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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Expert witnesses


In line with his presidential theme of ‘thought leadership’, Colin Wilson describes the rise of the IFoA’s public profile

Colin Wilson
Colin Wilson

They say that good things come in threes. This is reflected in the good end to the year the IFoA enjoyed off the back of the launch of our refreshed strategy document. There are many aspects to our achievements last year I could highlight. However, feedback I regularly receive from members is that there is a real appetite to hear more about our public affairs successes, and not just in the annual report and accounts.

“The IFoA received an unsolicited call from Downing Street to discuss the future of DB pensions”

Those of you who have seen the strategy refresh document, or have read about it in the pages of this magazine, will know that our refreshed public affairs strategy sets out our ambition to be heard by policymakers. To be clear, this doesn’t give us licence just to make more noise. No, what this means is that we want to ‘say’ more. Noise risks our message getting lost. But if we say something interesting, people will listen, and we will be heard.

This is why our public affairs activity focuses on the issues where the actuarial profession can make a unique and distinct contribution to public policy debate. This means we stand a better chance of being heard by policymakers who want to hear different perspectives.

I said good things come in threes, and for our renewed public affairs efforts this was definitely the case as 2016 drew to a close. 

Many of you responded to the IFoA post-Brexit survey, where we wanted to know what your Brexit priority issues were. For a large number of you, European Regulation and the Solvency II regime came out as the top issue you wanted the IFoA to engage on. 

So when the UK Parliament’s Treasury Select Committee announced its enquiry into European insurance regulation in September, an ideal opportunity to be heard presented itself. For those of you unfamiliar with the machinery of the UK parliament, select committees are made up of members of parliament from across political parties who conduct inquiries and produce reports on a range of matters, from the conduct of government to specialist subject areas. 

However, we weren’t satisfied with just submitting a written response to the committee. As a profession that had played a full and active role in the development of Solvency II, and whose members are affected by the regulatory regime, this was our opportunity to be called as an expert witness to give oral evidence to one of parliament’s most influential select committees. 

Two weeks before Christmas, the call came requesting the IFoA to provide an expert witness for the select committee hearing on 17 January. I am delighted the chair of our Life Board, Andrew Chamberlain, supported by colleagues from the GI Board, represented the IFoA at the hearing.

If you’ve been following the UK news agenda, you can’t have missed the attention that pensions, and in particular defined benefit pensions, have been receiving – and not always in a good way. With the collapse of large schemes like BHS, much of the focus has been on scheme funding, valuations and the impact of the prevailing low-interest-rate environment. Like Solvency II, these are issues that play straight to the sweet spot of the actuarial profession, where we could and should have a voice that is heard. It is therefore testament to the work of our Pensions Board, which has been responding to a plethora of pensions consultations, that the IFoA received an unsolicited call from 10 Downing Street requesting our attendance at a meeting with the prime minister’s policy unit to discuss the future of defined benefit pensions.

The third success is the result of our recent efforts to promote actuaries within the climate change debate. You may recall that the IFoA was invited to present at a meeting of the World Business Council in the margins of the COP21 Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015. Following this, the Risk and Resource and Environment Boards worked on a document looking at the key principles of an actuarial approach to risk management. This was recently presented via a webinar hosted by the World Business Council, where climate change risk was looked at from an actuarial risk perspective. Feedback from the webinar was excellent, with the World Business Council informing us it was the most popular webinar they had ever produced. This in itself was a success, with our actuarial voice being heard by a diverse range of business stakeholders.

What followed demonstrates there is real appetite for our profession to be heard at the highest levels in business and politics globally. Off the back of the webinar, the IFoA received an invitation to speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where some 2,500 business, political and thought leaders came together to discuss the most pressing issues facing the world (read more about it here).

With thought leadership as my theme for my presidential year, I am delighted at the impact our profession is having and look forward to reporting further successes this year.

Colin Wilson is the president of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries