By Tom Campbell
If you’re reading this, it must be 2021. Just about everyone I know said they couldn’t wait for 2020 to end, and now that it has, we have to ask, “What will the New Year bring?” Are we doomed to repeat 2020, like the movie Groundhog Day? Or are we going to beat COVID-19 and get things back to the way they were before? We don’t know what the future will bring. At this point, I guess we can only hope we haven’t already broken our New Year’s resolutions!
We also don’t know what the actuarial New Year will look like. But as I said during my inaugural presidential address at the Academy’s Annual Meeting and Public Policy Forum in November, as actuaries, we have the training and experience to apply our skills and professionalism to new challenges.
This is a reminder to me that I am fortunate to be a part of a profession that has an incredibly strong professionalism structure. As part of my preparation for my term as Academy president, I reviewed some of the history of the Academy (with a lot of help from Academy staff). The Academy just turned 55—it was formed in 1965—and looking at old yearbooks and other documents from that time, I learned that the U.S. actuarial community was technically strong, but it lacked public recognition as a profession, and it hadn’t yet had the opportunity to build public trust. This was problematic because of the increased attention being paid to insurance and pension programs, and the increasing role actuaries were playing in managing those programs.
It was in this environment that the leaders of the actuarial community in the U.S. decided to take steps to strengthen our status and recognition as a true “profession.” They encouraged and helped form a new organization—the American Academy of Actuaries—to establish and support a self-regulating U.S. actuarial profession that serves the public as well as the profession. The first Academy Yearbook, published in 1967, states, “It is essential that all persons who hold themselves out to be actuaries are qualified to perform their duties in a fully competent manner and in the public interest.” As a result, and over many years of dedicated efforts to establish and enforce standards of conduct, practice, and qualification, what we all now know to be our profession has earned the public’s trust—and today we continue to earn that trust in our individual and collective service.
This history reveals the intent in 1965 was for the Academy to be the national association that establishes standards for practice in the U.S., and the association that speaks on behalf of the U.S. actuarial profession on public policy issues. And this is what the Academy did, and does today.
Whenever I visit the Academy offices in Washington, D.C. (and I haven’t been there in almost a year), I always stop to look at the wall with photos of all the Academy presidents. They’re all on the wall in the main meeting room, a room which was recently redesigned and expanded. Coincidentally, the expansion came just as it was coming close to running out of room to add any more photos, and I kidded Immediate Past President Joeff Williams that he was the one who insisted on the redesign so that his photo could be added (even though the redesign was intended to allow the full Board to meet at the Academy offices). I marvel at the wisdom of the men and women who grace the “Wall of Presidents,” and at the professionalism framework they put in place that serves the U.S. actuarial profession so well. I like to think we are standing on their shoulders, and it inspires me to know that when I get back to Washington, I’ll be able to see my photo on that wall. I only hope that I can serve the actuarial profession as well as they did.
I guess that’s my New Year’s resolution for 2021 (I’m sure my wife has a few other ideas, but that’s another story.) I know that I won’t be alone in this endeavor. The Academy has a strong Board and Executive Committee, and a committed and talented group of volunteers. Plus, we have an incredible staff that is as capable and dedicated as they come. This gives me confidence that I will be able to keep that resolution!
Even though we don’t know what 2021 will bring, I hope it is a healthy, happy, and prosperous year for everyone!