Actuarial Professional Development Through an Evolutionary Lens

A look at how the SOA provides, determines, delivers, oversees and evolves PD content Mike Boot, Matthew Clark and Kelly Featherstone


Many leadership and management programs make use of analysis tools known as the “five whys” and the “five hows.” Developed as part of Toyota’s just-in-time (JIT) system in the 1950s, the five whys methodology involves asking the question “why?” five times in a row to get to the root cause of a problem. While asking “why?” five times can help find the cause of any problem, the five hows help uncover all of the details involved in the solution to that problem.

This article focuses on the five hows of professional development (PD) at the Society of Actuaries (SOA). Specifically, we examine how the SOA provides, determines, delivers, oversees and evolves PD content to best meet the needs of its members.

How does the SOA provide PD?

Each year, thousands of actuaries attend meetings and seminars (in-person and now virtually), listen to podcasts and on-demand recordings, participate in webinars and e-courses, and read research reports and other SOA publications. Beginning in April 2020, the SOA quickly transformed all of its in-person PD meetings to be virtual this year due to COVID-19, as members still need relevant content to gain knowledge in these challenging times. As pandemic data has emerged, the SOA has been at the forefront of providing educational and research information about the COVID-19 outbreak.

How does the SOA determine its PD content?

The SOA is committed to ensuring that at least 25 percent of its PD content is related to new regulations, emerging topics and techniques that have evolved over the past two years. To meet this objective, the SOA surveys section members on their evolving needs, carefully constructs requests for session proposals that prioritize new issues and new presenters, conducts ongoing environmental analysis of what is occurring in other industries and actively solicits employers regarding the needs of their actuaries.

Volunteers across the United States and around the world serve on the program committees for the SOA meetings and symposia to determine the topics of interest to the actuarial community. Content may be driven by current events, regulatory/reform changes or subjects of relevance to the various practice areas.

SOA professional interest sections (e.g., Financial Reporting, Health, Retirement, Leadership & Development, etc.) sponsor the majority of the SOA content. Each of the SOA’s 20 professional interest sections has an active role in recommending content for its section and is given a specific number of sessions to fill at each meeting. This is driven by a combination of enabling actuaries to meet the SOA Board of Directors continuing education requirements and interest level in the proposed topic.

How do volunteers get involved with providing PD content?

Each year, there are more than 1,200 actuaries who volunteer to provide content in a variety of ways:

  • Volunteers serve on program committees. Members who are interested in getting involved may join a professional interest section. The SOA Engage website also lists current opportunities for volunteers.
  • Volunteers act as meeting session coordinators who fully recruit the session content by sourcing speakers for the recommended topics.
  • Volunteers are presenters (and moderators) at the sessions. If you have a topic and would like to speak, each meeting has an open call for session proposals. The SOA is always actively seeking to expand the number of speakers and can provide necessary training tips.

How does the SOA oversee the PD program and look for ways to improve its quality and impact?

The Professional Development Committee (PDC) is an SOA Board-appointed committee made up of experienced volunteers and SOA staff. It assists with coordinating, identifying opportunities, and improving the delivery and quality of SOA PD programs. The current volunteers serving on the PDC are: Matthew Clark, FSA, CERA, CFA, MAAA (Chair); Kelly Featherstone, FSA, FCIA (Vice-Chair); Jerry Enoch, FSA, MAAA; Kelly Hennigan, FSA, CFA; Patrick Kinney, FSA, MAAA; Wendy Liang, FSA, CERA; Terry Long, FSA, MAAA; Marcus Robertson, FSA, FCIA; and Dirk Sack, FSA, FCIA.

A role critical to the PDC mandate is supporting the program committees for the SOA’s large meetings. The PDC sets goals to improve the quality and number of PD offerings. Key activities of the PDC include:

  • Supporting the SOA Board on topics related to continuing education, such as ensuring PD aligns with the overall mission and goals of the SOA and evaluating PD redesign recommendations.
  • Assisting with the programming and educational content at the major SOA meetings (i.e., Life & Annuity Symposium, Health Meeting, Valuation Actuary Symposium and the Annual Meeting & Exhibit) and advocating for continued diversity and inclusion across topics and speakers.
  • Debriefing after the major SOA meetings to identify any lessons learned and recognize outstanding sessions and speakers.
  • Scanning the business landscape for evolving techniques and issues to be incorporated into PD content.
  • Contemplating methods of content delivery, whether via an in-person meeting, virtual webinar, podcast, article or other mode.
  • Engaging with the SOA special interest sections to act as a liaison between the sections and the SOA Board, and supporting the development and delivery of section content.

How is the SOA currently expanding and improving PD focus areas?

PD Redesign & Engagement Strategy is a current SOA Strategic Initiative. In the last few years, the SOA added several new forms of PD, such as webcasts, e-Learning courses, e-Learning modules, podcasts, virtual sessions and short seminars attached to major meetings. Current goals related to PD include:

  • Expand and improve the delivery modes for PD to reach more members. There is a need to deliver content to actuaries who do not travel to in-person meetings. The recommendations include increased use of virtual platforms, enhanced partnerships with local actuarial clubs that would include regional roadshows, and additional use of e-Learning for PD. These recommendations were implemented to transform the 2020 Life & Annuity Symposium and the 2020 Health Symposium into virtual meetings, which reached more than 3,000 attendees combined.
  • Focus on employers as a target audience for professional development. Employers often control the opportunities and formats through which their actuaries/employees can obtain PD. The SOA plans to establish an increased connection with those who are PD decision-makers and those who oversee actuarial programs. It is imperative that the SOA build a direct connection and relationship with the people who are curating content or making decisions about PD.

The SOA keeps actuaries at the forefront of evolving methods for solving complex business problems and helps to keep the profession relevant by meeting the needs of actuarial employers and the public. By actively monitoring PD content, programs and delivery, the SOA and the PDC are able to identify how to best evolve PD to align with the current environment while continuing to maintain its excellent standards.

Mike Boot, FSA, MAAA, is managing director at the Society of Actuaries.
Matthew Clark, FSA, CERA, CFA, MAAA, is principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP.
Kelly Featherstone, FSA, FCIA, is director, Client Risk Management, at Alberta Investment Management Corporation.

Copyright © 2020 by the Society of Actuaries, Schaumburg, Illinois.