Inaugural Remarks of 2018-19 Academy President Shawna Ackerman at the American Academy of Actuaries Annual Meeting and Public Policy Forum in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 1, 2018

Thank you, Steve.
I’m looking forward to working with the many talented volunteers and leaders of the Academy over the next year.
I’d like to recognize some specific individuals whose support has been invaluable to me: Joe Herbers who encouraged me to step up my volunteer work with the Academy and Mary D. Miller, who is an inspiration to us all.  I’d also like to thank one of my first supervisors, Milo Pearson, who encouraged me to join the local Toastmasters club where I met Sheldon Summers. We’ll see how well that training stuck in the next few minutes.
I’ve worked in the trenches as an Academy volunteer, and know how much dedication and time that you and all of our volunteers give, despite very busy professional and personal lives.
I’d like to take just a couple of minutes this afternoon to offer my observations on the importance of our work, as the Academy moves forward and tackles the challenges of the present and the future.
Why do we offer our time and expertise to the Academy? There are many different individual reasons – to give back to the profession, to make a difference on the important public policy issues of the day, to meet and work with talented actuaries from within and outside our own practice areas, to share insights that we’ve gained throughout our careers. The reasons are probably as diverse as our thousands of members.
But it’s important to keep in mind there’s one underlying fact that validates these efforts — a foundation that makes them of value whatever our individual reasons or purposes for volunteering are. And that is, the Academy is wholly committed to being the independent, objective voice of the entire U.S. profession.
I want to focus on one particular word that I just used, and that is “voice.” The Academy is different because, by design, we are a reflective organization, which synthesizes, develops, and speaks to serious issues affecting thousands of our peers. It may be that the average person doesn’t know what an actuary is or does – although I do think that is changing – however, our work also affects millions of our fellow Americans.
We know our work is important and we owe it to ourselves and the public to do it with the utmost care.
When I explain the Academy’s voice to others, I sometimes use a thought experiment. I invite you to do so as well.
What I do is ask them, or you, to think of our voice as belonging to a persona: that of an individual credentialed U.S. actuarial professional, in a different practice area than your own, who always strives to help others without bias. What type of information would you want on a topic that you need to understand better? What would and should this persona say, when presented with the issues that we face today?
Looked at in this way, it’s easy to understand how our voice on public policy issues is and must be nonpartisan and objective. This voice describes the outcomes and consequences of various public policy options across all practice areas, but leaves the advocacy or trying to make winners and losers to others.
The Committee on Qualifications, the ASB, and the ABCD, housed in the Academy, are the language that provides our voice on professionalism issues. Through these structures, the Academy sustains the infrastructure that is needed for our profession to authoritatively address and provide guidance on actuarial standards-setting and professional qualification and conduct issues.
Preserving our objective, independent voice often requires painstaking and difficult public policy and professionalism work – multiple revisions of work product, overcoming objections and disagreements, and sorting out facts from deeply held opinions. While the brief thought experiment envisions a persona – we get to an unbiased result collectively. We all have bias; together through robust discussion we get to that necessary objective, independent voice. As I mentioned, I’ve been in the trenches and appreciate how difficult the work can be, and I want to thank our volunteers and Academy staff—those who are present and those who are not—for getting the work done, because it really is for a higher good. My goal over the next year will be to support them and you in this work.
This commitment, informed by the collective experience of our volunteers, is what the Academy draws on to be an effective voice on both continuing and emerging issues. Take Big Data, a term that encompasses a broad range of issues affecting financial security systems, including extremely large and detailed data sets, advanced computational methods and new technologies. Tomorrow morning’s Big Data plenary provides an excellent example of how we’re examining an emerging issue and using our objective, independent voice to identify and discuss the professionalism issues for the good of the profession and the public. I’m looking forward to hearing from our guest speakers on the latest on the implications of Big Data for regulation and society, and about the perspective developed by our Big Data Task Force, led by Past President Bob Beuerlein.
Our practice-area breakout sessions this morning, this afternoon, and tomorrow morning are bringing emerging public policy issues to light so we can learn about and have a voice on those issues. Tomorrow at lunch, we’ll take a closer look at how the political landscape could change after Tuesday’s elections, altering the course of public policy, with one of the most respected voices in election analysis in Washington, Charlie Cook.
I want to close with one final observation. The Academy is the foundation that our profession nationally has built to analyze and speak to the important professionalism and public policy issues of our day, however those play out, whether political leadership changes or remains the same, or important changes happen in our society, like the new techniques, technologies and information offered by Big Data. I have no doubt we will succeed in being an effective, independent, and objective voice of the profession whatever changes happen. I see it as a great honor to lead our efforts.
Thank you.