Integrity in the Real World

Integrity is the first principle of the Code of Conduct of the Actuaries Institute, and a key quality that is expected of actuaries. But what does integrity mean to an actuary in the real world?

This was the subject of a special in-person-only Insights session in Sydney in October 2022. Our discussion began with a reminder of the requirements of the Code of Conduct in relation to integrity, which are simple and to the point:

  1. Integrity – Members will act with integrity;
    • Members will show respect for others in the way they conduct themselves.
    • Members will respect confidentiality.
    • Members will be truthful in promoting and delivering their Services.

Integrity is a fundamental concept and the Actuaries Institute’s Guidance, issued to support the Code, explains that:

  • If someone has integrity, their actions are consistent with their beliefs.
  • Acting with integrity in a professional setting means being straightforward and truthful in your professional and business relationships.
  • Honesty is a definitional requirement for integrity.

Our special guests elaborated on their thoughts on what ’integrity’ means in practice.

Cris Parker, head of The Ethics Alliance, works closely with organisations to collaboratively shape the future of business ethics. This begins by discussing the underlying concept of integrity and the width of its application in business and personal life.

Stuart Rodger, an actuary and company director of CBHS Health Fund Limited, drew on some of the additional guidance on integrity from the Code of Conduct guidance materials to illustrate where actuaries may need to call on their integrity. He also made the point that integrity is so much more than authenticity, another word commonly used in business and public life.  A person can be authentic but also a bully or regularly untruthful, which means they still lack integrity.

Drawing on these concepts, attendees discussed a number of case studies in a facilitated community of inquiry which is designed to encourage the sharing of different points of view and challenge underlying assumptions about our points of view.

The first case study explored our obligation to maintain confidentiality as part the Code of Conduct’s Integrity principle. Cris observed that some of these scenarios considered didn’t necessarily explore a traditional ethical dilemma, but more of a moral temptation – i.e. the potential desire to compromise on our obligations for some other benefit (such as convenience, or efficiency) or because of a competing ethical obligation (such as trust or loyalty to our partner). The discussion drew out some interesting points to consider:

  • What personal assessments and judgements do we each make about where to draw the line on confidentiality? Do we apply considerations of confidentiality differently to different people – e.g. to a flatmate, compared to our spouse/partner? What is it that allows us to apply the rules differently in these circumstances?
  • How do we each assess confidentiality risks in different circumstances? Is it ever appropriate to access work emails in a public place (e.g. public transport) and how do we each make our decision as to whether to do so or not?
  • Is our key obligation to follow our organisation’s rules around confidentiality, or are there circumstances where we need to apply a higher standard?

Our second case study examined the obligation to be truthful in delivering our services in the face of pressure from stakeholders to deliver particular outcomes and uncertainty about the robustness of the work. Our discussion considered:

  • How does the purpose of the work impact how we apply the principle of integrity?
  • When uncertainty exists, how do we demonstrate integrity in the work we deliver? How does this relate to the Code of Conduct obligations regarding communication?
  • What does integrity look like when faced with a refusal to accept the validity of our work, or worse, a deliberate misuse of the work? Is quitting or resigning the ultimate demonstration of acting with integrity or is it more important to find other solutions?

As with any community of inquiry, the purpose was not to elicit a right answer but to explore the boundaries of our decision-making so we can better understand what might help us to make better decisions.

Cris closed out the discussion with a reminder about the importance of consulting others in situations where we feel that our sense of integrity may be questioned. The act of sharing our dilemma with others will lead to better decision-making and better reasons behind our decisions.

Integrity is a critical component of our Code of Conduct and is also a key element of the identity of our entire profession. Those who seek out the work of an actuary often do so with the expectation that it will be delivered with integrity. It is up to each of us to make decisions that embody this virtue.

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