By Ken Kent
In a world of multiple media communication channels and instant opinion delivery methods—and now with artificial intelligence becoming a source of what can be perceived as accurate—it can be increasingly challenging to determine what is the truth. Factual information is an increasingly precious commodity; at the same time, we are offered up various takes on what exactly the truth is. And in some areas, multiple truths can legitimately prevail where they represent opinions and speculations that have been rationally derived.
For the actuarial profession—as I have learned through my decades of volunteering—the American Academy of Actuaries has dedicated itself to providing unbiased actuarial positions and opinions in areas our members have dedicated themselves to pursue. That doesn’t mean we are the only source of truth, but it is fundamentally a part of the Academy and its over 1,000 volunteers and dedicated staff.
Getting to an unbiased actuarial position or opinion doesn’t just happen. The Academy’s work products begin with the gathering of volunteer actuaries from diverse areas of practice. All volunteers come with certain expectations, and ethicists teach us that we all have our own biases accumulated from our individual experiences in life. It is not difficult to appreciate that our areas of study and work can influence how we perceive any topic; I have never found actuaries shy in developing unique opinions as subject matter experts.
When the Academy engages diverse participants in a project—which happens when a drafting group develops a discussion paper, issue brief, or practice note—every individual has an equal opportunity to express their opinions. The process thus involves the search for the most unbiased result, individual bias gets boiled out, and consensus is built.
This process of collaboration with other actuaries has always fueled my attraction to volunteering. Learning from the exchange of different actuaries’ thoughts and opinions is a privilege and an opportunity. I have participated in broad Academy projects like consolidating and achieving approval of the Code of Professional Conduct (Code) by each of the U.S. actuarial organizations. Through this project, I learned how each word matters—their interpretation can be fascinatingly different and could shape of opinions about underlying intent. I also learned to appreciate the value of arriving at consensus and its rewards, as the Code continues to meet the needs of the actuarial profession.
I also had the privilege to participate in the Critical Review of the U.S. Actuarial Profession—another opportunity to engage in open discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of our profession in the U.S. We were endeavoring to protect our profession from being too accepting of our work processes without some consideration of how we are maintaining the public’s trust. Our task force was made up of a diverse group of actuaries representing different areas of practice, generations, gender, and professional experiences. Starting with a blank piece of paper, we arrived as some material areas for improving the profession that each of the U.S. actuarial organization accepted and addressed to improve our profession. Again, were it not for the Academy’s thoughtful processes, I would never have had the opportunity to work with the actuaries dedicated to this project, which exposed me to the diversity of thought around how we can measure the ability of the profession and the actuarial organizations can improve to meet and maintain the public’s trust.
Academy’s intentional process in everything we do
Today, each of the Academy’s practice councils, when identifying a new area for research and development of work product, begins with the gathering of diverse participants. The working process looks to each participant to be a part of the process and equally contribute and be includedin the final work product. The final product represents the best, unbiased work possible—work that is dedicated to provide information for our members, policymakers, and the publics we serve in factual, unbiased truths on behalf of the profession.
Thank you for allowing me to be a part as a volunteer!
It has been a great honor for me to serve as president of the American Academy of Actuaries this past year. I have yet again had an opportunity to work with a fascinatingly diverse Board of Directors, all of whom bring such enriching ideas and positions to our discussions on behalf of the profession, on behalf of all our members, and on behalf of the employers that support them.
Serving as president of the Academy has been the capstone of my volunteering journey. In this, my valedictory President’s Message in Contingencies, I want to share my biased position that volunteering in support of the actuarial profession—an undertaking that has been so rewarding for me personally, and for those of us who have experienced the value of serving every American by every improving the financial security systems as a byproduct of our work—can be one of the greatest opportunities for learning.