Professionalism Counts is a column in Actuarial Update, the Academy's monthly newsletter.
IN 'INTERESTING TIMES,' THE CODE IS ESSENTIAL
Pandemic. War. Inflation. The proverb “may you live in interesting times” certainly seems germane amid today’s headlines.
The last few years have brought increased pressure in many areas of life, whether personal or professional. The Global Business Survey found that in 2020, about a third of U.S. employees agreed that they experienced pressure to compromise their organizations’ workplace ethics standards, up from 16% in 2017.
In fact, the survey found that, in 2020, pressure on employees was the highest it had been since 2000. Not surprisingly, the same survey notes that previous research indicates that when pressure increases, observed misconduct also increases.
The Global Business Survey also reports that only one in five employees said they were in workplaces with a strong ethical culture. Luckily for actuaries, the professionalism infrastructure—the Code of Professional Conduct, the U.S. Qualification Standards, the actuarial standards of practice, and the Actuarial Board for Counseling and Discipline—surround actuaries with an ethical framework that supports us in making the right choices even when facing pressure to compromise ethics.
Codes of conduct or ethics are developed to create a strong ethical culture in a profession or organization, and our Code is no different. The Code sets forth what it means for actuaries to act as professionals, identifying the responsibilities that actuaries have to the public, their clients and employers, and the actuarial profession. The Precepts of the Code identify the professional ethical standards that actuaries must comply with to fulfill their responsibility to the public and to the profession.
As noted previously in these pages, maintaining the public’s trust in the actuarial profession is essential to retaining the profession’s self-regulated status. And that trust is earned every day by actuaries upholding the principles and ethics enshrined in the Code of Professional Conduct. Maintaining high levels of integrity, honesty, and competence is always important, of course, but it becomes even more important—and more difficult to do—when facing higher levels of pressure to act in a manner that does not uphold those high standards.
However, the most important reason to uphold these standards is not just to protect self-regulation for the profession, but to protect the ultimate end-users of the products actuaries work on—a homeowner whose house has been destroyed, a driver who has been in an accident, an older person relying on a pension to make ends meet, people in need of healthcare, and those trying to protect their families from the financial calamity the unexpected death of the family breadwinner can bring.
Integrity. Honesty. Competence. There can be no better watchwords for an actuary in these “interesting times.”