Weathering the Winds of Change

What happens next to the profession depends on us Andrew D. Rallis

Photo: Adam Donohue

The following is an excerpt from Andrew D. Rallis’ presidential luncheon speech at the 2019 SOA Annual Meeting & Exhibit. Read the speech in its entirety.

Serving as Society of Actuaries (SOA) president means I can both give back and pay it forward. I believe I’m here at the right time. Throughout the year, I will continue to listen and communicate with transparency to members, while keeping pace with the challenges and opportunities fast approaching our profession.

Let me pause for a word of thanks to our immediate past president Jim Glickman. He has been a model of volunteerism, giving us year after year of his time, helping young people start their careers, working on committees, serving on our Board and as president. Jim has left the SOA as strong as it has ever been, with a growing membership and volunteer base, and he has strengthened relationships with our sister actuarial organizations.

I have been handed the baton, and what happens next to the profession depends on us. There are strong winds of change that could threaten to blow us backward, but if properly harnessed, could propel us forward. To turn these headwinds to our advantage, I plan to focus our attention in three areas:

  • Globalization of the industry and the profession
  • New technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Transforming our leadership abilities to help meet the needs of our constituents

Our work as actuaries is global. Many actuaries work for companies that are owned by foreign entities or for companies that themselves own foreign entities. That alone means actuaries are often called on to work across borders and to be familiar with different regulators. But more so, our actuaries today are increasingly mobile and may work for one type of company in one part of the world and move on to work in a completely different kind of company or role in another part of the world.

Consider the stories of two SOA members who I count amongst my closest friends and colleagues.

Lisa Kuklinksi, FSA, MAAA, started her career in a way very similar to me—at the student program at MetLife. In fact, we both attended Stuyvesant High School. Early in her career, she jumped on the opportunity to take a rotation in Mexico, which she eventually parlayed into the chief actuary role of U.S. and Latin America for MetLife. She has served on the SOA’s Latin America Subcommittee. She is newly elected to the SOA Board and will now lead our International Committee as chair.

Or, consider Siyi Sun, FSA, CERA, MAAA. I first met Siyi when MetLife acquired the ALACO division of AIG, where she worked in the valuation department. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and her master’s from Arizona State. I had the honor of mentoring Siyi in MetLife’s International Asset/Liability Management practice, and then in our Asia regional chief actuary role in Hong Kong. Now she is the general manager and CEO of MetLife’s China joint venture.

These are only two of the remarkable actuaries who developed their careers in ways to rise up and meet the globalization of the profession. I know there are many more. We can no longer take for granted that our careers will begin and end in the same geography, or that we can safely ignore developments in other parts of the world. That’s why the work of our International Committee is so important. The SOA has subcommittees focused on China, greater Asia and Latin America. I intend to make that work a priority, and I hope you’ll join me in that effort. You will see us continue our International Strategy Review and stay fully committed to our work with the International Actuarial Association Renewal Task Force.

You can expect our pre-qualification syllabus to underscore the influence of international business issues, such as International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), so you, too, can cross those borders and bring the SOA’s highest standards to new markets.

And while we continue to stretch our arms around the globe, we’re going to fully embrace AI, too. In fact, actuaries have been embracing new technologies for decades. Anyone remember when it was state-of-the-art to use thick volumes of commutation tables to compute actuarial values? How much have our lives already changed with the use of distributed processing, simulation models based on first principles and, most recently, predictive analytics?

Now, AI will disrupt our work again, and, like before, if we expand our toolkit accordingly, we’ll be able to incorporate AI into our work. As actuaries, we can harness our skills to transcend any given technology.

To see what I mean, consider an actuary like Carlos Brioso, FSA, CERA. Carlos is director at the Center for Data Science and Analytics at New York Life. I don’t know Carlos personally, but I have been following his story due to another enviable title he earned: Kaggle Competition Master.

As many of you know, Kaggle Competitions bring together the best talent from multiple fields around the world. And to achieve the rank of master, as Carlos has done, one needs to win multiple competitions in predictive analytics.

Carlos is one of the stars of the SOA Kaggle Involvement program. Last year, Carlos ranked in the top 1 percent of more than 96,000 data science competitors globally. And he’s one of ours. To win, Carlos needed to master algorithms and machine learning, but that wasn’t all. He understands business and the importance of team collaboration.

That’s what the best among us bring. My aspiration for the SOA is that we be the place where young professionals get to work side-by-side with actuaries like Carlos and other AI pioneers.

Last, I want to talk about the transformation I think we as actuaries must pursue to take our leadership to the next level. This will require us to rise to the challenge in four key areas:

  • Excellence
  • Listening
  • Integrity
  • Creativity

The first is excellence. In a way, globalization and AI are aspects of this. We must know when, where and how to bring the right technology into play to solve the problems of our stakeholders. Excellence is what they expect of us. However, before we can solve those problems, we must truly understand them—which is why “listening” is also foundational to leadership. And “integrity” is closely linked to professionalism—how we go about our work matters as much as arriving at the right answer. Finally, “creativity” is a key ingredient. No machine can take the place of human ingenuity. It means looking deeper at the problem than an algorithm can. It means looking at the big picture.

To fulfill my vision of enhancing the SOA in these areas, I’m going to need your help. My fellow board members and I will be listening for your ideas in a variety of ways throughout the year. I know this year is going to go by fast. Whether in the areas of globalization, AI and transforming, I’ll need your help and guidance along the way.

Please, please volunteer your time and share your views. I’m a good listener, and I promise your ideas will help me secure the profession for future generations.

Andrew D. Rallis, FSA, MAAA, is president of the Society of Actuaries.

Copyright © 2019 by the Society of Actuaries, Chicago, Illinois.