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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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Q&A: Ronnie Bowie

What has been your greatest challenge during your term of presidency?
There were two big challenges — one pre-merger and one post-merger. In the pre-merger phase the challenge was all about understanding what makes our members tick. Despite the fact that we are a relatively small profession it turned out that we really didn’t know our members and had to learn from scratch how to engage with them both in the UK and internationally. The first failed vote was a wake-up call. One of the lasting benefits of the merger process, as opposed to the merger itself, was the spur it has given us to a complete change in how we engage with our members.

In the year since the merger, the challenge has been about setting the new strategy, transforming the Executive and building sufficient momentum so that we can deliver the progress that we promised a merger would enable. Neither challenge has been easy but I believe we have made good progress.

How do you believe that the profession has benefited from the merger of the Institute and Faculty?
To what extent have the two bodies fully integrated? Part of our argument in favour of merger was that in most respects (education, examination, back office, discipline) we were already merged. However, the governance was still split, which meant decision making was slow and cumbersome and it was difficult for us to build a clear brand. This was becoming increasingly disadvantageous in a 21st century environment.

I have been delighted at how the new single Council, supported by an able Executive, has grasped the opportunities and how the decisions have been made and implemented much more quickly.

The strategy is out for member consultation (part of our new approach to engaging with our members), the education and qualification framework is under review, an improvement in member support is under way, our public affairs and media profile is miles ahead of where it was, giving us much more of an outward rather than inward focus, and our research programme is blossoming nicely. At the same time our support to our members who live and work outside the UK is really pushing on.

We have tried to get some quick wins while investing for the future so it feels to me like progress. But what I am really interested in is whether our members are yet noticing the difference. They are the proper judges of whether we are succeeding.

What will be your role as past president?
My first priority is to support Jane Curtis during her year as president. Secondly, I want to make sure that our project to build our reputation in risk management is successful. Thirdly, I am committed to making sure our increasing public profile and influence is maintained.

One unexpected bonus from our renewed sense of purpose has been the number of senior actuaries who stepped forward to offer their support to their profession. I will be looking to find productive and rewarding uses for their volunteer time.

What more would you like to achieve if you had another year in office?
I think that three years in office is plenty! It is good that the presidency is refreshed and new energy brought to bear. In any case, we have real momentum building and Jane is committed to maintaining it. I have my role to play next year too so I have the opportunity to help see various projects brought to completion.

You balance your time between running a practice at Hymans Robertson and performing your Profession duties. What was a typical week for you? Would you do it any differently if you could?
There was no typical week (except that it usually involved six and sometimes seven working days). I love variety and that’s what I got. I attended all the conventions, most regional societies and several international events, which gave me the opportunity to meet and speak with hundreds of members with all sorts of backgrounds and interests. I personally felt it was important for the president to be visible and accessible in the post-merger year. Whether that is sustainable is debatable. I suspect we will need to share this work more widely. As the year unfolded I became more disciplined in allocating my time.

A lot of time was spent with media, politicians and other influencers. As we build our profile and experience this will become easier. The risk project, strategy deliberations, Council and Management Board meetings probably in aggregate took a couple of days a week. I was able to fit the work for the firm in because my work colleagues have been fantastic in supporting me and allowing me to appear to be doing far more than I actually have been.

What’s next for you? Will you return to full-time practice?
Because of the year as immediate past president the reduction in commitment will be gradual but I am looking forward to a lighter load and less travelling. I owe my family and my work colleagues a lot of catching up. They have borne a considerable burden. My wife Stella has been a star — I could not have done it without her.

I am on the board of a hospice that has a big project starting, so I hope to give them a lot of support. My career has not been a well-planned project! I have followed instincts and opportunities. I am looking forward to having more freedom to do new things.

What are the top three selling points of the presidential role that you would highlight to future candidates?
The first thing to say is that if you get the chance, take it. My top three are:
a) The honour to represent your fellow members and have the opportunity to showcase the actuarial profession to those outside the profession
b) Leading Council so that the Profession serves our members as well as it possibly can
c) Having the opportunity to meet so many members all over the world, (within which presiding over the joyous new qualifiers ceremonies is a near perfect moment).

To what extent did your role involve co-ordination with other professional bodies or with government? Government, yes. Other bodies, not so much. The co-ordination with other bodies needs a continuity which is often best provided by the Executive. Perhaps I could have done more but there is a limit to how much time there is.

Jane Curtis will be the first female president of the UK profession from this month. Do you think that the profession has more to do to further advance women in leadership roles?
A female president is long overdue and Jane is a great choice. 30% of our new qualifiers are female, but our way of working is geared around a somewhat old-fashioned male-orientated model. However, what we have found is that this model turns off both genders. So change is under way.

It would be symbolic if the more modern way of supporting our members bears fruit under Jane’s presidency. We need our volunteer individuals to be more representative of the actual profile of our members than it currently is. Changing the way we work with our members will be a good first step.

How do you measure your success?
We have become much more results-orientated. Our Council reports will increasingly be about progress against published goals. Members will be able to review what we have done against what we said we would do. We will also test our members’ views on whether we are succeeding. Actuaries rightly demand evidence. It is Council’s duty to provide it.

What are your pastimes?
I look forward to resuming more family time, more golf and more holidays.

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Ronnie became a fellow of the Faculty of Actuaries in 1980 and was elected president of the Faculty in 2008 before becoming the first president of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries in 2010. He has also served the Faculty and the Institute as the chairman of the Pensions Board and is a member of the Profession’s Management Board.

Currently a senior partner with Hymans Robertson, Ronnie first joined the firm in 1980. A pensions specialist, Ronnie is scheme actuary and investments adviser to a number of large public and private pension schemes.

He was recently named Pensions Personality of the Year by Professional Pensions magazine.