A few months ago, a commercial passenger flight covering a local route in Colombia faced an emergency: A few minutes after take-off, the aircraft lost its front landing gear due to a malfunction.
An emergency was declared, and the aircraft began to overfly to use up its fuel. Meanwhile, the airport prepared for an emergency landing. Firefighter and ambulance teams were deployed, while local and international flights scheduled to land at the airport were redirected to other cities. But, of course, no aircraft were allowed to depart from the runway.
The videos of the landing that were shared on social media were dramatic. Inside the plane, everyone was extremely nervous, as the flight attendant gave the same instructions she would give before landing on any flight: “We request that passengers remain in their seats with their seat belts fastened. We thank you for your cooperation.” A video filmed from the airport shows how the aircraft approached the runway like any other flight. First, the aircraft’s rear gear smoothly touched the runway, but sparks began to fly off what was left of the front landing gear when the nose dipped and hit the ground. The sparks hit the fuselage and engines as the plane slowed and finally stopped. The aircraft did not run off the runway or destabilize during the emergency landing. The video shows a normal landing when viewed from a distance, except for the sparks falling on the ground.
That landing was successful thanks to the pilot’s skill, who, with the support of the cockpit and ground crew, made all the right decisions to achieve a successful landing. In other words, thanks to good training, keeping a cool head and precise execution by the team of professionals, the outcome of this emergency was successful. Stated differently, everything turned out well thanks to the professionalism of the entire team responsible for the flight. In this article, I will summarize my conversations about professionalism with the CEO of an insurance company and the Director of Actuaries at Fasecolda (the Colombian Federation of Insurance Companies).
In general, the actuarial profession consists of providing advice on risk matters. It is, by definition, the science that builds scenarios for decision-making at any level. It therefore requires high professional standards to create the necessary level of trust in the decisions.
Academic training does not necessarily prepare graduates to face certain practical situations of the profession because despite the high level of professional or technical education, ethics and professional standards are only sometimes high. This is important because sometimes we must approach decisions that do involve not only technical issues but also a human perspective, which the professional must be prepared to address.
Professionalism can be viewed as a balance, meaning that an actuary must act with great prudence. Still, it must also contribute clarity so that such prudence does not lead to paralysis, producing no results.
There are no major differences in perceptions of professionalism in Colombia and other countries in the region. In the past, professionalism in Colombia was based on the self-management of each professional until the Colombian Actuaries Association became a full member of the International Actuarial Association (IAA) in 2013. Since then, courses on professionalism have been offered, which are aligned with international standards, and also involve continuous education and actuarial practice standards. Similarly, professionalism in other countries in the region is also linked to the membership of each country’s actuarial association in the IAA.
In Colombia, there are several regulatory requirements that incorporate actuarial mechanisms in the different lines of defense of insurance institutions, which means that we have increasingly reached a stage of maturity and an understanding that actuarial science is necessary for all types of decisions made by insurers.
The industry and the insurers are not knowledgeable about other actuarial associations at the local and international levels. At the international level, the associations in the U.S. are very prestigious. In the case of professions other than actuarial science, some professionals may use them to obtain a professional license, i.e., they only consider them a means to fulfill this requirement.
In many cases, professional associations are beneficial. They must have the capacity to qualify for the careers of the professionals they represent, and they must be a source of knowledge and a point of reference for the profession.
The fact that an actuary belongs to an actuarial association that follows international standards transmits a high level of confidence in the manner in which the association’s member carries out their work. Therefore, being a member should be synonymous with recognition, a differentiating quality, not only in terms of technical qualifications but also in ethical and professional ones. In other words, they are an integral professional. This fact is reinforced whenever serious breaches are found, in which case the association must take steps to adequately penalize those who fail to perform their professional duties.
The financial lives of the companies and individuals who take out an insurance policy and the beneficiaries of the social security system (health, pensions, occupational risks, etc.) are in our hands as actuaries. Consequently, professionalism must be incorporated into the day-to-day practice of our profession. Our professionalism is tested in difficult circumstances, as in the case of the commercial flight that started as “normal,” but due to the circumstances, became an emergency, which was handled professionally by all those involved. This enabled controlling the situation and its outcome, and even though it was a traumatic experience, it did not end up becoming a tragedy.
When matters that are in the interest of the general public are adequately managed by professionals, it implies that both in normal and exceptional circumstances, greater importance is assigned to the public interest than the interest of a specific individual. Therefore, the outcome of the events should be for the public benefit, which we have the honor and privilege of serving.
I thank Juan Enrique Bustamante (CEO of Seguros Mundial S.A.) and Oscar Velandia (Actuarial Director of the Colombian Federation of Insurers (Fasecolda)) for the ideas they shared during our conversation. Any errors, omissions, or inadequate interpretations that may appear in this article are mine.
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.
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