified Fellow and they also have one student member. The President of the ASABA (Association of SA Black Actuarial Professionals) has a designated position. While I am not sure of the voting entitlements of such members it is an interesting approach to diversity and certainly one way to ensure the views of different groups of members are captured at the highest level.

One of the issues I will be seeking input on as President is whether Associates of our Institute should be able to vote for council members and stand for council. 

Any impressions I can give about South Africa are simplistic at best and come from an extremely small sample, but from a personal point of view the whole convention was eye opening, thought provoking and of value to consider how we might do things differently.

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