CEO of the IFoA Stephen Mann shares how the organisation is adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic
When I joined the IFoA in January this year, I knew it would be important to get up to speed quickly: to meet and understand our members, forge trusting relationships with our volunteers, and work with Council to develop and communicate a compelling vision for the future that would inspire my colleagues to meet the needs of both groups.
What seemed, in theory, to be quite straightforward and obvious at the outset has turned out to be a little different in practice. I was pleased to get my feet ‘under the desk’ for the first two months or so, but little could I have imagined that the tail end of the first 90 days or so of my tenure would unfold as they have. The effects of COVID-19 have been devastating, and at the time of writing it is difficult to grasp how wide-ranging they may eventually be. While it may not have been the catalyst we wanted, the pandemic has also accelerated, out of necessity, some of the things that had already been in other people’s minds, as well as my own early plans, and I am grateful for the opportunity to highlight some of these.
Our colleagues in Asia have been working remotely since January; in mid-March, colleagues across our three UK offices joined them, so that all 170 employees of the IFoA are now conducting our daily business from their homes. Add to this the many colleagues who have caring responsibilities, and we are viewing workplace flexibility in an entirely new way. While the nearly-overnight adjustment to these new arrangements has not been without occasional hiccups (we are especially grateful we tested our setup and systems with a business continuity exercise earlier in March), it has shone a light on how we can best support our members in the future – whether or not that involves our staff being located in a traditional office space.
Within a week of finding that it was no longer safe or feasible to offer our exams in exam centres worldwide, we were able to offer the majority of our April exam diet online. We had some basic capability in place already, but we scaled it up very quickly and I was very proud to see how volunteer and employee teams alike pulled together to ensure we could offer this to our members so quickly. Doing this has also helped us to protect exam capacity for our September diet. We look forward to learning and refining our approach to online exam administration in the future, particularly as it has been important to stress to students that taking exams in April this year is voluntary.
Many of our events – both large-scale and niche – have been moved online. While the ways we deliver this kind of content may continue to evolve, what remains unchanged is our commitment to providing valuable thought leadership and a meaningful participant experience.
Speaking of content, you will no doubt have seen mention of the IFoA COVID-19 Action Taskforce (ICAT), chaired by incoming president-elect Dr Louise Pryor. Working in close partnership with president-elect Tan Suee Chieh, we are ensuring that the unique contributions that actuarial professionals can give in this unprecedented time are offered up for the benefit of others.
It was evident to me, even before joining the IFoA, that our understanding and engagement with employers of actuaries was limited and yet presented both a huge risk and opportunity for us. Many of employers have also expressed the challenges they and their organisations are facing at this time, and understandably so. We recently launched a virtual ‘employer roadshow’, where we are spending significant time understanding what our major employers need and how the IFoA can prove a valuable partner in navigating a way forward for the actuarial profession.
These are just a few of the ways our volunteers, members and employees are coming together in a time of extraordinary challenge. But this challenge presents opportunity, too – and I thank you all for the opportunity to be part of this important work as we go forward together. My job is to support you in helping to ensure that the IFoA is best placed for whatever world we find ourselves in once this moment has passed.