Actuaries can offer real support and expert guidance in these challenging times, says David Hare
The writer Douglas Adams said, "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." Unlike Mr Adams, I like to keep to my deadlines. Sadly, the final changes to my article last month did not make the print edition. So while the website carried the final version, many of you will not have seen that I wrote about my pleasure in chairing the inaugural IFoA awards dinner at the end of February. It was a lovely event, with awards and prizes presented for outstanding work in exams, research and developing the profession. A number of family and friends joined council members and senior IFoA executives to celebrate the achievements of these students and Fellows and I'm sure it will linger long in the memories of us all. I do hope that the incoming immediate-past president gets invited to the next one!
Another topic also worth a mention is how our public affairs team responded to the press coverage of a recent paper on some IFoA critical illness research work. The coverage referenced the purchase of National Health Service data by SIAS as a "major insurance organisation" for commercial purposes. The initial article contained a number of factual inaccuracies regarding the status and objectives of the research, SIAS and the IFoA. The IFoA published a rebuttal, issued to all media, and requested corrections to factual inaccuracies. We also contacted MPs who had expressed an interest in care data, to provide them with background and information on the IFoA and the research we undertake.
Ultimately, I believe we were able to navigate our way through the controversy and set the record straight; but there are clearly lessons to be learnt. Media interest in the work of actuaries is a good thing - but we want the facts to be right. If you are approached by a journalist to comment on matters that impact the IFoA, I urge you to follow the guidance set out in the code of conduct and to refer them to the IFoA public affairs team.
The press has also had much to say about the surprise announcements affecting pensions in this year's UK Budget. These changes could have a profound impact on what people do with their retirement savings and hence on the work of actuaries who advise them or support the financial services firms that provide appropriate products and propositions. The IFoA has welcomed the changes and believes the government's offer of free guidance will be critical to helping people make the right choices in retirement. But there are many unknowns and, as a profession, we can do much to inform the debate, not least in highlighting the challenges of longevity risk and the potential under-saving that could persist in this new era. We are currently considering what new research projects should be initiated to help move thinking forward in these areas. I know many in the profession have strong views on these issues, and I positively encourage the debate to rage amongst our membership.
There is another area where I am keen to encourage debate, as the issues raised strike at the heart of what it means to be an actuary subject to professional regulation by the IFoA. Under the current proposals for Solvency II, there is no statutory requirement for the actuarial function to be undertaken by a qualified actuary. This is in stark contrast to the existing arrangements for life insurers where the actuarial function holder needs not only to be a Fellow, but also to have an appropriate practising certificate. The role of the practising certificate regime is to help demonstrate that the holder has adequate experience and technical knowledge and that they can be considered a 'fit and proper' person for that role.
As many of you will know, the IFoA Regulation Board is currently consulting on what professional requirements should be placed on those members who undertake some of the governance functions set out in the Solvency II regime. The consultation paper sets out a number of possible variations involving additional requirements on top of our existing membership categories. However, it also mentions the possibility of no additional requirements at all, with members performing these Solvency II governance roles simply being obliged to follow the Actuaries' Code, relevant actuarial standards (whether produced by FRC or the IFoA) and, of course, the appropriate regulations and legislation. Please take the time to consider the consultation paper and respond to the questions. The Regulation Board is keen to hear from you.