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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

The business of science


Qualifying with the IFoA, at any level, gives our members strong technical skills. But we seek to produce more than strong technicians. First and foremost, qualifying with the IFoA gives you a business qualification.

Derek Cribb
We can take advantage of the great opportunities presented by data science

The academic standards are high, but the IFoA tests business skills and application of knowledge more thoroughly than any other global actuarial body; it is arguably our USP. It could also be seen as a limitation to growth in markets such as Asia where we compete with other actuarial bodies that do not require demonstrable business skills. But is this a bad thing?

Asia is a hotbed of innovation and growth for the actuarial profession. Yet even in this most vibrant of markets, concerns arise about the long-term future of the profession, particularly in relation to big data and artificial intelligence.

A few weeks ago, I was at Lloyd’s of London’s China conference in Shanghai, sharing a platform with actuaries from the IFoA and other bodies. The question of artificial intelligence was raised: what are actuaries supposed to do about machines ‘stealing’ the technical work?

Working with data is a multi-stage process. The first stage is to ask ‘What is the question you are trying to answer, and how do you approach it?’. Framing relevant questions relies on business understanding and a knowledge of approaches to data manipulation; an opportunity that plays to a business-focused actuary rather than a machine. The second phase is running the data. This is ground where AI will soon have the advantage over even the most technical of actuaries or data scientists. 

Lastly, what do the outputs mean, what recommendations can you communicate to the business leadership? For the business-savvy data-rational professional, this is bread and butter; a great opportunity for our members.

Alongside the challenges of data security, and ethical and increased regulation of data usage, I see opportunities for business-focused IFoA members. For those whose focus is ‘running the model’, I am less optimistic.

One of our members in the audience was delighted. She currently spends one week a month on models and the other three framing the questions and building recommendations. Reducing her involvement with the ‘black box’ to a couple of days would free her up to deliver even greater value. Members of other associations in the room did not share her delight.

Every telecoms company, retailer or organisation with an online presence has more data than they know what to do with. The three stages apply to all such businesses, and that increases the opportunities for our members into many wider fields.

At the IFoA we are driving our data science strategy. Council’s agenda is to ensure that we position IFoA members as business leaders in the data science universe. As mentioned last month, in September we convened the first global data science summit for actuarial bodies. Our MAID working group and research activities are delivering leading thinking, as well as developing continuing education for our members. 

I encourage you to keep your business skills sharp and seek out continuing professional development that ensures you can be at the heart of decisions, acknowledging that much of this may not yet come from the traditional IFoA sources. 

If the IFoA executes its strategy, and our members seek out the right development, we can take advantage of the great opportunities presented by areas like data science. But we must all move with the times and keep our skills relevant, or the future is less rosy.

Derek Cribb is the chief executive of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries