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President's comment: Reflections on making a difference

David Hare underlines that to succeed at a higher level actuaries will need broader skill sets than their forebears

05 DECEMBER | DAVID HARE
David Hare

The end of 2013 beckons and I’ve nearly reached the half-way point of my presidency. It feels like a good time to reflect on how things are going.

As I said in my opening address in June, the role of president is no longer to develop strategy – this rests with your elected representatives, the Council. As president I am an agent for the Council, which makes me your agent. My role as president is to be a representative voice and to use my particular skills and experience to help guide the implementation of the strategy and visibly champion the achieving of our mission and vision.

As you know, I chose ‘ramping up our relevance’ as the theme for my presidency. As these columns will, I hope, have made clear in the past few months, I am keen to promote member engagement both for our own sake as a profession and to make a difference to society, whether that be through the work that each of us undertakes daily or through the wider public affairs work of the IFoA.

I am, as I am sure you are now aware, keen to encourage us all to broaden our skill sets. Businesses and government policy makers are looking for non-technical skills like influencing, communication and commercial awareness as well as technical skills. 

When I speak to new qualifiers on how they can “be relevant and keep relevant,” I suggest that, in addition to keeping their technical and professional skills up to date, they also look to trends in corporate and public strategies and the consequential resource requirements. 

To be relevant as individuals and as a profession we must consider what the market and employers need and how our skill sets fit with this – including how we can utilise the technology that is now available to us. To succeed at the highest levels the modern actuary will need a broader skill set than their forbears.

I recently had a conversation with a senior manager at a FTSE 100 company about the career prospects for actuaries at middle and senior management levels. Rather than talking about this in terms of future direction, he was thinking about the “here and now”, and was considering the extent to which the current generation of actuarial professionals in his firm needed to develop their skills to ensure they kept relevant to their firm’s business model. He was asking questions like: What can they do to help themselves? How much hand holding do they need? The need to be relevant and move with the times is incumbent on us all, not just those starting out.

When I discuss relevance I’m not only referring to actuaries in the outside world. I’m also conscious of the need for the IFoA to be relevant to its membership. The IFoA is working hard to answer your calls for change. However, I recognise that more is needed and that this will take time. 

The new-look www.actuaries.org.uk, which goes live next year, will help I’m sure, but what else can be done? 

I wonder if we are missing a trick by emphasising the need to volunteer? One of the actuarial function-holders I was speaking to recently felt that this was the wrong emphasis. His view was that if we were to refer to “development opportunities”, members would be more likely to engage. It seems to me that as this is what the roles we offer actually are, after all, he may well have a point. I know that many of our members (and there are now more than 25,000 of us) are keen to give something back, and nearly 2,700 of us are clearly happy to volunteer. But, to tap into the other nearly 90%, would a change in positioning help? Something to ponder – and I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

At the strategy session we held at last month’s Council meeting, the question was raised about whether our qualification takes too long to achieve and if the training approach we use is flexible enough for today’s world. These are not new questions, but I sense answering them is becoming more urgent.

These are the sorts of issues I am grappling with as I seek to lead the IFoA Council and work in partnership with Derek Cribb, the IFoA chief executive. Are we headed in the right direction and are we moving quickly enough?

I think we need 

to do more, and I think more of the membership should be active in demanding more. There is an opportunity for you to do so this month, as the practice board surveys arrive in your in-boxes. Please do take the time to respond. 

These are exciting times. I look forward to the New Year and to tackling the many challenges and opportunities that will come with it.