Farewell Remarks of 2019-20 Academy President D. Joeff Williams at the American Academy of Actuaries' Virtual Annual Meeting and Public Policy Forum on Nov. 5, 2020
Before the ceremonial presidential transition, I would like to take a few minutes now to share some personal remarks.
I’d like to begin by acknowledging to all of you watching and all Academy members that these are challenging times. I’m thankful for your support and to the Board, volunteers, and staff of the Academy for all their help during the past year. And I’d like to offer a big congratulation to Tom Campbell, I know he will do a great job as president, as well as welcome to Maryellen Coggins as president-elect.
A year ago, I expected 2020 to be “a year to remember” as Academy president. I think it’s fair to say that no one will forget 2020—its challenges certainly but also the incredible adaptation, grit, and dedication to service that it has brought out in so many people and organizations, including the Academy.
The COVID-19 pandemic is both a human tragedy and a pivotal historical event with wide-ranging health, societal, and economic effects that are playing out now and will continue to play out for some time.
These transformative events, along with other changes in 2020, have introduced new perspectives on important issues of concern to us as a nation, and these affect all of us, professionally and personally.
Insurance coverages, financial security, and risk assessment and mitigation are in the spotlight now more than ever because of the unique circumstances of 2020. These include COVID-19 and its economic consequences, but also the nationwide attention to social equity, and major natural disasters.
Implications from this week’s elections for public policy are just now being examined in earnest as we move into 2021. To help us in that examination, we have two prominent nationally recognized speakers to probe the results still coming in from Tuesday.
We will also hear tomorrow from Dr. Anand Parekh, chief medical advisor of the Bipartisan Policy Center, who will provide perspectives on the response to COVID-19 --where we are in terms of the progression of the virus, new treatments and vaccines, and lessons learned. I am excited to hear this very timely discussion.
I think we all have found that racial equity issues are at the forefront of many public discussions in our profession and the public, and we will hear much more tomorrow from Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier about the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ initiative on race and insurance.
As the national organization representing the U.S. actuarial profession, the Academy is committed to engage in all these dialogues, and many, many others, from the perspective of our unique objective and independent public policy and professionalism mission. Through its dedicated volunteers the Academy is able to effectively serve the profession and the public as new challenges and needs have emerged and will continue to dedicate itself to this work into the future.
For those of you who attended last year’s annual meeting and heard my remarks, and who’ve read my Contingencies columns, you know that I’ve pointed out that the word – “effective” – is a critical concept and integral part of the Academy tagline. The high quality, objective work of the Academy, and our independence, all depend on our effectiveness in making objectivity and independence priorities throughout the Academy’s work. When the Academy was founded in 1965, the charter members and leaders recognized making our profession’s work and insights relevant to the public policy dialogues outside the profession was a worthy endeavor deserving of constant effort. And that remains true today.
One lesson from 2020 is that remaining “effective” means pivoting to adapt to change. To put it simply, when the world changes, what’s “effective” changes. Think about how much the way we live and work has changed just since March. What worked then doesn’t necessarily work now. Sorting out what is effective against the background of transformative events requires careful deliberation and quick action. To remain effective, we change. And the Academy is effective because we have done exactly that—assessing changing needs, fostering dialogue among volunteers and with outside stakeholders, and taking action to ensure our work is as effective as ever.
It’s been a source of great pride for me to work with the Academy’s leaders and volunteers to re-imagine how we serve members and get our important work done—to assess and implement change where it has been needed. This meeting’s new virtual format is one example, but there are many others. Our leadership, councils, and committees—including the ASB and the ABCD—have been meeting differently. How we reach out to legislators, regulators, and stakeholders has also changed. The Academy has continued to participate and provide robust input to the NAIC on actuarial issues as the NAIC has taken its meetings to a virtual format. As actuarial clubs, employers, and other organizations too have taken their meetings virtual, our speakers bureau has adapted to provide public policy and professionalism speakers in these new formats. When the Academy’s physical office in Washington D.C. was closed by mayoral directive, the Academy staff started and continues to work remotely.
All of the Academy’s practice councils have been poring over 2020’s new and challenging issues and questions so the Academy can address them in our public policy and professionalism work. These adaptations have all been part of what it means to remain effective considering the changes we’ve seen this year.
When the potential impact of the pandemic started becoming apparent this spring, the Academy published FAQs and started hosting a series of webinars providing an actuarial perspective on the possible implications of the pandemic.
Another example of the Academy’s continued effectiveness was the offering of our first virtual PBR Boot Camp in September. This multi-day event had always been held in person. The Academy pivoted quickly to new technologies. The event was a resounding success, drawing record attendance.
Many of the Academy’s practice-specific and cross-practice webinars have included attendees from Capitol Hill, federal and state regulators, media, and stakeholders who traditionally meet in person with the Academy or through Academy Hill briefings.
Assessing and responding to change is particularly important in times of rapid change like we’ve seen in 2020. The Academy’s effectiveness during this current period of social distancing is a result of many changes that were adopted before this year.
This includes a transition to digital formats, including nearly all our communications. These digital formats such as webinars, podcasts, and webpages continue to be effective and essential to accomplishing the Academy’s mission.
Our election-year issue guides for voters are another an example. Published earlier this year on our website, our “2020 Making Issues Count” guides provided an actuarial perspective on key public policy issues like Social Security, health insurance, long-term care, retirement security and climate risk. They inform voters about the background of key issues and new developments such as the Academy’s research released earlier this year on a model Actuaries Climate Risk Index and its ongoing work on Social Security, Medicare, retirement security, and private health insurance. I’m looking forward to hearing political analyst Charlie Cook’s take on the election in just a few minutes, and presidential historian Michael Beschloss’ perspective on the election and the presidency first thing tomorrow.
Much of our professionalism work was already suited to 2020’s new realities. Our Professionalism First website has been providing a centralized portal for accessing articles, podcasts, and other professionalism resources. Members continue to receive updates on ASB standards-setting activity through the ASB Boxscore, and other communications, and email notices on other professionalism developments such as the recent exposure of the U.S. Qualification Standards.
As with all transformative periods, 2020 has prompted new questions about professionalism and ethics. This afternoon, our professionalism plenary panelists will discuss that. Former FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair, who was chair during the 2007-08 financial crisis, will kick the plenary off with insights drawn from her experience leading in times of uncertainty.
As 2020 winds to a close, I am confident that our new Academy President Tom Campbell will lead us in continuing to effectively fulfill the Academy’s mission. Thank you for the honor of serving as your president.