Inaugural Remarks of 2015-16 Academy President Tom Wildsmith at the American Academy of Actuaries Annual Meeting and Public Policy Forum in Washington, D.C.
November 12, 2015

WildsmithGood afternoon. I’m humbled, and deeply honored, by the trust that you, my fellow Academy members, have placed in me. Mary, thank you for the wisdom and strength you’ve shown in leading the Academy during this last year. I’ve benefited immensely from your example and guidance. Tom Terry, Cecil Bykerk, Ken Hohman – many people have been very generous with their time and counsel. Thank you. I’d also like to extend my public congratulations to our incoming President-Elect, Bob Beuerlein. Bob, I look forward to working with you.
The Academy is bigger than any one person. We have almost 19,000 members, and 1,400 volunteers. The Academy could not operate without them. I also want to recognize the Academy staff. I spent many years as a staff actuary for a trade association, so I have some sense for the challenges they face.
We should remember that we are a link in a chain. We are very fortunate to have past leaders, volunteers and charter members here with us today who go back to the very beginning of the Academy. Look around. The generations in this room represent a living history of the Academy.

History is important. It grounds us. It tells us who we are. And it can give us the wisdom we need to move into the future.

Fifty years ago, when the Academy was established, actuaries already had a long history in the U.S., and a well-established body of technical expertise. But something was missing. We did not have the standards and institutions necessary to be recognized as a self-regulating profession. The Academy was formed to fill that need.

The mission of the Academy is, first and foremost, to serve the public. We do that in two ways. We look outwards, beyond the profession, to provide independent and impartial actuarial analysis of important public policy issues. We also look inwards, at ourselves, to ensure that we as actuaries provide the public with the professionalism that it needs and deserves.

Our society has cheapened the concept of “professionalism,” perhaps because we’ve forgotten what it means. Business skill is not what makes someone a professional. Communication skills don’t make you a professional. The ability to give an effective presentation may be useful, but it doesn’t make me a professional. The heart of professionalism is recognizing our moral obligation to all the many people who may be affected by our work.

When it comes to professionalism, education is vital, but it’s not enough. Research is vital, but it’s not enough. Developing new techniques and advancing the frontiers of actuarial science are vital, but they aren’t enough. Just as wisdom is more than mere knowledge, professionalism is more than mere skill. We have a responsibility to our employers and clients. We have a responsibility to our own careers. But we also have an obligation to the public that can trump these other responsibilities.

The Academy provides the professional standards, institutions and discipline process for U.S. actuaries. But each and every one of us also has an individual responsibility. Professionalism is not just mechanical compliance with a checklist of technical rules; it’s a moral and ethical commitment to doing the right thing. We owe it to each other to foster a culture of professionalism, where ethical challenges are addressed responsibly and character is valued as highly as skill.

What separates the actuarial profession from other disciplines, such as financial analysts and health economists, is not that we’re smart. Lots of people are smart. We have the standards and institutions necessary to assure the public that we can, as a profession, be trusted. The Academy was founded so that the U.S. profession could earn that public trust.

Other actuarial organizations preserve and expand the technical and intellectual capital – the tools and techniques – that make what we do a science. The Academy has a different role. The Academy is the voice of the profession to the nation, and the guardian of the profession’s soul. We can’t be effective in doing the first if we’re not faithful in doing the second.

We have inherited a 50-year legacy of professionalism and service. As we enter the Academy’s next half-century, let us commit to passing that legacy on – untarnished and brighter than ever – to future generations.