Derek Cribb says defining the actuarys role to non-traditional industries is key for the profession to explore new territories
Is there really a demand for actuarial skills outside the traditional businesses? And if there is, what are the potential barriers to actuaries taking up these opportunities?
There has been a lot of talk within the profession over recent years about the need to broaden horizons for actuaries and seek new opportunities in non-traditional areas. Recognising the diversity of the actuarial skill-set, and promoting it to employers and stakeholders, is something we have been actively championing at the IFoA. But are we on the right track?
The missing competences covered people and leadership skills, with a lesser issue around industry knowledge. Employers held technical skills, honesty and integrity as hygiene factors, not necessarily reasons to employ someone.
Once the skill-set was divulged as being specific to actuaries, and we asked if the skills were transferable and useful to non-traditional employers, the rating went from a whopping 94% right down to 58%!
The survey revealed a strong preconception within the sample that actuaries are involved in narrow roles, with the knowledge generally restricted to encountering members working with company pension schemes. While a significant minority greeted the revelation positively, welcoming a better understanding of actuarial skills, the majority were unsurprised. For me this was the biggest insight from the research, and highlights the enormous challenge that we, as a professional body - and you as individual actuaries - face if we are to be successful in promoting the actuarial skill-set and get actuaries into more diverse fields.
Actuaries face a unique challenge; the roles of doctors, dentists, lawyers or accountants are easily defined and their value proposition easily understood by the general public. Actuaries do not have this luxury, our members work in a number of specialised functions across industry.
How, in the same breath, do you explain the proposition of a life actuary as opposed to one in banking? Well, perhaps we are making it hard for ourselves. We understand what qualified doctors do, they look after your health. A specialised doctor might be an expert in any number of fields but is still understood to be a doctor first. For me, perhaps the right approach is similarly to define the actuary by the first level of qualification, the associate.
By having people understand that an actuary is a qualified professional with higher level of modelling, mathematical and broad financial risk management skills, we can raise understanding more quickly, without closing out future opportunities by being perceived as too narrow by wider industry.
It is undeniable that decision makers, such as HR directors in non-traditional industries, do not have a good understanding of what actuaries do and where they do it - this is often based on a preconceived view. These barriers need to be addressed, and are being addressed by the IFoA. A good example of this is the work recently undertaken by Council with engagement from the wider membership to develop the 'actuarial pitch' - a short and snappy descriptor of what actuaries do. Seems simple on the surface, but when you get down to the words, and a concise message, this has proved to be very difficult.
To try and gain an understanding direct from the membership, we developed our #whatactuariesdo campaign. This has been fun and insightful and yet only leads to more questions and fields of interest for us to explore.
My message to all actuaries remains, that if you want to move in to non-traditional business areas, you need to develop broader business skills. Actuaries themselves already have the detailed technical skill-set that employers crave. Developing those business skills will not only help you broaden your horizons and opportunities, but will also make it easier to climb the corporate ladder.
We recognise that we have a role to play here, both in terms of our education syllabus and also through the CPD we offer our members. Looking specifically at business skills, we have developed a suite of online Masterclasses.
As your professional body we are constantly striving to innovate, to help you develop the skills you need to succeed.
It is clear to me, and to 50 HR directors, that the actuarial skill-set has the potential to provide enormous value to a wide range of businesses and industry sectors. Our future relies on overcoming the perceptions that have developed over time. I ask all our members - be proud to be an actuary. It's time for the business world to look at actuaries through a new lens.