Choose Your Own Development Adventure

The future of workforce development zones in the actuarial space Darryl Wagner and Max Geifman


How could work change for an actuary who is staffing a model conversion team and has the flexibility to ignore the home address on resumes and choose from talent pools in New York, Denver and London? How could work-life balance change if organizations took into account the diverse circumstances of its multigenerational and multicultural workforce and implemented policies and programs accordingly? What could the quarter close experience be like if the first draft of quarterly earnings results was produced almost entirely by a machine, and an actuary could start analyzing movements on Day 1?

In 2019, the reality depicted in the responses to these questions may have seemed far-fetched. However, the events of 2020 acted as a time machine to a new era of work where some of these questions have turned into reality and required working professionals to adapt.

Actuaries are not exempt from such changes. They are, however, in a position to successfully adjust to this new landscape through evolution into more elevated and dynamic roles called “super jobs.” To achieve this evolution, actuaries may need to be more versatile and expand their skill set beyond that of a traditional actuary. While “soft skills,” which will shortly be reintroduced as “human capabilities,” were always important, being able to leverage and develop them is more critical than ever in this new era of work. Both individual actuaries and their employers bear the responsibility to usher in this new shift while working together to create the actuary of the future.

What Are Super Jobs?

The nature of actuarial work is rapidly changing, and with it so are actuarial roles and responsibilities. According to Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends Report,1 many jobs already have evolved from “standard jobs” to “hybrid jobs” and are trending toward “super jobs.”

  • A standard actuarial job requires a defined and consistent skill set, including a strong base in mathematics, knowledge of insurance products and familiarity with actuarial models. These standard jobs tend to have repeatable tasks and standard processes. Examples include pricing a specific insurance product and doing periodic reserve calculations.
  • As technology advances, actuaries have expanded their technical skill set and refined their soft skills. With this new skill combination, actuarial roles with the same basic elements as standard actuarial jobs have elevated into a new category of hybrid jobs.
  • Super jobs “combine work and responsibilities from multiple traditional jobs, use technology to both augment and broaden the scope of work performed, and involve a more complex set of domain, technical and human skills.”2

One example of an actuarial super job is an “earnings storyteller” who describes the drivers, impacts and significance of earnings in a broad and timely way that allows for informed decision-making. Within the context of long-duration targeted improvements (LDTI) to U.S. generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) for insurance, they may communicate to nonactuaries how deferred acquisition cost (DAC) balance and reserves change as specific actuarial assumptions are updated.

A second example of an actuarial super job is a chief data scientist who oversees an organization’s effort to extract new insights from data to manage organizational risk. Deloitte has seen this evolution occur within its own actuarial practice. Deloitte’s Data Science practice began as a group of actuaries who were interested in using advanced computer techniques to solve problems from the ground up. In the early stages, the team was called Advanced Quantitative Services—before the term “data science” was in vogue.

The practice started in insurance but ultimately expanded across multiple industries. As the practice evolved, the once “traditional” actuaries needed to expand their skill set beyond the exam curriculum and what was needed for their previous roles. While today’s practice has many nonactuaries on staff, actuaries are still needed to solve data science problems given their high-quality combination of programming skills and business knowledge that a typical data scientist may not have. For example, with the development of complex cloud-based models, actuaries are needed to analyze potential risks and use their business background to narrow down the list of runs to save time and money.

While there may be many types of actuarial super jobs in the future, one thing is for certain: These roles will require a diverse set of skills, collaboration with other business functions and a mindset focused on outcomes delivered rather than tasks completed. Actuaries need to make sure they are prepared for this future.

Defining Skills Versus Capabilities

An important distinction is the difference between “skills” and “capabilities,” which are sometimes referred to as “soft skills” or “human capabilities.” Skills are defined as tactical knowledge or expertise needed to achieve work outcomes within a specific context. Skills are generally quantifiable and can be learned or trained within a short period of time. As shown in Figure 1, examples of skills include certain business or functional knowledge (such as a deep understanding of a specific product or regulatory process) as well as technical abilities (e.g., Visual Basic for Applications [VBA] or actuarial modeling systems). Skills are time bound—one moment a skill can be in high demand, and the next it can be obsolete.

Capabilities, on the other hand, are observable human attributes that are demonstrated independent of context and are applicable across jobs. Capabilities are not learned directly, but rather they are cultivated and amplified with the help of others. As seen in Figure 1, rather than being time bound, capabilities are timeless in their applicability.

Figure 1: Examples of Skills and Capabilities

Business and Functional Skills Technical Skills Capabilities
Product knowledge VBA Experimenting
GAAP knowledge Actuarial modeling platform Communication
Knowledge of actuarial guidelines Written communication Drive
Investment portfolio knowledge Microsoft Excel acumen Emotional intelligence
Experience study knowledge PowerPoint skills Adaptability
Project management SQL coding Risk-taking
Knowledge of rate-making process Predictive analytics Decisiveness
Risk management Algorithm design Resilience

Shifts in Workforce Development

To prepare for this future of work, how can actuaries and their employers prepare? Seventy-four percent of organizations surveyed in a recent Deloitte study say reskilling the workforce is important or very important for their success over the next 12 to 18 months, but only 10 percent say that they are very ready to address the trend.3 So, there is likely much work to be done.

However, with staff attrition rates increasing, some companies may be more hesitant to invest in upskilling their employees just to have them leave for a different company. This brings up the anecdote of the CFO versus CEO. The CFO asks, “What happens if we spend all of this money to train our employees and they leave?” The CEO replies, “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”

With the need to develop the actuarial workforce in mind, there are three main shifts to how companies can better prepare their actuaries for the future of work and how individual actuaries can contribute to their own development.

Shift 1: Cultivating Capabilities First, Skills Second

Not surprisingly, many organizations focus their workforce development programs on fostering development of skills. According to another Deloitte survey, 45 percent of organizations responded that they reward workers for the development of new skills4 and only 34 percent reward for entrepreneurial behavior.5 For many employers of actuaries, compensation structure is heavily dependent on exams passed and designations obtained, which are based on skills.

There is an opportunity for organizations to create reskilling and upskilling programs that put the focus on cultivating enduring capabilities first and skills second. Companies can consider immersive training sessions that mimic real industry scenarios and challenge participants to exercise their capabilities while also learning a new skill (e.g., predictive analytics).

Other ways for organizations to foster capability development include:

  • Encouraging open conversations with management in the form of a “coffee chat.” This is an opportunity for junior employees to discuss organizational strategy with leaders and receive constructive feedback where applicable.
  • Promoting mental health. Similar to how athletes have psychiatrists on hand to nurture their mental health, companies could train management in how they can help foster strong mental health for their employees or have specially dedicated staff for this purpose. Managers can learn how to keep employees confident, encourage them to try new opportunities in their careers and keep employees motivated during periods of poor performance.

Employees also play a specific role in the development of enduring capabilities. Workers should consider self-reflection to postulate which of their capabilities needs development and seek out development opportunities accordingly. They should also take advantage of the programs their companies offer and recognize the potential long-term impact on their careers.

Consider how this shift in workforce development would apply to an actuary interested in the earnings storyteller super job. Important capabilities for such a role include communication, critical thinking and big-picture thinking. Organizations can offer learning days that challenge teams to solve enterprise-level questions for the business using data that culminate in mock presentations to leadership. Participants also can receive skill training if use of visualization software is required for the final presentation.

Shift 2: Enabling Learning in the Flow of Work

A Health Perspective

Randy Gordon, MD, a managing director with more than 30 years of experience in health care, offers this perspective on how the role of the physician may change in the health care field.

Currently, health systems are preparing physicians for a future that is likely to look very different from today. Numerous trends are disrupting the traditional health care ecosystem: increasing costs, declining health outcomes, value-based payment models, personalized care and a fundamental shift from treating illness to enabling wellness.

In the next 20 years, radically interoperable data and increasing consumer engagement will transform health care as we know it. Already, the evolving care model is blurring traditional health care boundaries, opening the door to nontraditional players and spawning new ways to address the standard “jobs to be done” of delivering care and sustaining well-being.

As new companies enter the market and patient expectations evolve, gaps in current physician training and care delivery are revealed. Today’s health revolution is being catalyzed by new orthogonal market entrants, machine learning and technology acceleration, and the new talent reality imposed by COVID-19. To address existing challenges of physician burnout and shortage, reskilling of the physician workforce will be necessary to emphasize empathetic care delivery, virtual technology training and virtual patient communication. No longer will physicians be viewed solely as care deliverers, but rather care integrators. Their role will transform the role of the caregiver and align to the future of health and preventative care.

The next shift in workforce development is enabling learning in the flow of work rather than training being a separate exercise or requirement. Organizations that implement learning in the flow of work experience greater business outcomes and realize 107 percent higher three-year average earnings per share than less mature organizations, as well as a 59 percent higher three-year average share price.6 Learning through on-the-job experiences often yields better learning gains and retention than traditional classroom or webcast instruction.

Companies can achieve this in a few different ways, including implementing apprenticeships or job shadow programs, offering rotational programs for junior employees and promoting coaching programs through performance management. All of these give employees exposure to different roles across levels within the company. Another option to implement learning in the flow of work could be to install digital collaboration programs that facilitate sharing of best practices among people doing similar work across teams and business units.

Individual actuaries can also make adjustments to better enable learning in their flow of work. Workers can routinely leverage available digital collaboration programs or offer to do cross-training with people in similar roles to increase transparency across the company as well as provide an opportunity for workers to speak confidently about their day-to-day work to an audience that may not know about the job. Additionally, many actuaries work in seasonal roles that have periods that are busy and others that are slow. Such actuaries can take the initiative during the lull periods to practice new processes they inherit or improve existing processes to give them experience with new platforms and allow them to take on a bigger role or be more impactful during the busy periods.

How could learning be enabled in the flow of work for an actuary interested in the data science super job? An organization can create a job shadow or apprenticeship program through which actuaries can observe and assist with side projects for data science managers. This should allow an actuary to gain a greater understanding of the work of data scientists and how to better position themselves for such a role. Additionally, companies that have a rotational program can include positions that allow actuaries to rotate into data science jobs, such as a role in an experience study or an accelerated underwriting project.

Shift 3: Unleashing the Passion of the Explorer

The final shift is for companies to ignite workers’ passion for exploration by challenging them to solve unseen and future problems. Companies can incentivize this behavior through a reward system rooted in capability development and value delivered to the business rather than tasks completed or hours worked. Companies can consider creating “bring your own challenge” (BYOC) programs where they put time aside periodically to allow employees to work on side projects where they may learn new skills and hone capabilities.

Another potential opportunity is to create an internal “gig” platform that connects employees to problems that need solving across the business. Often, when a team lead needs temporary staff, they look within their own workstream or business function. An internal gig platform allows a lead to post a role, review submitted resumes and select the best fit based on talent and availability. This benefits the organization through flexible staffing, the “gig” employee through development opportunities and the destination team through exposure to someone from elsewhere in the organization.

If an actuary sees an opportunity for personal development through a role on another team, a learning program or seminar, or pursuit of a certificate, they should know companies generally are supportive of such initiative and often have funds reserved for learning purposes. Putting together a clear business case for how the learning opportunity will provide additional value to the organization and increase meaning in their own work is the first step in obtaining approval.

For the data science super job example, companies with internal gig platforms naturally create opportunities that connect those interested in working on data science problems with opportunities to do so within the company. These opportunities may be full-time roles, or they may be specific problems a business area may have for which they need a solution. One example is an underwriting or in-force management team looking to come up with a way to detect potential sales fraud.

Looking Forward

The future of work arrived sooner than expected, and more change is coming. To stay competitive, organizations need to prioritize investments in their people through workforce development. This includes creating an environment and culture that is conducive to learning, thereby molding the talent they need rather than defaulting to acquiring it externally. It also includes a mindset shift from skill development to capability development to elevate the profession. The goal is to develop people, so they have the agility required to thrive in a dynamic and ever-changing work environment.

Darryl Wagner, FSA, MAAA, is a principal in the Hartford, Connecticut, office of Deloitte Consulting LLP and leads Deloitte’s Global Actuarial & Insurance Solutions practice.
Max Geifman, ASA, is a consultant at Deloitte Consulting LLP with experience in the life insurance industry and with the future of work.

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