An Exceptional Woman in the Actuarial World

Mary Hardy, FSA, CERA, FIA, has had a tremendous impact on actuarial education and practice Claire Bilodeau
Photo: Getty Images/Eoneren
Image of Mary Hardy smiling
Mary Hardy, FSA, CERA, FIA

Mary Hardy, FSA, CERA, FIA, recently retired from her academic position at the University of Waterloo. The timing seemed right to ask her for an interview for the March issue of The Actuary Canada, as March 8 was International Women’s Day. She kindly accepted, almost making me feel like I was doing her a favor when, in fact, she was doing me one.

By the end of her career, Hardy had been promoted to the rank of professor emerita (the female equivalent of the more common professor emeritus). She downplayed the accomplishment when I mentioned it, but the fact is that I know of no other professor emerita in the actuarial world—and she could not think of anyone, either!

I had not prepared a long list of questions when I spoke with her, and most of what follows stems from my broad inquiry as to what made her proud. Since this final article is based on her own selection, do not expect an exhaustive list of her accomplishments.

Contributions to Actuarial Education

It was the early 2000s, and Hardy was convinced actuaries needed more, not less, math. In support of this belief, she ran for the Society of Actuaries (SOA) Board of Directors and was elected to her first term in 2004, first serving as director and then vice president. In short order, she was assigned to work with the Education department and set out on a path of SOA math enhancement (with an eye toward more rigor about how math was applied). It was a good thing she did. With more data than ever and increasingly complex insurance products, it is clear that actuaries indeed need more, not less, education around math.

The SOA’s education requirements change regularly. That is perfectly normal. A simple example is the move from Jordan to Bowers et al. to Dickson, Hardy and Waters to cover the topic of life contingencies. (Incidentally, Hardy is a coauthor of that reference, now in its third edition.)

When I took Exam 150 in 1992, it had a morning portion that was multiple choice and an afternoon portion that was written answer. The numbering changed, then it received letters, and those changed, too. More importantly, at some point, the written answer portion of the exam disappeared.

Hardy advocated for the return of written answers in preliminary exams. Thanks to her and likeminded others, Advanced Short-term Actuarial Mathematics (ASTAM) and Advanced Long-term Actuarial Mathematics (ALTAM) are written-answer exams in the current system. What is the point? Actuaries, as Hardy would argue, need not only to do the math, but they also need to communicate the math. Multiple-choice exams allow one to assess the ability to do the former but not the latter.

Along the same line of thought, Hardy contributed to the creation of a University of Waterloo course on research skills that started in 2021. The traditional Ph.D. comprehensive examinations validate that candidates have sufficiently mastered the science during their undergraduate years, but they reveal little about their potential as researchers. This course was designed to fill that void.

While on the SOA Board of Directors, Hardy was one of several volunteers who helped create the Centers of Actuarial Excellence (CAE) designation. I remember thinking this was a wonderful step in strengthening the ties between the profession and universities. Hardy said her hope was that the CAE designation would make the profession recognize the universities and, in turn, the universities would respect the profession. My own observation is that, indeed, it has helped build bridges. In particular, the CAE program has encouraged university actuarial programs to increase the number of tenure track faculty positions, including roles for credentialed actuaries.

A Pioneer in Academia and Actuarial Practice

I believe Hardy has had a significant impact on the actuarial profession as far as education is concerned. She also has made a clear difference in the profession at the intersection of research and practice.

In the “publish or perish” world of academia, as Hardy would testify, there is a tension between making research accessible and relevant and making it look harder and getting published. Hardy attests that this tension comes with a price—making the difficult choice between making a difference or being respected.

Hardy states her belief clearly that actuarial science is an applied discipline. Despite the long-standing tendency to encourage students who ace math to consider an actuarial career, Hardy believes actuaries are not so much like mathematicians but rather engineers who use math to solve real-world problems.

It is in that spirit that Hardy is proud of her pioneering work with Julia Wirch (now Viinikka) to develop and apply the conditional tail expectation (better known as CTE). She speaks with passion about that well-defined risk measure that has practical applications.

She also is proud to have played a role in the establishment of reserves for segregated funds. There was resistance at first, but she and other change agents, namely at the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) and in consulting firms, prevailed. Contributing to financial security mattered to Hardy, and I could tell from our conversation how important it was to her.

Difference and Change Maker

Hardy is passionate and eager to make a difference. Indeed, she has much to be proud of, including an SOA Lifetime Volunteer Award.

Video: SOA 2023 Lifetime Volunteer Award Honoree: Mary Hardy

Hardy admits that people find her annoying at times, and perhaps too outspoken or a bit stubborn. She believes that gender plays a role in this perception, as does neurodivergence (she is open about having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD]). But, in due time, she feels people often realize that she cares immensely. She speaks up not to annoy, but to express her views, beliefs and convictions in the hope of bringing about changes for the better.

The actuarial world is a better place because of Hardy. I trust she will keep making a difference during retirement, personally as well as through the people she inspired throughout her career.

Mary Hardy, FSA, CERA, FIA, recently retired from the University of Waterloo as professor emerita. She received the Society of Actuaries’ Distinguished Volunteer Service Award in 2020 and served on its Board of Directors from 2004 to 2009. She is based in Waterloo, Ontario.
Claire Bilodeau, ASA, ACIA, is an associate professor at Université Laval and a contributing editor for The Actuary Canada. She is based in Quebec City.

Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries or the respective authors’ employers.

Copyright © 2024 by the Society of Actuaries, Schaumburg, Illinois.