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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Adapting our focus


We talk a lot about professionalism in the financial services industry, but it can be hard to define exactly what that means. According to the Oxford English Dictionary it is ‘the competence or skill expected of a professional’. Yet it is so much more than that, with expectations around what it is to be a professional constantly evolving.

Marjorie Ngwenya
Marjorie Ngwenya is the president of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries
Branching out into new areas, such as data science, will become vital for our survival

In terms of the future of the actuarial profession, we are likely to see a decline in some of our core areas of work. So branching out into new areas, such as data science, will become vital for our survival. We need to have the self-assurance to take advantage of these new opportunities – or others will do so in our place. 

I’d like to point to research on the future of the professions from Richard and Daniel Susskind. They envisage two possible scenarios: one where they continue to work as they have done, while optimising new technologies. And another where there is a fundamental change in the way in which the expertise of professionals is made available to society. In the latter vision, machines and artificial intelligence will displace, as well as change, the professions. 

For now, these visions are developing in parallel. But the Susskinds believe that, in the future, the latter vision will dominate. Professions are becoming more affordable. People are becoming increasingly connected and capable, able to crowdsource their own solutions. Problems are being ‘decomposed’ into their constituent elements, which can then be standardised, systemised and dealt with by machines, rather than bespoke handling by expensive experts.

While some elements of judgment and ethics can be automated, there will always be moral issues and decisions that we will be uncomfortable handing to machines. Human expertise can not so easily be replaced. The challenge ahead will be to change our focus from one that is less concerned with the analysis of data and more focused on the insights to be gained from that data. This will differentiate us and give our role value and meaning.

Despite the risks and changes on the horizon, it’s a great time to be an actuary. Our profession has always adapted, and, by embracing innovation and change, we will continue to have a place, and indeed a valued role, in society.

It would be remiss not to mention the Actuaries’ Code, which applies to all our members and is designed to support them in maintaining the very high standards of professionalism with which they are associated. It also affirms our commitment to shine a light on situations where expectations of professionalism are potentially not being met. We need to ensure this code reflects the realities of today’s workplace and are currently undertaking a consultation process on proposed changes. I encourage you to read the proposals and share your views at bit.ly/2iMutEI. The deadline for responses is 17 January 2018.

Marjorie Ngwenya is the president of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries