The great actuarial resignation – is it upon us? And what can be done about it?

As we celebrate 125 years of the Actuaries Institute, it’s easy to look back and see the tremendous progress the profession has made in that time. The modern, data-driven and professional base is almost unrecognisable to the first pioneers of the industry during Australia’s early formation.

Sectors like the investment, wealth management, and advice industries have opened their doors to the professional skills actuaries provide. While any industry sees natural ebbs and flow of professionals coming and going, many actuaries across investment and wealth are beginning to notice a decreasing interest from actuaries in these sectors.

This was the major topic of discussion during the All-Actuaries Summit session The great actuarial resignation – is it upon us? And what can be done about it?

Convenor of the Wealth Management Subcommittee and Trustee Office at Mercer, Philip Chu kicked off the session by sharing sobering survey results from Actuaries Institute Members.

Philip found that Members struggled to find quality graduates to fill roles, noting that students were either not interested or unaware of the career opportunities in wealth and investments.

He said that for many Members it wasn’t enough to just be a qualified actuary, and some felt it would be better for their careers to hide the actuary label to fit into their workplaces.

The industry perception that investments is a skill, not a qualification made it difficult for Members to leverage their actuarial qualification. As a result, Members were looking to broaden their skill set and consider joining other professional bodies.

The final insight Philip shared was the ‘actuary’ brand may be confusing to people.

“The actuary brand is not well understood by others,” he said. “Some of the verbatim feedback included the actuarial brand is less valued and there is a lack of differentiation with other professionals,” he said.

Philip said the key to solving these detractors is to attempt to get closer to our Members.

“Particularly those who are disengaged and disconnected with the profession, and we do this by thinking bigger, by casting a wider net when designing an attractive member value proposition,” he said.

Being a part of a united community

The session then moved to members of the panel who shared their personal experiences in the profession.

Douglas Isles from Platinum Asset Management shared his story from his early days working in Scotland to following the family business and becoming an actuary.

“I used to do the puzzles in the actuary magazine with my grandfather,” he said.

Douglas talked about his early days working in investments for a firm where it was important to quickly learn the ropes.

“In the investment landscape, there’s so much to learn,” he said. “You can never know enough about the companies you’re looking at. You can never know enough about various different views that people have, and so it’s hard to devote energy to much else.”

After presenting countless times on his own firms’ investments, Douglas began to feel like he wanted to get involved with more neutral perspective and to try to focus on societal value.

He reconnected with the actuarial profession 3-4 years ago after joining the Wealth Management Subcommittee.

“I had originally gone through exams with a group of people and had a close community. Many years on, actuaries are united by the fact that we had proven ourselves in our field at a point in time,” he said.  

How teaching helped reconnect with the profession

The conversation turned to Mark Berry, an actuary who has worked as a financial planner since 2002 and talked about the turning point in his professional life.

Mark touched on his early career as a life insurance actuary for Zurich Australia and the landscape of the insurance market in the 1990s.

After a successful career in the industry, Mark said he couldn’t help but feel he was selling rather than providing advice.

“Even after achieving what was really a good outcome, I really felt for the end client. Life insurance was a sales process, not an advice process,” he said.

“The sales process did result in quite a bit of customer abuse that other people didn’t really see because they didn’t get out there and get engaged in the process quite like I did.”

When the time came to leave, Mark said he was really a “small businessperson working in a big corporate” and set out to establish his own business as a financial planner.

Over the next 10 years, Mark said he became a little distant from the actuarial profession while working in financial planning.

It wasn’t until Mark was invited to run a series of lectures at Macquarie University that his passion for the actuarial profession was reinvigorated.

“I ran three lectures on a Saturday morning in the (actuarial) control cycle and to my surprise, I was able to do it and that then sort of reconnected me with the profession,” he said

“I began to realise that there’s an opportunity here now for actuaries to get out into the world of financial planning.”

Mark Berry addresses the audience at the 2022 All-Actuaries Summit.

The underrated benefits of having a diverse skillset

Senior Manager at Insignia Financial Faro Mok then shared his story of his early career at NAB where the industry has seen dramatic changes in the past two decades.

Faro reflected on how major global catastrophes have helped mould his career.

“Having gone through September 11 and the global financial crisis and worrying about either the stability of your existing job or the industry more widely, you would think about trying to diversify your skill set,” he said.

Working at a large bank such as NAB also exposed him to different roles and disciplines that also provided an edge in his professional life.

“That complexity brings you to groups of experts in your everyday work who come from a very wide set of backgrounds and skill sets,” he said. “I engage with a lot of accountants, lawyers and finance people and in that kind of environment you really come to appreciate that diversity.”

Faro believes that the reason he’s retained his interest and engagement in the actuarial profession is because of the breadth of skill sets needed to solve complicated problems.

“Another reason is I’ve had the privilege of working for other actuaries within banking, investments and finance organisations,” he said.

What can we do to get actuaries back into the fold?

Philip then asked the panel a big question: What can the profession be doing from here on to solve the disengagement problem?

For Faro, reconnecting with the profession was about understanding one’s core value proposition and relying on the traits that make actuaries invaluable. 

“What actuaries bring to the table I would say is a very strong academic background across multiple disciplines in finance, with a focus on risk management and an innate sense of conservatism. I think those are all very valuable traits that can be used to solve many corporate problems,” he said.

Mark said it comes down to adopting broader practice areas and bringing other financial services into the actuarial fold.

“I think the time has now come for us to touch the individual data points in that pool to work with the individual customers,” he said.

“I think we should put some resources into researching how to enter into financial planning because I think we could make a really good contribution to the financial well-being of the Australian community by being in that space.”

Douglas said it’s all about networks, not just in the wealth and investment areas but more broadly.

“I think the first thing we really need to do, especially for investment actuaries, is to build a network and build a community and just start engaging with each other,” he said.

But while COVID has made connecting and running events harder for the committee, they can rely on doing the hard work of going through their networks and making more connections.

“We need to start trolling through people’s networks and trying to find the people who started out as actuaries and maybe gave up or qualified and were lost to the profession. For me, to build this wealth management actuarial community it’s about networking to start with.”

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