Take the Plunge

The benefits of volunteering at the SOA Brian L. Louth

Volunteers are helping hands. Their efforts help improve the quality of life for individuals and communities at large. The community of actuaries benefits significantly from the myriad activities and efforts of countless volunteers, and I am proud to be one of them.

Satisfaction Through Accomplishment

Results from an informal survey of the motivations and reasons some people volunteer:

Contribution to a community

  • Help in a meaningful way
  • Share skills
  • Demonstrate commitment
  • Stand up and be counted

Personal development

  • Learn something new or do something different that leverages skills
  • Gain leadership skills
  • Be involved in something different than your job
  • Bring a fresh perspective back to work
  • Seek satisfaction through accomplishment

Social activities

  • Make new friends
  • Be part of a team
  • Get to know a community
  • Feel needed
  • Give in to the pressure from a friend
  • Keep busy

Ever since I can remember, volunteering has been a part of my world. When I was growing up, my mom was deeply involved with the church and the local hospital. My dad now embraces the volunteer spirit in his retirement. These role models motivated me to get involved and become a volunteer. Coaching hockey, delivering meals to the elderly in high school and assisting a visually impaired person in college were just the starting points of my volunteer efforts.

Recently, my volunteer energy has been focused on the actuarial community. I hope my efforts with the Society of Actuaries’ (SOA’s) Education Committee have supported the SOA’s commitment to the education and development of new actuaries, and encouraged and influenced the personal growth of the volunteers involved in the SOA Education system.

We all have our reasons or motivations for volunteering. In some cases it is driven from a personal experience or connection to a specific problem, illness or cause. The best volunteering tends to involve a desire to help others, but it is OK to gain some personal benefits. When you see the benefits to the recipient and yourself, it tends to strengthen your commitment.

My observation is that the reasons that motivate you to get involved may not be the ones that motivate you to continue volunteering. As long as your efforts are appreciated, and you are accomplishing something and making a difference, you are more likely to continue. And it really helps when you are able to have some fun and enjoy the personal connections with the volunteers with whom you work!

What Makes a Good Education Volunteer?

Being dependable and willing to undergo training to meet the volunteer commitment standard are essential attributes. With the SOA Education system, you are expected to complete time-sensitive assignments to the best of your ability. You are part of a team that is investing in you.

However, don’t overburden yourself. Don’t overcommit. Don’t forget your day job. And remember that it is always helpful to be patient and diplomatic.

What insights have I gained from my volunteer roles?

  1. I have been very fortunate to get to know actuaries from across North America—actuaries I might never have had the opportunity to meet because of their job focus or where they work. I have developed some long-lasting friendships, and there are some grading partners I have known for over 20 years.
  2. I learned to play poker, but not very well.
  3. It reduces stress (well, maybe). I have read that volunteers have better mortality and health. I have yet to see this make its way through predictive analytics into the underwriting selection process, or to lower premium rates for preferred volunteers.
  4. SOA presidents are approachable and interesting to talk to. I have had the opportunity to meet many of the SOA presidents during my time on the Education leadership team. I remember one exam review session that included the president-elect of the SOA. He felt that one question and answer did not properly represent the intentions of the syllabus material. We had an extensive discussion, and the president-elect decided the only way to resolve the matter was to call the author of the study note. He laid out the issue and explained his position to the author. When he finished the call, he told us we were right and that we should move on to the next question. That impressed me!
  5. Teamwork and collaboration can accomplish a lot more than individuals working on their own. There are a lot of really bright actuaries who can contribute and more, if you stay out of their way and let them.

When I look back today, I am really pleased with the choice I made to get involved with the Education Committee. It has been a long journey that included exam grading, writing questions, writing pass mark reports, approving pass mark reports, training item writers and graders, and reviewing discipline cases. I learned something from every role, but I think developing exam questions for fellowship exams has been one of the most rewarding roles.

Volunteering at the SOA has provided me with the opportunity to make a meaningful impact on the actuarial profession. I have grown personally by gaining new skills that I now leverage at work and in my personal life. That same experience is waiting for you. Enlist, sign up, step forward and take the plunge!

Brian L. Louth, FSA, FCIA, is senior vice president of business development and chief marketing officer, RGA Life Reinsurance Company of Canada, in Toronto.