Nick Salter is stirred and swayed by the sheer enthusiasm of young actuaries at the start of their careers
A night of cèilidh dancing and whisky tasting was a great way to welcome our newly and nearly qualifieds to the Momentum Conference in Edinburgh last month - I even managed to get in some dancing myself.
For the uninitiated, cèilidh is a traditional Scottish dance and so (along with the whisky) gave us all an excellent taste of Scottish culture.
Having had the pleasure of sitting in on a number of sessions at the conference, a couple of things strike me about Momentum: the first is that it's not a practice-specific conference and actuaries intermingle, bringing their different perspectives to the discussions. Perhaps because it's not a practice-specific conference, there is an emphasis on softer skills, which is where we need to focus to ensure that the future holds the best for us.
Moving from tradition to the changes of the future was very much on my mind during the conference this year. Earlier in the day, I had the pleasure of giving the first plenary talk, along with Chris Matthews, on diversity and the changing role of the actuary. Chris's background is in communications, and so between the two of us we were able to cover the combination of both traditional technical skills, as well as the softer skills that are so crucial for actuaries entering the profession now.
The art of communication
A number of employers, both actuaries and non-actuaries, were interviewed on film for our presentation, and hearing from them directly was inspiring. It was reassuring to hear that actuaries will continue to be a core asset to their organisations - Dominic Barton, managing director of McKinsey, said that "Actuaries are brilliant". The main theme, however, is that roles are changing. Here is a sample of what they said: "The modern world is more than being technical experts; we have to be seen as able to offer people advice and insight rather than just numbers."
"It's not good enough to know the answer, if you can't explain it to people in a way that they understand then you're not really helping them as much as you could."
The biggest thing that struck me from these interviews was the number of employers who stressed the importance of actuaries being able to communicate their work so that those without the technical background, skills or training can make use of our expertise.
Of course we need to have our core actuarial skills, but they need to be packaged in a wider context with communication as the wrapper. We need to be able to speak the language of business, not just the language of actuaries. This is fundamental to ensuring that actuaries remain relevant in this fast-changing world.
We also held a lunch event to "meet the president", which was enormously helpful to me to get feedback from people on their career journey and whose futures will be affected by the changes that are in train. One comment made was that traditional actuarial employers place less emphasis on the communication exam than the technical exams, which seemed out of kilter with what we were hearing in the presentations.
I came away from the conference impressed with the sheer enthusiasm shown by the new members coming into the profession, and how bright we both think the future looks. I know the profession looks very different from when I entered it all those years ago, and it will be interesting to see what changes these actuaries will witness over the course of their careers. I envisage many moving into less traditional actuarial areas as the need for our skills in new areas becomes better understood.
Interestingly, the latest snapshot produced by the IFoA showed there are more students than fellows working in non-traditional fields, such as risk management, education, public service, and other financial and non-financial roles outside established practice areas, which shows how these new areas are growing.
My impression from Momentum is that the future is really positive - partly because we have a great demand for actuarial skills in all sorts of areas and partly because we have such gifted people coming into the profession. There is a great future ahead for those entering the profession now. I see all of this as really good news.
My final insight from the conference is that, in terms of soft skills training, I may need to look into upping my dancing skills with some CPD - does this stand for Can't Properly Dance?
Videos of the plenary sessions from the Momentum Conference will be available online shortly. Unfortunately, there are no videos of Nick Salter's cèilidh dancing