President's Message



By Maryellen Coggins

There aren’t many hours of sunlight on these dreary winter days. But it cheers the spirit to know that beneath the surface of the chilly topsoil, patient flower bulbs—dazzling daffodils, slender tulips, fragrant hyacinth—are biding their time, waiting for the season of renewal to come.

It is a season of renewal at the Academy as well. Every year, November sees a new cadre of leaders take their positions on the Board of Directors—vice presidents of practice councils, regular directors, and officers. That leadership transition is echoed throughout the Academy volunteering edifice, with chairpersons stepping down after fulfilling their duties and new leaders sliding into their positions, ready to continue the Academy’s mission to serve the public and the U.S. actuarial profession.

In 2021, this theme of renewal was amplified when longtime Executive Director Mary Downs announced her much-deserved retirement after faithfully serving the Academy for so many years. Bill Michalisin has stepped into his role as the new executive director in a period of great transition and has been leading the charge to make sure the Academy continues to serve its membership and the profession at large.

Since taking the presidential mantle from Tom Campbell at the Annual Meeting, I’ve been pleased to see how smoothly these moments of renewal have occurred. And I’m eager to take the opportunity afforded by this moment—this natural period of transition—to set the Academy on a path that will ensure the organization’s continued relevance well into the future.

As part of this future-seeking effort, the Board has naturally turned to the Academy’s Strategic Plan1 to light the path forward. I’d like to reiterate a few of the topics that I raised during my inaugural remarks at the Annual Meeting this past November.

  1. Deepening member value and stakeholder relationships. From learning programs to volunteer training, we’re looking at ways to add value to your membership.
  2. Advancing professionalism through enhanced resources and guidance. The Academy produces volumes of professionalism materials each year in an effort to keep members (and other stakeholders) apprised of important considerations necessary for the completion of their work. Look for those efforts to increase in the coming year.
  3. Amplifying public policy voice through research and knowledge-sharing. Likewise, the organization already speaks to interested parties at the state, federal, and international levels; our objective, independent voice is a welcome one in any forum. One area we’ll continue to expand in the months ahead is that of original research.
  4. Growing awareness and brand impact. While you know the value of Academy membership, we need to continue to expand our reach—so those you may come into contact with immediately understand what the letters “MAAA” signify.
  5. Optimizing the organization’s performance. The Academy staff, under Bill’s leadership, has already begun a series of departmental meetings to determine where efficiencies can be gained, new technologies can be leveraged, and cross-functional teams can be brought to bear to serve membership.

I’d like to shine a light on some of the key initiatives the Academy has underway or has just wrapped up.

  • Climate change—The Academy has been at the forefront of this issue for years. From the joint effort that produced the Actuaries Climate Index, to the Academy-championed Actuaries Climate Risk Index; from monographs on wildfire and flood that take into consideration the effects of a changing climate, to burgeoning research on the effects of climate change on health care and health insurance—the Academy is attacking this issue from all angles.
  • Cyber risk—A toolkit released last year is just the latest in a series of consumer-focused deliverables the Academy has drafted and disseminated.
  • Data science—Another ongoing consumer-focused initiative is that of data science and artificial intelligence. A major paper released late last year, Big Data and Algorithms in Actuarial Modeling and Consumer Impacts, considers how developments in big data and artificial intelligence may impact insurance offerings and their oversight. Look for more in this area soon.
  • Diversity, equity & inclusion—I’m pleased with the good work the Academy’s Health Equity Work Group and the Data Science and Analytics Committee (among other work groups) are doing in this important space, and I believe their efforts can be a model for similar original research in other practice areas.
  • The amended U.S. Qualification Standards—Finally, the Academy’s Committee on Qualifications just culminated its work on updating the qualification standards that all actuaries practicing in the United States must adhere to. See our feature on the USQS in this issue for more on this vital topic.

Any reflection on renewal would be incomplete without considering the future of the profession—the actuarial students who will make up the actuaries of tomorrow. And the Academy is already focused on serving them. Student groups and national associations of students reach out to the Academy for speakers, and we’re always more than happy to help. Building a strong pipeline into the profession just makes good strategic sense. Introducing students to the infrastructure of professionalism that the Academy maintains—the Code of Professional Conduct, the actuarial standards of practice, and U.S. Qualification Standards, and the discipline process—builds a foundation that will serve them, and the profession, for years to come.

Though the hours of daylight may be few, I’m heartened to know that the just below the surface of many a flower garden across the country, spring is about to… well, spring. Similarly, I’m pleased that this period of renewal is underway at the Academy. And I’m confident that we’ll emerge from it stronger than ever, and ready to serve members, and the profession, for 2022 and beyond. 



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