Change Is in the Air

Examining the latest updates to the SOA education system Kory J. Olsen

Periodic system updates—as consumers, we are accustomed to these. Updates to our computer and phone operating systems are needed to keep them running smoothly and to incorporate the latest efficiencies and new features. Occasionally, a new device is needed in order to take advantage of the latest features and efficiencies. The Society of Actuaries (SOA) education system similarly needs periodic reviews and updates.

The SOA education system will see a change in the summer of 2018 reflected in the ASA curriculum. The changes are addressing evolving industry challenges and needs, as well as incorporating subject matter on topics, such as predictive analytics, that require significantly increased coverage. The changes also provide the opportunity to better align topics within the SOA education system.

The ASA curriculum and components are the focus of the changes in 2018. However, the ASA revisions will have a ripple effect in regard to the FSA curriculum. The ripple effects will show up in the FSA curriculum in two key ways:

  • Realignment of the topics in the SOA educational system
  • Incorporating predictive analytics

Realignment of the Topics

The last time the FSA curriculum was changed significantly was in 2013. At that time, the two six-hour exams were replaced by two five-hour exams and one two-hour exam. This change gave all candidates the option of taking the four-hour Enterprise Risk Management Exam in place of the two-hour track-specific exam. It was an opportunity for all candidates to achieve their CERA designation on their way to fellowship in their chosen track. Along with this change was an opportunity to review and update the FSA curriculum.

The changes in the ASA curriculum affect the background that can be assumed for fellowship exams. The next logical step is to make the appropriate changes to the FSA curriculum. An example is that the topics currently on the Financial Economics Module (currently part of the FSA curriculum) are now mostly covered in the ASA curriculum. This frees up a FSA module slot and has provided an opportunity to better align material in the FSA curriculum. Note that the number, size and type of components that make up the FSA curriculum will not change—it is just where and how the material is covered that will change.

The Financial Economics Module is being used by four of the six FSA tracks. The other two tracks currently share the Financial Reporting Module. The FSA changes will eliminate these shared FSA modules, giving each track the opportunity to create a module that best works for that track, which may include components of the old modules.

Predictive Analytics

The FSA modules are an appropriate place to locate material that does not need to be rigorously tested or topics that are best taught with more interaction with the candidate. As candidates go through the new ASA predictive analytics components, the FSA tracks will appropriately reflect that change in their curriculums. The new modules are an opportune place to include predictive analytics material, as they are computer-based and allow for multiple interactions with candidates. It is a place to teach candidates using hands-on applications of how predictive analytics is used in their practice area.

The FSA curriculum committees have evaluated the material on their tracks, its placement and how it is assessed. The results of the evaluation vary by track, with different levels of changes needed. Most tracks will be creating a new module and will shift topics around on the exams. The Group and Health track has determined that to more effectively test its material, significant topics need to shift from one exam to another. This significant shift requires specific transition rules and segmenting the administration of parts of the exams during a transition time frame. The other tracks are able to use more straightforward transition rules.

The SOA e-Learning modules have been a key part of SOA education for more than 10 years. When they were launched, they were cutting-edge and not typically found in an educational curriculum. A lot has changed during the past 10 years. Computers have gotten faster with more capabilities, and e-Learning is a standard part of many education structures. During these 10 years, the SOA e-Learning modules have advanced and have been updated. The creation of new modules for each track will allow the SOA to develop and incorporate even more up-to-date techniques and abilities within the FSA tracks.

The roll-out of the new FSA track material will be staged to balance the resources needed to develop and implement a new module for each track. The first of the new modules is expected to be released in summer 2019. It is currently anticipated that all of the module work will be completed by the end of 2020. Specific details will be communicated to candidates and other stakeholders well in advance of the release of each new module. The SOA Education Curriculum Changes webpage will be kept up-to-date with all of the latest information. In addition to the webpage, email and other means of communication will be used to broadcast the information.

The education system structure and curriculum are key to keeping the SOA’s actuarial credentials relevant. Every few years, a review is done to ensure the right material is being covered and assessed in the best way. The changes to the ASA curriculum paved the way for enhancements to the FSA tracks. In this way, the SOA is committed to an ongoing cycle of review and revision to ensure a high-quality education for its members and the actuarial profession.

Kory J. Olsen, FSA, CERA, MAAA, is assistant vice president at Pacific Life Insurance Co. in Newport Beach, California.