After 35 years of practice, Steve Alpert, Immediate Past President of the American Academy of Actuaries, reflects on the role of professionalism in the actuarial community.
At its heart, professionalism reflects a continuous individual choice to take personal responsibility for one’s work; however, it is vitally important to be part of an environment and culture that supports making the right choices.
Although I am now retired, over my 35 years as a pension consultant with a large firm, I was fortunate enough to have been surrounded by a culture that had a near-religious devotion to quality, integrity and building trust our clients. This was a culture that started at the very beginning, emphasizing the importance of independent checking (doing things right) AND independent peer review (doing the right things). Throughout my career, regardless of whether I was an author, checker or peer reviewer, I have been mindful of the absolute necessity of all three roles, effectively operating under the mantra of “incorrect until proven correct” – an almost a 180-degree reversal from the more usual “guilty until proven innocent.”
"Throughout my career, regardless of whether I was author, checker or peer reviewer, I have been mindful of the absolute necessity of all three parts, effectively operating under the mantra of 'incorrect until proven correct' – an almost a 180-degree reversal from the more usual 'guilty until proven innocent.'"
Over time, I developed a tremendous appreciation for the actuarial standards of practice (ASOPs): not as a safe-harbor compliance checklist that would somehow automatically make my work “professional,” but rather as a guideline to think about all the ways our work could be scrutinized by clients, auditors and others, and how I could answer and anticipate those questions. In many cases, I have even found it helpful to apply the principled framework of the ASOPs and Code of Conduct to non-actuarial material or presentations.
This is a very different mindset than what we are taught through our education experience – including our actuarial exams! Instead of doing it yourself and even signing statements that you have neither given nor received aid on, all of a sudden the professional has to switch to a collaborative model. Personally, I have always welcomed probing questions, including checkers who ask about model specification or execution, or peer reviewers who ask about effective communication or understanding real client needs. My work has always been stronger and better as a result of that process. So much so, in fact, that not getting good questions from two sets of independent eyes always leaves me feeling uncomfortable; like I’m about to go outside without being properly dressed for the weather.
"My work has always been stronger and better as a result of that process."
After 35 years of practice, the ideals of professionalism are now so ingrained and hard-wired that I am amazed that non-actuarial professionals can function without the support that such a framework provides. In candid moments, they may privately admit that while they might aspire to some professionalism behaviors, it would be much easier if they had a codified framework and a supportive cultural environment, as actuaries do.
Immediate Past President,
American Academy of Actuaries