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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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Evidence, values, judgment 

11 MAY 2017 | COLIN WILSON


Colin Wilson outlines the importance of integrity in decision-making and the IFoA’s global campaign to promote professionalism

Colin Wilson v2
Decision-making is not just about having the right information or evidence.
It also depends on ethical values and sound judgment


Making decisions is something we are faced with every day, in both our professional and personal lives. Our work as actuaries often involves helping others to make better decisions. Ultimately, decision-making is not just about having the right information or evidence. It also depends on ethical values, whether personal or corporate, and on sound judgment.

I often hear it said that actuaries are numbers people. Of course, as actuaries, we are often heavily involved at the first stage of the decision-making process: collecting data, analysing and deriving insights from it. But judgment is a key component of this. Is the data sufficiently complete, consistent and accurate? Does it say something meaningful and help us to understand what is happening? Can it be used to inform decisions?

Sometimes our work stops when we communicate the results of this process, and it is the values and judgments of others that will determine the ultimate decisions. Sometimes we are called upon to participate more actively in the decision-making. But in all cases we are likely to contribute most effectively if we understand something of the values and likely judgments of others, for this will help us to present the evidence in the most helpful way. After all, we will probably be those with the best knowledge and understanding of what the evidence means, and what the data does and doesn’t tell us.

As professionals, we know the importance of integrity at every stage of the decision-making process. For, as Samuel Johnson said: “Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.” Given the knowledge and integrity of actuaries, we and others can have confidence in what we say. But this confidence cannot be taken for granted, which is why we are a regulated profession, and the IFoA is a regulatory body.

What does it mean to be a regulated body? 

The IFoA regulates by following the five Principles of Good Regulation set out by the UK government’s Better Regulation Task Force: “Proportionate, accountable, consistent, transparent and targeted”.

We should not see regulation as something negative or an unnecessary constraint, nor is it just about having a disciplinary scheme. Rather it is about maintaining the quality of actuarial work and the professionalism of the actuaries who deliver it. And by doing so, protecting the public and actuaries by maintaining confidence in the profession. 

Most recently, the IFoA launched a global campaign to promote professionalism among its members and other professional bodies, both within and beyond the actuarial domain, as well as highlighting the importance of integrity and the actuaries’ code.

The campaign includes a series of lectures around the world throughout 2017 and into 2018, covering a range of themes including whistleblowing, integrity, disclosure, organisational culture, regulatory fairness and relevance. 

We have already held successful events in Gibraltar, London, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore; and have four keynote speakers lined up over the next year.

Coming up this month, we have an event in Hong Kong with Dr Moses Cheng, chair of the Independent Insurance Authority; in October there will be another event in London with Benny Higgins FIA, CEO and group strategy director at Tesco Bank, and another in Edinburgh with Sir Win Bischoff, chairman of the Financial Reporting Council. We finally return to London in January 2018 with Lord Myners of Truro CBE.

Personally, I will be running a professionalism session alongside IFoA chief executive Derek Cribb at this year’s IFoA Asia Conference, which is now open for registration (bit.ly/Asiaregistration).

If you would like further details about any of these events, they can be found on the IFoA website, and I would encourage you to get involved and join the debate on the importance of professionalism, and the role of professionals across the financial services industry.

Remember, we are not just numbers people. Yes, we can create evidence from data. But we know that decisions also depend on values and require judgment, and we must support our clients through the decision-making process. 

We exude professional integrity as individuals and as a professional body, a fact we should proudly promote.