Professionalism Counts is a column in Actuarial Update, the Academy's monthly newsletter.
PRECEPT 10: COURTESY AND COOPERATION
Courteous communication and behavior are essential to any relationship, whether personal or professional. In most situations, keeping things cordial is not difficult. But sometimes, emotion flares, and we do or say things we come to regret. Precept 10 of the Code of Professional Conduct goes straight to the heart of some of the most difficult situations actuaries can face in their professional lives—a difference of opinion with another actuary or a principal consulting with another actuary—and reminds us that even then, the profession expects every actuary to act with courtesy and cooperation. As Precept 10 states, “An Actuary shall perform Actuarial Services with courtesy and professional respect and shall cooperate with others in the Principal’s interest.”
Several annotations provide more detail about some of the difficult situations an actuary may face and how to handle them. Annotation 10-1 recognizes that actuaries may have different opinions, particularly in the choice of assumption and methods, which can lead to different end results. In addition, the Code does not prevent or constrain actuaries from providing an alternate opinion, recognizing that, in some situations, “the best interest of the Principal would be served by the Actuary’s setting out an alternative opinion to one expressed by another actuary, together with an explanation of the factors that lend support to the alternative opinion” (annotation 10-3). When discussing such differences or alternate opinions with the other actuary or with the Principal, or when discussing the other actuary’s work, you should always discuss them “objectively and with courtesy and respect.”
In some cases, a principal may wish to retain more than one actuary to advise on the same matter. Annotation 10-2 notes that a principal has every right to do so but suggests that, if you are approached to take on a role as a second or successor actuary, it may be a good idea to reach out to the first actuary to learn more about the situation and prepare for the assignment. However, under annotation 10-4, the principal’s consent is needed for such consultation; if it is withheld, you may want to reconsider accepting the assignment. In some cases, consultations with the other actuary may reveal circumstances involving a potential violation of the Code.
Finding yourself as the original actuary in such a situation would no doubt be upsetting. If you are the original actuary, and the principal has consented to the new actuary contacting you for information, you must cooperate in furnishing relevant information in a timely manner, subject to receiving reasonable compensation for the work required to assemble and transmit pertinent data and documents (annotation 10-5). You may not refuse to cooperate based on unresolved compensation issues, unless such refusal is in accordance with a pre-existing agreement with the principal. You need not, however, provide items of a proprietary nature, such as internal communications or computer programs. Providing information to another actuary promptly is important—the Academy has disciplined two actuaries for Precept 10 violations, both related to furnishing relevant information to another actuary.
You might read this and think, “Why do I need such reminders? Of course, I will conduct my interactions with others with courtesy and cooperation!” But it is easy to say that when you are not facing one of these situations. Unfortunately, human nature is such that emotions often get the better of us. When someone challenges our work, or perhaps wants to replace us (thus threatening our livelihood), we tend to get angry and defensive. Speaking or acting with courtesy isn’t always instinctive. If you find yourself in one of these situations and are not quite sure what to do, consider calling the Actuarial Board for Counseling and Discipline (ABCD) with a request for guidance.