As a profession we are standing on the shoulders of giants, says Colin Wilson and we must drive thought leadership forward together
If I think about those individuals who have made significant contributions as thought leaders to actuarial science or to our professional lives as actuaries, the names Frank Redington with his Immunisation Theory and Robert Brown with his Brownian Motion spring immediately to mind. But there are many others. As a profession we are standing on the shoulders of giants.
But one fact that strikes me when I think about these thought leaders is that not all of them were actuaries. Robert Brown is a case in point. Brown was a botanist, but his work on particle motion is well known to actuaries who apply his theory to actuarial modelling.
As thought leaders, these individuals were the innovators of their time. Their work has helped shape what we as actuaries do, and how we do it. In short, they have each contributed to the long-term viability of our profession. And that's my point. As I said in my Presidential Address, innovation is key to the sustainability of our profession.
But it would be a mistake to think of innovation and thought leadership as being the preserve of a select group of individuals. Collectively as a profession we must be seen as thought leaders and must drive the thought leadership agenda forward. We must support innovation in all its forms, be that developing better ways of doing things that we are already doing, changing how we apply our insights in our traditional practice areas, or applying actuarial techniques to completely new areas of work. Evolution or revolution, to my mind it doesn't matter.
What I am clear on, and why I have chosen to focus on thought leadership during my presidential year, is that the status quo is not an option. Standing still risks the profession becoming irrelevant in an increasingly changing and competitive world.
And as a profession we need to embrace collaboration with other professions if we are to maximise our potential to have impact and push the profession forwards. As a Council we have recognised the value that collaboration can bring to our research and thought leadership agenda. If you look at the £3.1m of research that the IFoA has recently commissioned, all three programmes comprise international, multi-disciplinary teams. This new wave of research, bringing academia, practitioners, industry and professions together, aims to deliver thought leadership and outputs that can and will be taken up by our members and industry.
But it's important to stress that thought leadership is not just about deep, technical research, or just about being a "learned society". I don't want to downplay these important aspects, but they are largely inwardly focused. For me thought leadership is about taking our thinking out into the wider world.
It's recognising the value that other professionals bring, and collaborating with others to look at solving problems in the public interest. And it's about sharing the results, both with our own members and more widely.
If we embrace this, then we will be seen as a dynamic, forward-thinking profession that remains relevant to the changes that are going on around us. We will cement our position as a profession that policymakers and others want to listen to and to hear from. More than this, other professions and policymakers will seek us out, recognising the value of the actuarial voice. Reassuringly this is not just an aspiration, it's already happening! Our voice is being heard and our views sought by regulators and policy makers. In my time so far on the presidential team I have witnessed our consultation responses being quoted in parliamentary debates, our research referenced in presentations given by non-actuaries, and our members providing expert witness at Parliamentary Select Committee hearings.
These are positive steps in the right direction, but what I am keen to promote is an environment that encourages the profession to innovate and to show thought leadership. Our new strategy gives us solid foundations to achieve this, but you also have a crucial role to play in shaping and delivering our thought leadership agenda.
Let me know your thoughts on the key questions actuaries should be helping to address. But also think about how you might be able to contribute, whether this is through participating in working parties, providing practitioner input to academic research, providing corporate sponsorship for our commissioned research programme, or sharing the results of our work as ambassadors for the profession. We all as actuaries have the potential to help deliver relevant thought leadership collectively or as individuals.
By doing so we will ensure we are listened to and valued as a profession of thought leaders.
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Colin Wilson is the president of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries