Farewell Remarks of 2016-17 Academy President Bob Beuerlein
at the American Academy of Actuaries Annual Meeting and Public Policy Forum in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 14, 2017
 
Beuerlein: It has been said: “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” (The quote is from Carl Sandberg.)
 
How did the Academy spend its coin over the past year? Not what did we do, but how did we use our precious time? I believe that the answer is ‘wisely.’ Did we allow others to spend our coin or did we move forward in advancing the Academy’s mission for the good of the U.S. actuarial profession and the U.S. public. 
 
In thinking about the answer to this question, I would like to acknowledge the assistance and advice that I have had from a group of former presidents (Cecil Bykerk, Ken Hohman, Tom Terry, Mary D. Miller and Tom Wildsmith) who I conferred with several times a month to tap into the wealth of experience that they have had over the years and our president elect Steve Alpert.  Thanks so much to this great group. 
 
I would also like to commend the staff of the Academy, who is committed to the U.S. actuarial profession and works tirelessly to support our members and volunteers.  Most people have no idea how much good work goes on behind the scenes thanks to the professional staff of the Academy. But I would like to formally thank Mary Downs and her great staff for their enormous assistance in advancing the Academy’s mission.
 
And finally I would like to thank my wife Sue for all of her support over the past year.  For those of you that don’t know Sue, she is the ultimate ambassador for the actuarial profession.  She actually enjoys being around actuaries and their spouses and always has great things to say about the actuarial profession.  Having her with me on some of the many business trips has made this year even more enjoyable.
 
But back to our question – how did the Academy spend its coin over the past year?  Let me share with you a phrase that the board reminded itself each time that we met this year: When we lose our why, we lose our way. 
 
What is the why for the American Academy of Actuaries? Because if we don’t know why the Academy exists, we don’t know our way… we don’t know where we are going.  The why has not changed since our inception in 1965. Our why has always involved two concepts…Professionalism and Public Policy. And whether it be our board, our committees, our practice councils or whatever, if we know our why, we will not lose our way.
 
But in this ever changing world, we may be tempted to change our why.  Think about today’s important issues:
  • Big Data and predictive analytics.
  • Implementing principle-based reserves.
  • Reforming the reformed healthcare system.
  • Pension plans in a continued low-interest environment but stronger economy.
  • Flood insurance modernization.
 
What will the topics be five years from now? 
 
The topics have changed and will change but our why will continue to remain the same. Our purpose is to provide non-partisan, unbiased, objective information to policymakers and the public…to fulfill our profession’s responsibility to the public and to uphold the reputation of the actuarial profession.
 
Over the past year, I have written and spoken about putting Professionalism into Action.  In other words, making sure that our why directs our way.
 
How do we stay on our way? As I mentioned at last year’s annual meeting, we must challenge ourselves to become more like thermostats than thermometers. In a room, a thermometer is able to precisely inform someone of the exact temperature of the room. But, if the room is too hot or too cold, the thermometer is not able to influence the environment. A thermostat, on the other hand, is similar to a thermometer in its ability to precisely measure the temperature of the room. And, the thermostat is able to influence the temperature of the room by sending a signal to the heating or cooling system if the temperature has varied from the desired level.
 
We have the ability to be like thermostats in our business environment. Understanding complex issues is just the first step; we can choose to influence the environment regarding these issues and thus impact the outcome of situations. We must avoid being like thermometers that understand the issues but do not influence the environment with this understanding. We must move the idea of professionalism from an abstract concept to a practical application for all actuaries.
 
But I am confident that we will continue to do this. The 1,200+ volunteers for the Academy are committed to professionalism and serving the public. In addition to working with our many volunteers, the Academy has benefited greatly by working alongside the other North American actuarial organizations in a collegial manner.  Do we always agree on issues? No. We wouldn’t expect to since we are different organizations with different missions. But we can agree to disagree on certain issues while still moving forward and working to advance the profession on most other issues.  For example, you will be hearing later this year about a join professionalism initiative that we are undertaking with the Canadian Institute of Actuaries.  Particularly, I would like to recognize the working relationship that the Academy enjoys with the Society of Actuaries and the Casualty Actuarial Society. This year, I have been quite fortunate to work closely with my friends Jerry Brown, the President of the SOA, and Nancy Braithwaite, the President of the CAS. It was good to know that they were always just a friendly phone call away no matter what the issue was. 
 
And what tools can we use to stay on our way? Over the years, the Academy has assembled a full toolkit of helpful items that support our mission…tools to help us effectively utilize the basis for our professionalism…the Code of Conduct and the Actuarial Standards of Practice and the U.S. Qualification Standards…tools such as the Applicability Guidelines for the standards of practice and the FAQs for the Qualifications Standards. We have the tools, but to be effective thermostats we need to work on communicating effectively with our audiences.
 
I like to say that we need to turn our black boxes into glass boxes. We need to be totally clear and transparent in our communications. As the Dalai Lama once said: “A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.” A corollary to that is that full transparency leads to trust and a sense of security… which is what we are all about. Do our audiences, whether they are actuaries or non-actuaries, understand what we are trying to say about our sometimes complex work and findings?
We also need to be able to communicate in a straightforward way that will allow us to have sometimes difficult conversations in a professional manner. 
 
So there we have it.  I started by saying that: Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you. I believe that the Academy continues to be laser focused on setting its direction (its way) based on its unchanging mission (its why).  This world has many distractions that could spend our coin for us, but I believe that with the help of our many dedicated volunteers, the leadership of the Academy will continue to spend its coin wisely. But each day, we as actuaries and the actuarial profession must challenge ourselves to be more like thermostats so that we can influence the environment in a way that will continue to earn the public trust.