The President’s Award – Actuaries for Transformational Change

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The President’s Award was presented to the Actuaries for Transformational Change (ATC) on 24 June 2021 in recognition of the group’s collective vision, courage and thought leadership in bringing the many strands of thinking within the profession together and providing an impetus for debates and change in the profession.

The group’s work has influenced the President’s priorities and found expression in the IFoA’s Thought Leadership Programme and in the IFoA’s feedback and dialogues with regulators. The members of the Actuaries for Transformational Change are: Sam Achord – Nico Aspinall – Oliver Bettis – Neil Cantle – Ashok Gupta – Louise Pryor – Lucy Saye – Nick Silver – Nick Spencer – Tan Suee Chieh – Martin White

 

How did the idea of the group start, and how did you go about it? 

It started with an issue Nico Aspinall and Oliver Bettis brought to Tan Suee Chieh concerning the state of thought leadership in the IFoA in late 2019. Consequently, there was a meeting amongst them, and Louise Pryor and it was agreed that we should convene an in-person meeting, involving like-minded individuals who are interested in reviving thought leadership within the profession.

All of us have a common interest in increasing the thought-leadership of the IFoA. We all saw thought-leadership as a way to re-establish the IFoA’s voice and influence which we felt had diminished over the last 30 years.

Independently, we had each been leading efforts in new thought-leadership landscapes – financial systems thinking, pluralistic economics and sustainability.  Combining these insights highlighted the interconnectedness of these landscapes. They are also core to the understanding of and making judgements on, future uncertainties, which lies at the very soul of the actuarial profession.

We found we had much in common and we agreed to hold a colloquium in April 2020. This was planned to coincide with a highly relevant two-day event at the Royal Society on the topic of “Confronting radical uncertainty”. But COVID-19 disrupted the conference and dislocated our plans.

 

What happened next? 

As a result of the success of the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group and our increasing comfort with using Zoom, we decided to have weekly zoom meetings, our first was on 20 March 2020. From November 2020, the frequency was twice a month. Since then, we have had 45 meetings.

 

What did the group aim to achieve? 

Our overall objective was to enable the actuarial profession to be more influential in the industries we work in and society at large. Essentially, it was to revive thought leadership to the foreground in the IFoA.

Our initial interests were economic thinking, climate change and sustainability. All these are captured in our charter.

Our immediate objectives were to create and curate a number of thought pieces around the following themes

  • Sustainability at a Global Level.
  • Unintended Consequences of Regulation
  • Risk Modelling, Uncertainty and Judgment.
  • Multi-paradigm and Systems Thinking.
  • Fostering Thought Leadership.

We also followed the ways of working of the COVID-19 Actuaries Response Group. Meetings were set up quickly, with a minimum of paperwork, and we quickly get to so what we wanted to achieve.

 

What was the biggest challenge in the early months, given you were outside the ‘official IFoA’?

The big question was why two members of the Presidential Team were involved in an unofficial project outside the IFoA. Would it not create confusion? A similar issue was confronted by the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group.

As a result of dialogues between senior members of the IFoA Council and ATC, the Council agreed that the venture was indeed positive and to be encouraged.

 

What lessons did you learn?    

Our futures will either face up to the challenges of transforming to a sustainable economy, or they will face the consequences of not doing so.  Our first and core lesson was that a single model, a single paradigm, cannot be relied on to understand these futures. Actuarial mindsets and skillsets need to be fluent in pluralistic thinking and to embrace a diversity of perspectives.

We also explored and developed our frameworks for thinking, learning and communication, learning to:

  • Listen to alternative perspectives: gaining from different mindsets helps us to engage those with different starting points.
  • The role of logos, ethos and pathos: moving from our reliance on logic (logos) and engaging with pathos, our listeners’ values and perspective
  • Empathetic listening: undoing our learnt internalised advocacy to solely focus on a deep understanding of the other’s perspective

Finally, we learnt that resource allocation can’t simply depend on wealth (price). Sustainable outcomes also need an allocation system that incorporates fairness and ethical values. 

 

What were your most important achievements?

The achievements which have had the biggest impact were in stimulating discussion in areas where the profession has been too silent. Tan Suee Chieh’s Presidential speech reflected many of the topics we had been discussing which then led to the Finance in Public Interest Series of lectures. These lectures raised serious questions about the influence of regulation on actuarial work and whether this could lead to damage to the reputation of the profession. ATC also responded by contributing to the Professions submission to a Treasury consultation on financial services regulation and in having a letter published in the FT in reply to a series of articles written by Martin Wolf on failings in the pensions system. 

 

What would you do differently?

We would not have done anything differently. The initial group came together with no fixed agenda, and it has organically grown, to an extent that it has become a permanent fixture and is influential.

We would like to see it develop in 3 ways:

  • Impact – ATC and the IFOA are probably more influential than we realise, we have to understand the levers available to us and how to maximise our impact.
  • Engagement and listening -we have been at our best when we have developed and incubated ideas and listen to voices from inside and outside the group
  • Diversity and Multidisciplinarity– especially the diversity of thought – ATC tends to be coming from one perspective and we need to find a way of maintaining its culture whilst incorporating diverse perspectives, especially those of other professions

 

What next for the group?

We want to continue to engage with people on important topics and stimulate debate. We hope to expand the influence of the group to inspire more thought leaders to step up and build on the initial momentum. We will continue to highlight the new skills and tools that actuaries need to solve the complex problems we face. By providing an environment that supports thought leaders and enables difficult conversations to take place in a constructive manner, we hope that more actuaries will be encouraged to help solve the key issues that their clients, employers and the public face.