Nick Salter advises that, like a 3D stereogram image, there is more potential to actuaries advice than meets the eye
You might be mistaken for thinking, as I did, that stereograms were the latest pop sensation to emanate from one of those reality TV music shows. Not that I watch such televisual entertainment I should add. However, look a little closer - well, quite a bit closer in the case of 3D stereograms - and a whole new perspective appears.
Such was the case when my son thrust one of these images in front of my nose following a family meal one Sunday. Initially, I saw nothing but an abstract piece of art; some jumbled up angular shapes in various shades of brown and orange. To be honest, I didn't know whether I was being subjected to a 'Salter wind-up' (the gene has, irritatingly, passed on quite successfully to the Salter offspring), or whether Jamie was serious, and that there was something really interesting that I just wasn't seeing.
After the usual quips of "have some more wine Dad," and "put your glasses on!", Jamie took great delight in broadening my visual horizon, by getting me to focus on a particular point of detail in the picture and then staring at it for a long time.
So why on earth do I think that you would be interested in post-Sunday-lunch activities in the Salter household, and in particular, the visual delights of 3D stereograms? Well, I suspect you aren't. However, that Sunday afternoon was a bit of a 'eureka' moment for me with my IFoA presidential hat on.
Jamie showed me that by looking at something from a different perspective, a whole new window of opportunity can open. That Sunday, it was a 3D image of a shark jumping out of the picture. Translating this back into what we do, the clients we deal with day in and day out are seeing what they expect to see from us - only what they have commissioned - and it strikes me that this is the trick we are missing.
What we should be doing is saying to those who use our services - and those who currently don't: "Do you see what we can see?" I have borrowed the phrase from our colleagues in Australia, where the Institute of Actuaries of Australia used it to advertise the benefit of using actuaries. It seems obvious to me that actuaries do see things differently, and approach problems from a different perspective. Opening the eyes of clients will open up new and diverse opportunities for our members and actuaries more generally.
This is relevant in our traditional areas of work as well as in the newer areas in which actuaries are becoming ever more involved.
My own specialism is pensions and I have found on occasions, when talking to clients about funding risk, they hear you are talking about investment risk and end up with a mismatch of understanding. Our role is to help them to see things the way we do - integrating the asset and liability issues and not seeing them as independent from each other.
It is even clearer in the newer fields. Encouraging our stakeholders to look at things from a different perspective was brought into sharp focus at the end of last year, when the chair of our Resource and Environment Board, Oliver Bettis, was invited to present at a climate change conference hosted by one of the world's most pre-eminent think tanks, Chatham House.
Such was the impact of Oliver's presentation on the audience that the IFoA was contacted by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, who were hosting a climate change conference in Beijing where leading climate change scientists were gathering. On this occasion, David Hare, our immediate past-president, represented the IFoA and opened the eyes of the scientists to a new viewpoint; looking at climate change through the actuarial risk perspective.
So the next time you meet clients, new or established, think about that 3D stereogram and what those clients could be seeing. Your communication skills need to ensure that clients who don't have your training can use it to make good decisions. Help them to see things the way we see them.