Nick Spencer, Hitesh Shah and Mukami Njeru reflect on the IFoA’s decision-making culture
The aim of Project New Horizon (PNH) is to build a cohort of progressive actuarial leaders who will keep the flame of actuarial science burning, address unprecedented and systemic uncertainty, and shape the future.
This aim is not new. The IFoA’s Vision, Skillsets, Mindsets and Domain strategy is four years old – and while progress has been made, we need to go faster. The gap between where we are and where we need to be is getting bigger.
Naming the problems
Actuaries have found it hard to prioritise long-term payoffs such as making successes of new fields, and have lost influence in existing fields over time. We struggle to be bold in the public interest and brave in speaking up. For example, the COVID-19 task force was led by individual volunteers and initially treated with much caution. We have handed the initiative on climate and sustainability (for example on the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures and the Task Force on Nature-related Financial Disclosures) to others – yet managing future risk and uncertainties is the core of our work.
What to do? PNH talked about potential new initiatives, but they all felt familiar. The challenges have persisted despite our efforts. We have been trying to overcome them for many years. What is holding back change?
We believe that the root of the issue is the IFoA’s governance, structure and decision-making culture. As current and former Council members and long-serving volunteers, we recognise a diffusion in collective purpose and accountability, partially due to the organisation’s large number of stakeholders. We have experienced a lack of strategic coherence between Council and its community and corporate boards. The high turnover and time poverty of Council and board members, and the consensual framing found throughout the organisation, lead to lowest common denominator decisions. As a result, making rapid progress is hard and often painful. This discourages those who are most engaged with the challenges and those who are seeking to adapt to change the most.
How can we help the IFoA get things done? We need to cut through embedded structures that favour backward and inward-looking analysis, overlaid by institutional cautiousness and a need for consensus. We need a leadership culture that prioritises responsive adaptation and translates strategy into immediate action. The gap will only close when we can stop the cycle of repeated angst and move faster. We need a mandate within Council that embraces vision and boldness, and set a culture in which ‘sins of omission’ count equally against ‘sins of commission’. We must also encourage a culture of plurality and experimentation, recognising that not everything will be perfect first time.
Let us start by embracing the world of 2040 – 17 years away and within most members’ future careers. We should have a vision for the actuarial profession in 2040. We need to ensure we are addressing and helping to mitigate the sustainability risks now embedded within our economic structures. The IFoA has three five-year strategic plans in the years to 2040. We need to articulate where we need to be by 2030 and then 2040. The strategy is available at bit.ly/IFoA_2020-24 and runs until 2024. In its renewal, we must not shirk from boldly grasping the challenges and opportunities of the systemic transitions surrounding us.
Repositioning the profession to be nimbler will require us to reposition ourselves. We all own the IFoA, and we are all accountable for the future we create.
The IFoA is a democratic institution. If you feel we need to change and do so urgently, get involved. Stand for Council and campaign for your beliefs. In our article in February 2023, we will share how we can change the world by changing ourselves.
This is the latest in a series of articles contributed by members of Project New Horizon, an independent group comprising a number of IFoA members; the first can be found at bit.ly/Actuary_PNH
Nick Spencer is a Council member and the founder of Gordian Advice
Hitesh Shah is a Council member and independent non-executive director of SCOR Asia Pacific
Mukami Njeru is a Council member and VP – senior marketing actuary at Swiss Re
Image Credit | Getty