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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

In full bloom


John Taylor
John Taylor

I was delighted to start my presidential year by 
delivering my address in Edinburgh. I opened by quoting from one of the great Scottish speeches, delivered by the political activist Jimmy Reid in 1972:   

“I am convinced that the great mass of our people go through life without even a glimmer of what they could have contributed to their fellow human beings… The flowering of each individual’s personality and talents is the pre-condition for everyone’s development.” 

It’s a profound thought on a human level, but also one that 
has significance for the work that we do as actuaries; the idea that our talents have not yet fully blossomed, that we can contribute more to our fellow human beings. 

This is particularly true when it comes to a long-term shift that’s taking place in our traditional domains. Institutions that once shouldered actuarial risks on behalf of individuals are no longer willing to do so. As a result, individuals are more exposed to investment and longevity risk – but they rarely have the resources to manage these effectively. The transition from defined benefit to defined contribution is an obvious example, as is the rise of drawdown in preference to annuities. 

As a profession, we are the masters at managing actuarial risks, yet much of our focus is directed at institutions. It’s time to broaden our horizons so we can find ways of helping individuals. And if serving the public interest means anything, it means we have an obligation to help. 

The work of the Actuarial Research Centre is responding to this challenge. Similarly, product innovations such as collective defined contribution could make a difference. Technology is also enabling new forms of support for individuals – for example ‘robo advice’. 

More generally, technology will be relevant to most of our work in traditional fields and beyond. It’s hard to predict what technologies such as artificial intelligence will mean for the world, never mind actuaries, as this century progresses. For the foreseeable future, though, technology will help us prosper. It gives us access to an incredible toolbox, one that will transform the work we do in traditional domains and provide a platform to succeed in wider fields. 

Every industry sector is being transformed by a deluge of data, but they don’t have our pedigree in managing it. Many are looking for professionals who excel at applying maths and statistics in a business context.

Some actuaries are already pioneers in this, using data in advertising, agriculture and climate change. More of us can follow if we acquaint ourselves with that incredible toolbox.

To help you do that, we’ve announced the IFoA Certificate in Data Science. This credential will be available to our members at all stages of their careers, and will cover topics such as data visualisation, machine learning, AI and ethics, as well the application of these to actuarial work. 

Returning to Jimmy Reid, technology is going to help our profession’s talents flower and enable us to contribute more to our fellow human beings. 

John Taylor is the president of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries

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