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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

President’s comment: New model actuaries

Traditionally, we look to our elders for role models. Their accumulated learning and experience, their standing and authority, their sense of perspective to contribute to their status as exemplars. Sadly, not all role models are good ones! However, even poor role models offer us the opportunity to compare and contrast, their shade emphasising and highlighting the brightness of others.

Today, many senior actuaries represent excellent role models. These are generally actuaries who have continually burnished their core skills and have added many new ones. They are actuaries with a strong sense of the principles of public interest and of right and wrong, not reliant on a rigid tick-box approach to regulatory rules. We remain fortunate that so many of these senior actuaries are prepared voluntarily to give of their time to their profession.

However, age is not a prerequisite of a role model. Think of the First World War, where distinguished generals sent hapless infantry and cavalry against machine guns. Distinguished and decorated though these generals were, they were remote from the battlefield and were using tactics which they had learned as young men. In that sense they were fighting the last war, not the present one.

This is an extreme example but nonetheless an illustrative one. If senior actuaries are to remain good role models they must, in my view, remain close to their battlefield and must constantly be adding an understanding of today’s thinking to the thinking they learned in their formative years.

Anyone who has recently had the pleasure of observing one of the ceremonies for new qualifiers cannot be anything other than inspired by the quality, confidence and pride exuded by those new qualifiers. I sought to capture that sense of confidence and pride in my presidential address (click image below to view). In it I highlighted five young actuaries (but I could have chosen hundreds more) who are using their skills in ways that would have been unimaginable 30 years ago when I qualified.
These young men and women are making their mark not just in our traditional areas (within which I include general insurance) but in banking, investment banking and in energy trading, to name but some of the areas where they are practising.

Though their activities were diverse, there were common themes in their assessment of the value of their training. They said that it allowed them to deal with an extraordinary range of complex issues; it let them see the whole picture rather than a narrow silo; it gave them confidence to tackle new challenges and find their actuarial skill set helped — with one challenge they constantly saw new ways of applying their skills.

There is no substitute for experience but nor is there any substitute for the exuberance and restlessly inquisitive nature of youth. Just as younger members can learn from and be mentored by their elders, so can those elders learn from and be renewed by the activities of our younger members.

In the Christian calendar this is a time to celebrate birth and of renewal. In the ancient pagan Scottish festival the darkness of the old year was cast out by the celebration of Hogmanay and the New Year.

Whatever your culture or religion, I hope you draw strength from this season of renewal. Similarly, I believe that 2011 will see continued renewal of our great profession through a combination of wise experience and youthful exuberance and a professional body committed to supporting its members in the best possible way.

I wish you and your families a very Happy New Year.

Ronnie Bowie is president of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries