By Bob Beuerlein
The cool weather this time of the year signals the beginning of marathon season in the United States. Thousands of runners have been training throughout the summer months to prepare for 26.2 miles of running—a real test of physical and mental endurance. Recently, I was in Chicago during that city’s marathon (won for the first time in many years by an American runner) and was reminded that there is no consistent physical profile of a marathon runner. In the field of 40,000 marathoners, there were people of all ages, shapes, sizes, and abilities. The common denominator was that they had trained for and had a desire to complete a race of 26.2 miles to the best of their abilities.
Actuaries also come from a variety of backgrounds and have different abilities. But as we have discussed in this column over the past year, there is a common profile of a professional actuary and the actuary’s career. We might think of our career as a marathon in which professionalism is the common denominator. Within the profile:
- The educational requirements and other criteria for obtaining an actuarial credential indicate who may be able to do actuarial work;
- The qualification standards determine which actuaries are qualified to undertake various types of assignments;
- The Code of Professional Conduct identifies the actuaries’ responsibilities to their profession, their principals, and others in the performance of their work; and
- Actuarial standards of practice indicate how the work should be performed.
In describing our marathon, we might say that many of us began our actuarial careers by taking the actuarial exams because we were good with math. (We may not have understood then that many good actuaries are actually expert professional businesspeople who are good with math, rather than expert mathematicians who are good with business.) Through the passing of the exams, we demonstrated that we were able to perform actuarial work.
As we progressed through our actuarial careers, we became familiar with the concept of being qualified to issue statements of actuarial opinion, which involve most of the actuarial work that many of us perform. We learned that being qualified did not simply involve checking the boxes that we had passed our exams, maintained our continuing education, and had the appropriate experience—rather, being qualified is a personal issue for each of us and involves a process similar to looking ourselves in the mirror to determine our qualification to practice (in addition to the items in the checkboxes, of course).
Along the way in our actuarial careers, we became more aware of the Code of Professional Conduct. We learned that the Code is not merely a recitation of good ethical practices. In recognition of our profession’s collective responsibility to the public, our Code may impose requirements that are stricter than those required by ethical considerations or by legal prescriptions. Our Code requires competence, integrity, objectivity of a high order, and a commitment to service. Just as marathon runners must adhere to a training regimen that is far more onerous than simple exercise, so also our Code mandates these requirements that are much stricter than societal norms.
And as we developed in our fields of practice, we frequently consulted the actuarial standards of practice (ASOPs)—not for cookbook-style direction, but for guidance for dealing with commonly encountered situations. Our ASOPs take into account not only relatively unchanging fundamental concepts but also rapidly changing techniques as applied to the increasingly complex problems of today’s world. While new actuarial standards of practice may be promulgated to deal with a wide variety of situations, the multiplicity of circumstances encountered in real life and the pace of technological advancement make it necessary for standards of practice to leave wide discretion for the exercise of individual judgment by the practicing actuary.
Wherever we are in our actuarial marathons, we can see that professionalism is an integral part of being an actuary. Like marathon runners, it is not possible to identify a professional actuary by how they look. But it is possible to describe the profile of a professional actuary. This profile involves elements that benefit the public interest and have earned the public trust. And the issues that professional actuaries address will benefit the American public much farther than 26.2 miles down the road.
 This concept and many others in this piece are explored more deeply in the seminal 2004 white paper (and updated in 2016), Structural Framework of U.S. Actuarial Professionalism authored by the Academy’s Council on Professionalism.