Helena Ingram, Matt Saker, Michael Crawford and Louise Pryor talk to Chris Seekings about how the profession is evolving and share their thoughts on the IFoA's plans for a Chartered Actuary qualification.
Willis Towers Watson
Head of people development strategy for GB Retirement
The profession has already changed dramatically in the last few years.
It is member-led, so is dependent on what members want, and we now have more IFoA students in India than the UK. Globalisation, new technologies, climate change, data science, cyber risk, health and care markets are opening up all the time - there is a big need for actuaries in these areas, which haven't been as prevalent in the past.
"Change is challenging, but it does bring great opportunities"
Actuaries represent a range of highly-skilled individuals, and if they can see a fulfilling career and the ability to make a difference for the better in these wider areas, then they should be in there.
We're in a very exciting and fast-moving time, and I have benefited from this in my own career. Change is challenging, but it does bring great opportunities, particularly for consultants and those who can manage risk, so they should feel optimistic. If you don't embrace change, you risk being left behind - no one can ever predict exactly what the future will be, all we can do is make the best decisions based on the information we've got and be prepared to be nimble and agile.
The 'Chartered Actuary' is not a new qualification, however - it's a rebranding. It is about saying that once someone reaches this status, they can do what we expect actuaries to do, and it will allow them to broaden out into wider fields more quickly. I think it is probably going to be helpful in the global market, too, and you will still have a robust qualification with that intellectual rigour we've placed so much emphasis on in the past.
I am positive the IFoA is recognising the diverse opportunities ahead of us, and creating a qualification framework that supports members by allowing them to embrace those opportunities.
Change is coming, and it is going to have an impact. In recent years, we have experienced increased competition from other professions, such as data scientists; the rise of artificial intelligence is also certain to affect our profession. These challenges need to be recognised and we need to adapt appropriately.
Another driver of change is the expectation of new entrants to the profession. When I started my career, I expected to spend my entire working life as an actuary; young people today expect to change career two or three times. Is it reasonable to expect them to spend five years or longer studying to become a qualified actuary, when they may only spend 10 to 15 years working as one? I think the answer is 'no', and this needs to be recognised in how we structure our profession.
"The syllabus and qualifications should become a promoter of change"
Perhaps the strongest tool we have to manage this change is our exam syllabus. I am supportive of the new qualification framework and think that the Chartered Actuary proposals were a significant step in the right direction. If we get things right, the syllabus and qualifications should become a promoter of change, equipping our members with the core skills they need as quickly as possible.
More specifically, I think that the path to Fellowship has to change. Traditionally, we have been narrowly focused on our core areas, and have had little success widening our reach into other industries such as pharmaceuticals or energy, where our skills should be valued. I believe this is partly because our Fellowship exams focus on insurance, pensions and investments, rather than more broad-based skills, perpetuating our specialism in traditional areas. It would be fantastic if we introduced routes to Fellowship that allowed members to develop softer skills and expertise in other industries. As a senior actuary and member of Council I feel a strong sense of duty to help facilitate and guide people through these changes.
Agrippa Data Consulting
It's obvious that we have to start looking at teaching more technology to actuaries soon, otherwise it's going to get harder and harder to catch up. I've worked within life insurance companies and at consultancies, but also for companies like Microsoft. These high-end tech companies use technology in a completely different way, and it is baked into the way they think. That's probably where a lot of the challenges are going to come from for actuaries in the future, and it is going to be driven by the business, the industry and, ultimately, the customers.
Technology is literally going through businesses and replacing all functions, but you still have some actuarial companies that haven't changed a huge amount since the days when we were loading data from pension funds into Excel 1.0. If you use things such as Python, you can do that stuff on an industrial scale really quickly in a way that's reproducible, extensible, and that you can understand and put tests around. I've done straw polls of people who have done an actuarial degree or STEM degree, asking how many have done any programming; literally only 5%-10% of hands go up, which I think is dangerous for any technical qualification now. We are finding that a lot of companies want people who can think quantitatively and probabilistically, but who can also use programming tools such as R and Python, and visualisation tools to build stuff.
"I think the Chartered Actuary will be a great way of broadening the scope of the profession quickly"
Actuarial training is incredibly useful in your day-to-day job, giving you a really good grounding to take away to your tech or pharma company if that is something you want to do. I think the Chartered Actuary will be a great way of broadening the scope of the profession quickly, and encourage more people to come in and take the qualification.
Callund Consulting Director
I think we are going to see a shift away from the core fields, the historic fields, into ones with new opportunities - my own particular area of interest being the resource and environment one. Technology is a huge driver of that change, with data scientists now doing things that simply weren't possible 20 or 30 years ago. Globalisation and changing demographics are also huge change drivers.
Another is climate change, which I think is probably going to change how the economy operates. We are going to have to move to a low-carbon economy or things are going to go horribly, horribly wrong - either way, it is going to be a big change.
One thing that isn't going to change, though, is protection - people and businesses will always want protection. It is often said that insurance is the lubrication of trade, and I think that's a nice way to think about it.
I hope actuaries continue to feel proud of their profession because we've got skills that are increasingly valuable in a global world, and thinking about the implications of long-term risks is what we are particularly good at and where we can add value.
"For me, it's important that our profession helps make the world a better place"
I have been very involved in developing the new IFoA qualification framework, and hope that all actuaries will soon be able to call themselves Chartered Actuaries. They will be getting a strong qualification, and if they have that deeper specialism, they can call themselves a Fellow too, which would be the icing on the cake. There's room for both specialists and generalists, and our qualifications should recognise that.
For me, it's important that our profession helps make the world a better place, and with our long-term financial perspective, I think we can really contribute to all sorts of initiatives.