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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Filling the vacuum

Brian Wood introduces Project Profile, a means of developing and promoting thought leadership.

In a recent article, the Faculty and Institute presidents wrote about ‘the vacuum in thought leadership around the design of structures for the future’ and ‘the opportunity for actuaries to show what we can do’ (‘Making a difference’, The Actuary, August 2003).

The presidents also introduced a project that they had asked me to lead. The project now has a name, Profile, and specific deliverable objectives (see box on right).

As well as being expert technicians, actuaries have always carried out an important ‘stewardship’ role, balancing the interests of the different parties in the management of complex financial organisations. For me, this role is right at the heart of what the profession is about – and the one that has come under most threat recently. As a profession we have to demonstrate that we are more than just experts: that, in fact, we are capable of deploying our expertise in different ways to cope with different circumstances.

The profession is engineered to start things, but not necessarily to follow them through to full and final conclusion. There is a lot of good work being done, but opportunities to capitalise on it to promote the profession and its value to business and society are consistently being missed.

A recent example was a headline in The Times business section that referred to possible future problems with home equity-release schemes. Consumer bodies were quoted in the article but the actuarial profession, which has a unique understanding of the mechanics of such schemes (and has undertaken work on them – but not for several years), was not. One of the goals of Profile is for the profession to be recognised as thought leaders in areas such as this, so that the press naturally approaches the profession for its thoughts. But to achieve this, we need to join up everything we do from start to finish in order to gain maximum impact.

So how did I come into the picture? Earlier this year, I talked about these issues with the presidents – and before I knew what had happened, I had been signed up for Profile.

I started my career as an actuary in life companies, but I was rapidly attracted towards management. I then moved into consulting and launched a change management business. At the time, I thought I had left my actuarial days well behind me!

I still work in financial services, and have observed a strong attachment to old techniques and business models, and little movement in developing new actuarial approaches that are more relevant to the rapidly changing business world.

For Profile to be fully realised, it needs to improve the delivery mechanisms of the profession. The profession has agreed to invest in the deployment of project planning and management skills for this purpose, and will benefit from skills transfer and the introduction of project disciplines.

The next step is to build an implementation plan that sets out exactly what we are going to do over what timescales, and mobilises the resources to make it all happen. One of our early tasks is to develop a communications plan for the project, which is likely to include a Profile section on the website (as well as articles like this).Profile, like all the work undertaken by the profession, will rely heavily on the voluntary efforts of its members. If you have any comments or suggestions, or would simply like to register an interest, please contact the project team on profile@actuaries.org.uk.

This is an important initiative for the future of the profession, and we would be delighted to hear from you.

Profile objectives

To create, and initially manage, a mechanism for the actuarial profession to develop and promote thought leadership that:

  • contributes to the development of public policy structures that anticipate the financial needs of individuals;
  • demonstrates the value of mechanisms created by actuaries in mitigating risk and providing future security;
  • and which:
  • operates primarily in the business context of meeting consumer needs;
  • enhances the reputation of, and trust in, the actuarial profession – to its members and to other institutions that shape public opinion;
  • promotes the use of the actuarial skill set to cater for emerging developments in business and the economy.