Oct 6, 2014

Future Role of THE Actuary

To quote a leading Dutch actuary (Jeroen Tuijp):

THE Actuary doesn't Exist!

But what is, or could be the role of an actuary in the next decade?

Perception: What's an actuary?
The answer to the question "What's an Actuary?", strongly depends on who you are asking.

Some examples of possible answers:

  • Accountant: An Actuary helps to estimate and understand discounting the assets and liabilities
  • Board Member: My Actuary is my premium and liability adequacy advisor, he manages risk
  • Risk Manager: Our Actuary helps me to identify hidden risks and estimate embedded options
  • Investment Manager: Our Actuary helps me to define ALM and investment models
  • Administration Officer: I ask our Actuary for advice on how to administrate in an efficient way
  • ICT Manager: The actuary is responsible for defining the equations in our system
  • Marketing Manager: Our actuary is the driving force behind product development
  • Supervisory Board Member: Our Actuary is the lock on the door

The perception of the professional  contribution of an actuary not only depends on the view in the eye of the beholder, but also on the wide variety of roles that actuaries fill in all kind of organisations.

Some examples of the endless list of the many different (actuarial) roles and positions that actuaries fill in:
  1. Certifying Actuary, Advisory Actuary, Valuation Actuary
  2. Pension Actuary, Investment Actuary, General Insurance Actuary, Health Actuary, Life Actuary, Claims Actuary, Public Pension Actuary, Reinsurance Actuary
  3. Risk Manager, Capital & Solvency (II) Manager, 
  4. Marketing Manager, Head Product Development, Head Financial Control

On top of, the actuarial work field comprises a list of detailed professional disciplines, such as:
  • Regulation: Solvency (II) , Basel,
  • Technical Life Topics: Mortality, Longevity, Healthy Life years, 
  • Technical Non-Life Topics: Car & House Insurance, Catastrophe Risk, Health Insurance, 
  • Investment Topics: ALM, Risk Return Policies, Tail Risks, Economic Risks
  • Long list: Compliance, Resilience, Tax, Ethics, Financial Reporting,  Reinsurance, etc...

All of these viewpoints and wide professional manifestations make it hard to classify and compartmentalize actuaries, especially in and around boardrooms. Yet, actuaries are nearly in every field present, often without being identified or recognized as such!

An actuary is what we call 'The Elephant in the Room', or perhaps better formulated:

THE Actuary is the Multi-Perceived Elephant in the Boardroom

Despite of the wide range of positions actuaries can fulfill, it becomes harder and harder for actuaries to follow a career path that leads to a boardroom position as CXX...

Why is it so hard for an actuary to end up as CEO or COO of a company?

The simple answer to this question is:

Thinking in Stereotypes

Because actuaries are good at mathematics, people in general as well as professionals continue to view and stigmatize them as Overspecialized Nerds and Brilliant Autistics. This way of (wrong) stereotype thinking identifies actuaries often as 'problematic communicators' and 'non-managers'. As a consequence, the managerial qualifications of a lot of actuaries are unfortunately overshadowed by their outstanding professional technical skills.

Thinking in stereotypes is a phenomenon that is around us everywhere, as is shown in Herge's comic book "The Valley of the Cobras". In this book the (quixotic) 'Maharajah of Gopel' is vacationing in the french ski-resort of Vargése. Suddenly the Maharajah discovers his pearl necklace has been stolen and he needs a detective to track down his necklace.The rest of the story is shown in the short comic strip below (click to enlarge):

Conclusions and lessons Learned
THE future role of THE Actuary doesn't exist. As an actuary, fill in every professional role that attracts and fits you. Try it out, to discover you can fill in more than one role in the many healthy life years  ahead of you......

Finally some wrap up ground rules to keep in mind:

  1. Never think in stereotypes as an actuary!
  2. If you are an actuary and have the ambition to become a CEO, CFO or CRO of a company: Act, Dress, Speak and Behave accordingly, as other people probably will keep thinking in stereotypes
  3. If you meet other actuaries: Talk and behave like an actuary
  4. Ground Rule Number One: Always Stay Yourself!