A Celebration to Remember

A Celebration to Remember

By Lisa Slotznick

President, American Academy of Actuaries

Contingencies is 35 years old! Let’s celebrate!

Think of any anniversary, reunion, or birthday celebration you have attended. The good ones have a worthy honoree, great attendance, delicious and plentiful refreshments, an innovative party favor, and a few speeches. Let’s see how our little fête stacks up.

Contingencies—the worthy honoree—has won awards for design and for content that provide insights into issues that are top of mind for actuaries using a plain-language approach that a broad audience can absorb. In the past five years, the magazine has notched a content nod from Association Media & Publishing for a feature article on long-term care insurance, as well as a design excellence award from the same august body.

Great attendance? Its regular circulation includes not only the 20,000 Academy members but also an additional 10,000 public policymakers—legislators, insurance commissioners, regulators, and actuarial students—supplemented by visitors to its website.

Any good party worth its salt has its fair share of refreshments, and for Contingencies that is the content—insightful articles that go beyond the numbers to expand the imagination of the actuary. The broad range of these articles keep us informed and challenged:

  • the experiences of an actuary who is an elected official (July/August 2023),
  • climate issues, including
  • extreme outcomes (November/December 2023) and
  • carbon capture (November/December 2023),
  • retirement security (July/August 2023), and
  • retirement alternatives such as balancing safety and performance in savings (January/February 2024).

Those are the entrees, but you can’t forget about the sweets and desserts—the “Last Word” musings by seasoned actuaries, the tradecraft articles, the puzzles … all work together to please the palate.

The innovative party favors include the recently added web exclusive articles, like February’s focus on Black achievements in insurance, last Fall’s focus on artificial intelligence, etc. Another party favor is the new feature of having “Topics in Focus”—hot issues like climate or professionalism—on contingencies.org, showcasing the breadth and depth of thought leadership the magazine has featured over the years.

And no gathering would be complete without a few speeches—you have this article, as well the President’s Message, the regular Up to Code professionalism focus, and the introductory Editor’s Note to provide the necessary commentary that reminds us of what is new and of matters that we need to attend to.

Thirty-five years is certainly an occasion to celebrate. Let’s continue to look forward to heeding the call that the latest Contingencies is available … whether you read online or you are old-school and thumb through the hard copy. 

Pioneering Thought Leadership and Engagement in the Digital Age

Contingencies magazine, with its comprehensive online platform, stands out as a significant asset to the profession, owing to its commitment to thought leadership, extensive knowledge-sharing, and value-added web exclusives. Through its digital presence, Contingencies has established itself as a cornerstone resource for actuarial professionals.

At the heart of Contingencies lies its dedication to thought leadership, and that focus is nowhere more clear than the Contingencies.org website. Through insightful articles, analyses, and commentaries, the magazine consistently pushes the boundaries of current thinking within the profession. Its contributors—often leading experts and practitioners in their respective fields—offer fresh perspectives on emerging trends, challenges, and opportunities. This commitment to thought leadership not only enriches the discourse within the profession but also inspires innovation and critical thinking among its readership.

Moreover, Contingencies boasts a remarkable depth and breadth of knowledge-sharing. Its online platform serves as a repository of invaluable insights, covering a wide range of topics relevant to actuaries, risk managers, and insurance and retirement professionals. From technical research papers to practical case studies, the magazine caters to the diverse interests and needs of its audience. This depth of content ensures that professionals at all career stages can find relevant and timely information to enhance their expertise and ­decision-making capabilities.

One of the distinguishing features of Contingencies is its emphasis on value-added web exclusives. In addition to its print publications, the magazine offers exclusive online content that adds further value to its readers. These web exclusives may include in-depth interviews with industry leaders, multimedia presentations, interactive tools, and curated collections of resources, including “Topics in Focus” around key content areas. By providing such exclusive offerings, the website not only enhances the overall user experience but also stays at the forefront of digital content delivery in the profession.

Furthermore, Contingencies’ digital platform enables seamless accessibility and engagement for professionals worldwide. Through its website, practitioners can access content anytime, anywhere, fostering continuous learning and professional development. The Academy’s podcast—Actuary Voices—and the monthly Member Spotlight resides on Contingencies.org, offering readers multiple channels of access. The magazine’s online presence also facilitates collaboration and networking among professionals, creating a vibrant community centered around knowledge exchange and best practices.

In conclusion, Contingencies.org serves as a vital asset to the profession by championing thought leadership, facilitating extensive knowledge-sharing, and offering value-added web exclusives. Its commitment to excellence in content delivery and digital innovation positions it as a trusted resource for professionals seeking to stay informed and ahead in an ever-­evolving landscape. As the profession continues to evolve, Contingencies.org remains a beacon of insight and expertise, empowering practitioners to navigate challenges and seize opportunities with confidence. 

Professionalism Remains an Integral Component

As loyal readers know, professionalism issues have long been a staple in the pages of Contingencies. In addition to the regular “Up to Code” feature, the magazine has been a pillar of professionalism discussion for actuaries, who stand as sentinels of prudence in the intricate landscape of risk management and financial forecasting. Amid this intricate web of responsibilities, Contingencies has been and continues to be a beacon, illuminating the path toward professionalism for actuaries in the U.S.

One of the paramount roles of Contingencies is to disseminate cutting-edge research and insights relevant to the actuarial profession. In an ever-evolving world marked by dynamic economic landscapes and emerging risks, staying abreast of the latest developments is imperative for actuaries to uphold the highest standards of professionalism. By providing a curated selection of articles authored by industry experts and scholars, Contingencies equips actuaries with necessary knowledge and tools.

From its earliest days, Contingencies has contained stories about how the profession maintains its self-governing nature. In addition to the Up to Code column in each issue that focuses on professionalism, Academy presidents often address the topic in their President’s Message. And any mention of Up to Code wouldn’t be up to code without noting the excellent (and usually hilarious) cartoons that illustrate each issue—don’t miss the interview with freewheeling Code cartoonist Joe Sutliff, part of this special section.

In the past five years since Contingencies’ 30th anniversary issue, presidents Ken Kent (2023), Maryellen Coggins (2022), Tom Campbell (2021), D. Joeff Williams (2020), and Shawna Ackerman (2019) have all addressed professionalism issues in their messages, ranging from actuarial standards of practice (ASOPs) and the revised U.S. Qualification Standards (USQS) to continuing education (CE) requirements and statements of actuarial opinion (SAOs)—all familiar acronyms to Academy members as important facets of professionalism in a self-regulating profession.

The magazine also serves as a platform for promoting ethical conduct and accountability within the actuarial profession. In an era marked by heightened scrutiny of corporate governance and regulatory compliance, actuaries must adhere to the highest ethical standards to safeguard the public interest and maintain trust and credibility. Contingencies fulfills this imperative by featuring articles and case studies that explore ethical dilemmas, compliance issues, and regulatory developments, thereby equipping actuaries with the knowledge and ethical frameworks necessary to navigate ethical challenges with integrity and fortitude.

Contingencies stands as an indispensable asset in buttressing professionalism for all actuaries. Through its role as a disseminator of knowledge, a catalyst for community building, and a champion of ethical conduct, it empowers actuaries to uphold the highest standards of excellence, integrity, and accountability in their practice. As the actuarial profession continues to evolve in response to emerging risks and challenges, Contingencies will remain a steadfast companion, guiding actuaries toward a future defined by professionalism, innovation, and impact. 

The Man Behind the Pen

Joe Sutliff, the illustrator who draws Contingencies’ Up to Code cartoons, was born in Washington, D.C., and calls himself a “true Washingtonian,” but is now based in nearby Centreville, Va. Sutliff, who was hired by Contingencies’ design firm BonoTom Studio, says he enjoys working for the magazine, which he began illustrating for in 2014.

Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be a cartoonist?

Yes! I love drawing. My mother was an artist and very artistic, and from about the age of six I was copying her. If she was painting a mural, she’d let me paint a corner of it; I loved that. I’m self-taught as a cartoonist; I later learned by copying comics out of the newspaper.

To paraphrase Chico Escuela, has Contingencies been very, very good to you?

Oh my gosh, yes—I love drawing for Contingencies! My specialty is finding humor in things that might not seem particularly funny—not to suggest these articles aren’t rip-snorting hilarious. I think that’s why Bono [former Bonotom partner Bono Mitchell, who was interviewed in Contingencies 30th anniversary issue] gave me this job—Bono was a terrific art director and insistent that you want to poke a little fun of actuaries, but not too much! Bono and Tom [Specht, of BonoTom] previously had a stable of cartoonists, including Richard Thompson, who at one point was recognized as the best cartoonist in the world, so I was following some pretty big footsteps.

How has the job evolved over the years, with more diverse characters, etc.?

The characters I draw for Contingencies are mostly very stylized, simple ones, and a lot of them come from people that I know, or have seen. Back in the day I had an art director who said, “They’re all white guys, Joe!” He said you don’t have to invent people; you see them every day on the subway. So when I was riding the subway in D.C., I would walk around with a notepad and sketch someone if I saw a really good face. Since then my characters have become much more diverse.

The main evolution more recently was Covid. Up until then, everyone was wearing business suits; then word came down they were wearing polo and T-shirts, so I had to start changing that perspective because I couldn’t just poke fun at the “stuffy business suit” look. The Beatles cartoon, for example, worked really well because the actuary is wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. So in some ways, the new look was a little trickier to illustrate.

How do you always find a kernel of humor in a niche column like Up to Code?

I always try and make the visuals and words go together—not just a funny line with a picture. The picture has to work off of the text, and the text has to refer to the picture. They’re both essential elements to the joke that you wouldn’t get if one was missing. For example, the drawing of the hydra at the ABCD [Actuarial Board for Counseling and Discipline] is funny when you look at it. But your thought is, “Gee I wonder what the caption is to that?” You might guess, but you wouldn’t necessarily know until you have the tagline in there. The two work together.

Is working in an office a scary scenario?

I was a freelancer and a stay-at-home dad for 18 years while my wife worked in an office. Part of that evolved into a comic strip for The Washington Post called “Big Daddy,” about a working wife and a stay-home dad. Later, before Covid, I went back to work in an office and wore a suit and tie—and the first day I realized I was working with coders, who were all in jeans and T-shirts! The funny thing was when I walked by, they would all sort of straighten up like I was a visiting vice president or something. After that, my boss suggested that I don’t wear a suit.

What’s the “fun” part of your job?

It’s all fun! I try to enjoy every minute of every day. The old saying is true: Find something you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life. Having said that, people always ask, “What does it take to be a good cartoonist?” My answer is you have to be so incredibly stubborn that no matter how many people tell you your work stinks, you keep doing it. Even when I’m piled up with multiple deadlines and have a ton of work—I’m in the 25th draft of a 26-page children’s book, and they’re still sending me revisions to the artwork—I’d still rather be doing this than anything else.

Could you pass an actuarial exam?

I know a lot more than I used to! I’m not sure I could pass full muster, but after 10 years of reading and illustrating about actuaries, I know more than the average bear.

What’s the cartoonist’s Code of Conduct?

Be funny! There are serious cartoons, like political cartoons. I was a political cartoonist for six years for a newspaper and submitted to Time, Newsweek, and other news magazines. I try to be fearless and funny, but don’t try to gratuitously offend anyone. The New Yorker is the ivory tower for cartoonists. Some years ago, you could submit 10 cartoons a week. I did that for a year—520 cartoons, I still have a pile! I got rejected but got to meet a lot of people. I still try to do their caption contest every week.

How many times have you seen “About Schmidt”? (Which featured Jack Nicholson as a curmudgeonly actuary—and an issue of Contingencies.)

I saw it when it came out on HBO [in 2002] and I think maybe once again, though that was before my time with Contingencies. Beyond the (unfortunately) unforgettable Kathy Bates hot-tub scene, I remember the Jack Nicholson character wanting to get a cheap coffin for his dearly departed wife, which was definitely some dark humor.

Do you have or have you had a favorite editorial (or other) cartoonist?

I have a lot of favorites for different reasons. George Booth, The New Yorker cartoonist who recently passed away at 95 and was a delightful man. Arnold Roth was mischievously funny—he was too old and I was too young to become friends, but I got to meet them both and say I shook their hands. Garry Trudeau (of “Doonesbury” fame), Pat Oliphant the political cartoonist, and Richard Thomspon, who wrote “Cul de Sac” comic strip for The Washington Post Magazine are also some of my favorites.

The Simpsons, or Family Guy?

The Simpsons—(illustrator) Matt Groening is another person I’d like to meet, just so I can pronounce his name right! The Simpsons is a great show, but he also wrote the comic strip “Life in Hell,” which was always well-thought out and drawn very well—the nine different types of bosses, and the real things you’d say on your deathbed, like wishing you’d spent more time dancing the mambo. 

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