FeatureJuly/August 2024

MAAA in Focus

MAAA in Focus

A roundtable discussion with senior leadership on Academy membership.

For this special feature, Contingencies sat down with five leaders of the Academy to delve into the profound impact of the MAAA designation. Our roundtable discussion explores how the MAAA has shaped their careers, enhanced their professional credibility, and supported continuous learning and networking.

Join us as these leaders share their personal experiences and perspectives on Academy membership, offering a closer look at the myriad benefits and enduring value of holding the MAAA designation in the ever-evolving actuarial profession.

What do the four letters “MAAA” mean to you?

BEN SLUTSKER: I see “MAAA” as representing professionalism, ethics, and policy. It ensures that actuaries are abiding by the principles and standards that uphold our profession, as well as assisting policymakers in crafting actuarial-related policy to protect the public and serve their intended constituents.

DONNA MEGREGIAN: Let’s break down the letters.
“Member”—I believe in the cause
“American”—focused on the U.S.
“Academy”—an organized group of educated people
“Actuaries”—a profession that works to provide financial solutions and serve the pubic

RHONDA AHRENS: I remember learning about the MAAA and the requirement to have a certain number of years of experience before I could apply for membership. To me, being a member means that all members have applied their education in practice and we’ve all agreed to hold each other accountable to maintaining credible experience. It’s important to me to be part of an organization that holds each member accountable so that the letters do actually mean something—not just to me but to those who depend on my work.

MARGARET BERGER: These days, membership means a little more because it’s not automatic that an employer will support the designation. Anyone who has an MAAA after their name has made an affirmative decision to prioritize membership.

What inspired you to pursue the MAAA designation, and how has it impacted your career trajectory?

TRICIA MATSON: Honestly, it wasn’t even a real decision—I was lucky to work at an employer that knew the value of the MAAA designation, and it was pretty much an automatic pursuit once I had my ASA. My connection to the American Academy of Actuaries, as evidenced through the MAAA credential, has helped to demonstrate a level of professionalism that is desired by the workforce, as well as clients during my times in consulting roles.

MEGREGIAN: As I was approaching my ASA, I was told I would also want to get an MAAA—it would enhance my overall credibility as an actuary. I never questioned it. I would say I took a more active role in participating in the Academy after getting my FSA. The impact on my career trajectory has only been positive because of the experience I have in participating in the groups at the Academy.

BERGER: I don’t really recall at this point why I became a member, but I do know it was supported and encouraged by my employer. It’s had a huge impact on my career trajectory, because in 2008 I joined the Joint Planning Committee for the Enrolled Actuaries Meeting for the first time, and that experience was transformative. It led me to begin speaking at professional meetings, to joining the Academy Pension Committee, the ASB Pension Committee, and to so much more, including the Academy Board and other leadership roles. It’s expanded my professional horizons tremendously.

Those experiences even led me to look beyond the routine actuarial work and take on a role where I develop intellectual capital. I’ve met so many incredibly bright and talented people that I would never have met. I would never have achieved all I have professionally without taking those first steps, and Academy membership was crucial.

SLUTSKER: I wanted to be part of a professional community that made me feel that I am a part of something larger than myself. Becoming a member of the Academy impacted my career trajectory a lot by giving me opportunities to influence public policy and network for job opportunities, as well as learn about parts of actuarial work that I would never otherwise have encountered.

AHRENS: Joining the Academy was a bit of a job requirement for me, but it meant that I was respected by others along my career path. It gave me the “license” to make filings with regulators and to essentially take the first steps to gaining their trust. It also gave me the confidence to put myself in front of regulators—and it helped me to remember every time I signed my signature on an opinion or filing that I was reassessing and reaffirming that I was continuing to grow in the profession and in my career.

Can you share a specific instance where the MAAA designation significantly enhanced your professional credibility or opportunities?

AHRENS: With one of my employers, prior to hiring a significant number of MAAA-designated actuaries, there was one employee who had an actuarial background but had never achieved MAAA. This employee had an approach to providing actuarial services to our non-actuarial colleagues that did not require accountability, skill and care, documentation, etc. After a few MAAAs besides me joined the organization, we were able to improve the standards for anyone who claimed to be in an “actuarial” area. We were able to demonstrate the benefits of knowing that an entire organization expected credentialled actuaries to act in a certain way—and that without better controls, people with actuarial backgrounds that have not pursued credentials could put the organization at risk of making poor decisions or not being able to back those decisions up.

MEGREGIAN: My first experience with Academy was through the Life Illustrations Subgroup. First participating, then eventually chairing the group, I was offered the opportunity to lead projects and to speak to members of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ (NAIC’s) Life Actuarial Task Force and at various industry meetings on the topic. To this day, I am often asked questions and help organize continuing education related to life insurance illustrations due to my association with this group—I still participate in its activities.

SLUTSKER: There are many instances in which the MAAA designation enhanced my professional credibility or opportunities. One in particular—having an MAAA designation led me to presenting to NAIC working groups on the Academy proposal for fixed annuity principles-based reserving (PBR). This then led to me meet regulatory actuaries and opened the door for becoming a state regulator, which is a job I long aspired to do!

MATSON: Based on the work that I do, which involves serving regulators, the MAAA credential is often a mandatory requirement to be considered for consulting work. So having it has significantly increased my opportunities to serve my regulatory clients.

BERGER: Being a member let me participate fully in all the volunteer opportunities I noted earlier that have enhanced and expanded my career.

In your view, what are the most valuable resources or benefits that MAAA members gain access to?

SLUTSKER: I think the ability to volunteer and influence policy is the most valuable benefit that MAAA members have access to. Being able to volunteer on an Academy group that relates to a regulatory debate or emerging guidance provides an opportunity for an actuary to expand beyond the walls of where they work and make a lasting impact on the profession and industry.

BERGER: I think having access to all the educational material—practice notes, webinars, etc.—is an amazing benefit. And volunteering on Academy committees has been invaluable for me, and I would absolutely not be in the position I am today if I hadn’t started that. It transformed my career.

AHRENS: So many of the resources are available to the public via the website, but I appreciate the access and tie to the Actuarial Standards Board, all publications such as issue briefs and practice notes, as well as access to the Actuarial Board for Counseling and Discipline (ABCD)—and an awareness that using the ABCD is an important benefit to our profession.

MATSON: The network! My interactions with other Academy members have been a key driver of my personal and professional growth. Serving as a volunteer with some of the smartest and most dedicated people in the actuarial profession has, without a doubt, made me a better actuary and a better person!

MEGREGIAN: This is easy—the committees, work groups, and subgroups. Joining these groups and participating made me a better actuary. I was able to understand concepts better and hear other ideas on topics I had not considered. These groups are one of the best ways to discuss actuarial issues with other interested parties and meet other actuaries that I may never get to meet in person.

How does the Academy support continuous learning and professional development for actuaries?

AHRENS: As noted previously, accessibility on the website of many resource materials from this magazine, Contingencies, to practice notes, timely and relevant webinars (and the recording and later availability of these), and the ability to volunteer.

BERGER: The Academy does a tremendous job putting out a continuous stream of relevant and timely webinars and educational content like practice notes and issue briefs and more. Really a huge amount of content.

MATSON: There are so many ways that the Academy does this. The most obvious perhaps is through various educational opportunities—webinars, publications, and the Annual Meeting. For me, the networking I mentioned earlier has provided even more education because I am able to discuss and debate emerging actuarial issues with experts in my field. And then of course the Academy’s commitment to high professional standards—through the Code of Professional Conduct, the U.S. Qualification Standards (USQS), and other professionalism requirements—is a huge support for actuaries to maintain continuous learning and professional development, including in the important area of professionalism.

MEGREGIAN: Beyond the obvious webcasts and actuarial standards of practice (ASOPs), many of the committees and work groups keep participants up to date on current issues and discussing professionalism topics. Going back to the Life Illustration Subgroup, much of what they do is centered around ASOP No. 24 and development of practice notes.

SLUTSKER: The Academy provides various webinars, as well as some in-person seminars. In addition, the volunteer groups are an excellent source for learning and professional education. I have never encountered the ASOPs more than through volunteering at the Academy.

Can you talk about the networking opportunities available through the Academy—how they have benefited you personally and professionally?

MEGREGIAN: Through the groups, I have met many actuaries over the years. My interactions with them have left an impression on me, and me on them, enough to where I think we feel comfortable recommending each other for other opportunities—especially within the Academy … and with friendships that have developed because of it.

MATSON: To expand on an earlier response, I joined a volunteer committee early in my career—maybe seven or eight years in. It was comprised of very many experienced actuaries, and to be honest, I was overwhelmed. I struggled to feel like was adding value. But it was perhaps the best decision I’ve made for my professional development. Everyone treated me with respect, took whatever help I felt I could give, and taught me in the many areas I was weak. This led to more volunteer opportunities, including serving as a chairperson of several different groups. Through this process, I have met so many wonderful actuaries that became and still are my coworkers, my clients, and my friends!

BERGER: Personally, I’ve met a huge number of really bright and interesting people through volunteering. I also feel more secure in having a network of friends and colleagues outside of my company.

AHRENS: I’ve gained so much in my career through volunteer opportunities. By creating relationships through projects that I have collaborated with other members on practice note and ASOP updates, visits to the Hill, etc., I have a network I can lean on when I’m looking for information or advice on tricky actuarial projects. It also helps me stay up to date on current events in the industry.

SLUTSKER: Probably every week, I reach out to someone I have met through the Academy to ask a technical question. It has created an incredible network of knowledge that I can tap into at any time. This network has created a source of technical education that has greatly enhanced my career.

What role does the MAAA designation play in upholding professionalism and ethical standards within the actuarial profession?

SLUTSKER: With an MAAA designation, an actuary not only represents themselves, but represents the entire profession. This creates an environment of joint self-accountability in which actuaries want to make sure all other actuaries within the profession are following ethical and professional standards. Being a member of the Academy means that we all strive to make the actuarial profession seen as an ethical body of technical professionals.

AHRENS: Every time anyone with an MAAA signs their name to an actuarial opinion or represents themselves as an expert who can provide sound actuarial advice under the designation, they have to remember what they did to earn that designation. I think the rules to entry, the requirements to maintaining continuing education, and the resources the Academy provides us all are a reminder of our responsibility to do our part to maintain the integrity of our profession.

BERGER: The Academy is deeply involved with maintaining professionalism, through its support of the ASB, the ABCD, development of professionalism material, etc.

MEGREGIAN: This drives at the idea of what it means to be a member. As a member, I feel I am held to a higher level of accountability and ethics. Not only am I adhering to professional standards coming out of the ASB, but I take part in development and discussion on how those standards are put into practice and impact the public.

MATSON: Through its professionalism activities, including coordination with the ASB and ABCD, the continual maintenance of the USQS, the Council on Professionalism and Education, and its commitment to supporting public policy, the Academy is the key body in the U.S. that upholds professionalism and ethical standards for actuaries. I am proud to be a member of such an amazing organization.

From your perspective, how does the Academy’s commitment to public policy enhance the value of the MAAA designation?

MATSON: Any profession wants to maintain a good reputation. As actuaries, we want to be known for objective advice and analysis that is based on sound actuarial practices. The Academy’s commitment to serving the public helps to establish the actuarial profession as one upon which the public can place its trust.

MEGREGIAN: Although the public may not see what the actuary does, the commitment to ensuring the actuarial issues impacting public policy are addressed in an unbiased and professional way is vital to the public and the financial institutions serving the public.

BERGER: To the extent that the commitment to public policy has encouraged certain jurisdictions to require the MAAA designation [for certain statements of actuarial opinion] gives the designation itself more gravitas.

AHRENS: The quality of the materials we provide and their relevance to issues in the public space—specifically issue briefs, in my experience—demonstrate credibility of actuaries to non-­actuaries and our willingness to help solve problems where we can.

SLUTSKER: I think the Academy’s commitment to public policy allows it to be valued by both state and federal regulators in the United States. Over the years, the Academy has become quite trusted by regulators in providing feedback that affects emerging guidance. I can’t count the number of times in which a state regulator asked something along the lines of “What does the Academy think?” during an NAIC meeting.

How do you see the MAAA designation evolving to meet the future needs of the actuarial profession?

SLUTSKER: I see the MAAA designation evolving to provide additional opportunities to for newly credentialed actuaries, more education and standards for actuaries rendering professional opinions, and emerging developments to better understand how to use and engage with AI through actuarial work.

BERGER: I would like to see more tangible benefits to the designation to justify the cost, particularly if employers become increasingly reluctant to support it (or better yet, to make the benefits so tangible that employers will happily support it.)

MATSON: I don’t necessarily see much near-term evolution in the designation itself. It is founded in strong principles. To me, the evolution relates more to ensure the underlying principles—public policy, professionalism, and associated education keep pace with the evolving environment. So for example, ensuring that we are focused in new areas such as algorithmic bias, climate change, artificial intelligence—and the implications of those on public policy and professionalism—is important.

MEGREGIAN: Because the Academy is U.S.-focused, I see the MAAA designation as being the credential U.S. actuaries will want that will show anyone that the education and professionalism requirements to practice in the U.S. have been achieved. Some level of comfort can be taken that with an MAAA, there is a strong basis for the actuary to do the work in the U.S. they will be asked to do.

What advice would you give to early-career actuaries considering the pursuit of the MAAA designation?

MATSON: Pursue it, and then volunteer!

MEGREGIAN: Not only should it be pursued, but leverage it once you get it. Getting your MAAA opens doors to being a better actuary. Volunteer for a group, committee, task force, webcast—something that will get you talking with other actuaries and continue to learn from others and share the benefits of your learnings with others.

SLUTSKER: Challenge yourself to obtain an MAAA and join at least one volunteer group—whichever one best fits your experience, skillset, or interests. And then, when participating in that volunteer group, try to ask at least one question on each call, announcing your name prior to speaking, so fellow actuaries start to get to know you. You’d be amazed how quickly you can become central to a discussion on a regulatory project or industry issue using this approach.

AHRENS: Practice ethical behavior, skill, and care early in your career. It’s not something that you need to do only when you are signing a regulatory filing, but rather something that you need to maintain in all of your work relationships, meetings, and other interactions as an actuary. By honoring the ideals of ethics and professionalism, you will help maintain an environment for this career that will be a solid foundation for your own aspirations going forward. 

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