The IFoA’s new chief executive Stephen Mann sets out his vision for the organisation
Tell us a little about your career to date.
It's been varied and interesting! I started out as a lawyer working in the City in corporate and financial services areas, before moving in-house to join Norwich Union to work on its demutualisation. I was fortunate, in many ways, to be involved in a number of other initiatives and regulatory issues that helped me broaden my experience quickly and contribute more widely. Over time, I ended up doing less legal work and stepped away from it completely when I became the UK director responsible for strategy. By the time I left what had by then become Aviva, I had ended up being change and IT director and chair of Aviva's with-profits committee, and was responsible for establishing the UK retail investment business.
Before joining the IFoA, I spent nearly 10 years as CEO of the Police Mutual Group, which is the UK's largest affinity mutual working for the police and armed forces in the UK. After a career largely working for shareholder-owned businesses, I had built a good appreciation of the importance of having a clear proposition for members, and of demonstrating how the business was run in their interests.
I have also moved around a bit, starting in London, moving to Norwich and then up to York, where my family are now settled.
What excites you most about becoming the CEO of the IFoA?
All professions are subject to transformational pressures from a range of sources, whether financial, social or digital. I strongly believe that actuaries are well placed to provide fact and data-based insight and thought leadership across a range of areas, and that this is becoming more important at a time when many of the big issues of the day seem to be swayed by opinion and personality, rather than reasoned argument.
During my career, I have worked extensively with actuaries and seen first-hand the importance of what the profession does; I have subsequently developed a deep respect for it. I was keen to play a role in securing its long-term influence in addressing some of the major challenges facing our society. This really excites me, coupled with the fact that there is a lot of progressive thinking already under way, both in terms of what actuaries need to be thinking about now, and how the IFoA needs to lead the profession.
What are your immediate priorities as you get under way?
There's a lot to pick up, and my knowledge of IFoA acronyms is developing rapidly! It has been a good time to join as we are in the midst of refreshing the next phase of the strategy; getting the substance agreed and into next year's corporate plan is a priority. I am also taking advantage of being new in the job to try to set the right tone from the top - to be clear that the IFoA needs to continue to evolve to support its members and to be open and straightforward in how we go about that. I also want to take the time to listen to colleagues, members and stakeholders and understand what is important to them.
What challenges are you looking forward to getting to grips with?
Every job is different and comes with its own challenges. Ultimately, the IFoA is judged on what it is seen to do for its membership, which is a not a homogeneous group. We have to make sure that IFoA members value what we do and are able to feel proud of the benefit that their membership gives them. There is a range of great things already happening that have perhaps slipped under the radar, but there is even more that we can, and need to, do here.
I have really appreciated how warm my welcome has been, and also the breadth of ideas and passion that has come from everybody I speak to. A practical challenge will be to make sure that we can harness that passion while still maintaining focus in the areas where the biggest impacts to the profession can be made.
What's your vision for the profession going forwards?
I would like to be able to say that my colleagues and I are able to support the profession to make a positive difference to the world.
We need to recognise that the profession is not static. There are huge changes in the sectors, business models and demand landscape that actuaries are working in, and it is essential that we have the agility to move with this tide. This is across areas that actuaries have traditionally worked in, as well as emerging fields where we find the skillset can add value. While IFoA members are recognised for their technical skills, we also have to recognise that an open and curious mindset, which continually seeks to learn and enquire, will enable the actuarial skillset to retain its value long into the future.
How are you planning to help members achieve their career goals?
By seeking a better understanding of what is important to members at every stage of their career, and by developing a modern and dynamic curriculum with a wider approach to training and support, which recognises the need for that dynamic mindset and best equips those qualifying with us to realise their full and diverse potential. Our job must be to enable actuaries to truly understand the value of their skills, and be best positioned to apply that to whatever organisations or sector their careers take them to.