Professionalism Counts, December 2017
If You Get That CallBy Richard A. Block
Chairperson, Actuarial Board for Counseling and Discipline
Humorist Will Rogers was probably not thinking about the Code of Professional Conduct or the U.S. actuarial profession when he said: “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Yet, this tongue-in-cheek advice best summarizes what an actuary should do if the actuary becomes the subject of an inquiry by the Actuarial Board for Counseling and Discipline (ABCD). And the best way to “stop digging” is to comply with Precept 14 of the Code, which requires the actuary to cooperate with the ABCD.
The U.S. actuarial profession is self-regulated. The only reliable means to preserve that status is to ensure that self-regulation is effective and that the Code and standards of qualification and practice are enforced. This is why Precept 13 makes every actuary who becomes aware of an apparent, unresolved, material violation of the Code a “cop on the beat” and why Precept 14 has an appropriately sweeping scope.
Precept 14 states: “An Actuary shall respond promptly, truthfully, and fully to any request for information by, and cooperate fully with [the ABCD] in connection with any disciplinary, counseling, or other proceeding … relating to the Code.”
The only exceptions to the actuary’s responsibility to respond are narrow ones, arising from the confidentiality of information or legal prohibition.
If you get that call, as a subject actuary, the Code requires you to cooperate with the ABCD at each stage of the inquiry. First, the ABCD will send you a copy of the complaint, which can be lodged by a third party or by the ABCD itself, and request your response. The ABCD approaches each complaint with an open mind. The subject actuary’s response should address the issues raised in the complaint in a professional manner. After the subject actuary responds to the complaint, the ABCD’s chair and vice-chairs will review the complaint and the subject actuary’s response.
This initial review, may result in the chairs dismissing the complaint, offering mediation, or appointing an investigator. If the ABCD decides to investigate further, as the subject actuary you will be expected to cooperate with the ABCD’s investigator by providing any non-confidential information the investigator may request. Once the investigation is complete, the ABCD decides whether to dismiss the complaint, offer mediation, provide counseling, or proceed with a fact-finding hearing. In any case, Precept 14 requires your continued prompt, truthful, and complete cooperation until the inquiry is resolved.
As a subject actuary, you are likely to be asked to provide documentation of your qualifications, including your compliance with continuing education requirements. Section 6.2 of the U.S. Qualification Standards states that an actuary “should be prepared to provide evidence of compliance with the Qualification Standards, including certificates of attendance (if any), meeting outlines or handouts, and notes related to ‘other activities,’ when requested by [the ABCD] in connection with a disciplinary, counseling, or other proceeding….”
If you get that call, there are some other good reasons why you should “stop digging” and cooperate with the ABCD. You may be able to resolve the complaint by providing information to show that no material violation of the Code occurred. Each year, the ABCD resolves a majority of inquiries by dismissing complaints once all of the facts are on the table. In addition, it may be that, although the complaint has merit, the information you provide can establish that counseling by an ABCD member (which is not considered “discipline”) is the most appropriate way to resolve the complaint.
Failure to comply with Precept 14 really does amount to digging the hole deeper. The ABCD usually considers a subject actuary’s failure to cooperate to be an aggravating factor that may result in a finding and recommendation that a harsher form of discipline—public reprimand, suspension, or even expulsion—should be meted out by the subject actuary’s member organization because the subject actuary is being obstructionist or dismissive. Public discipline notices on the Academy’s website provide examples of uncooperative or unresponsive subject actuaries who have violated Precept 14.
One last point: If you get that call, you cannot just jump out of “the hole” by resigning from your actuarial organization. Since the creation of the ABCD, the actuarial organizations have not allowed resignations of actuaries who are the subject of an ABCD matter.
So, if you get that call and become a subject actuary, stop digging and comply with Precept 14. Your professional future and, more broadly, the future of actuarial self-regulation may depend on it. No matter what humorist Will Rogers may have said, that’s no joke.
(Featured in the December 2017 Actuarial Update.)