Q&A: Professionalism for the Solo Actuary
A new paper from the Committee on Professional Responsibility, Professionalism for the Solo Actuary, was published this month. Actuarial Update asked some of the contributing authors—John Purple, Kathleen Wong, and Shawn Parks—to find out more about their views on the challenges facing actuaries working on their own.
Where did the idea for this paper come from?
John Purple: From my days on the Actuarial Board for Counseling and Discipline (ABCD)—some of the complaints would be about a solo practitioner, who often wasn’t keeping up with current practice. I would also get requests for guidance from regulators who were either the only regulator, or the only property/casualty regulator, in their state. They would call me for guidance because they didn’t have anybody to bounce ideas off. So, I thought there might be a need to publish something for solo actuaries.
Who might find this paper most helpful?
Kathleen Wong: Actuaries who are solo practitioners, in small partnerships, or recently retired but still providing services. Another type of actuary that we didn’t specifically mention in the paper is academics, who are often not working with other actuarial colleagues. I hope the paper will raise thought-provoking questions for such actuaries.
Shawn Parks: Any actuary in a work environment where they are not surrounded by other actuaries in the same area of expertise would be a target audience for this. I’ve been in different environments over the course of my career—I started out in a large company and had a lot of support, and then moved to a smaller company where I was somewhat isolated and actually took advantage of the “C” [counseling] part of the ABCD on occasion. I’m now working in a small consulting firm, doing a lot of networking with others to help bridge those areas where skill gaps might be.
What are some of the issues facing solo actuaries? And what can they do to address them?
SP: Obviously, continuing education (CE) is one issue, specifically CE to meet the qualification standards for the specific type of work that they are engaged in. A lot of times we get caught up in checking the boxes without really looking at whether the CE is meeting our needs.
KW: In addition to formal CE, networking with actuaries in their practice area is important for solo actuaries to stay aware of what’s going on in the field. I’ll mention, too, that I’m one of the case studies on peer review in the paper. I had a lot of trouble with peer review when I started as a consultant, as I didn’t have other people who were working in the same area. Even though peer review is not required, it’s very helpful.
JP: I’d like to pick up on Kathy’s comment because I felt peer review was very important. After I retired from the Connecticut Department of Insurance, I worked as a consultant. We didn’t let anything go out the door without complete peer review. Also, when I was at the insurance department, we would outsource some of our review work to consultants. Before making a contract with a sole practitioner, I wanted to know how they were going to get their work reviewed. It’s very important for somebody who works alone to have a peer review process in place.
What resources would you recommend to solo actuaries to help overcome these challenges?
JP: Take every advantage of the ABCD’s counseling aspect. They have really quick turnaround, and they have access to an expert in your area of work. People should use it more. I know they get over a hundred requests for guidance each year, but I’d like to see that be even more! The paper also will remind solo practitioners to occasionally take a step back, read the Code of Professional Conduct and the actuarial standards of practice related to their work, and double-check their qualifications.
KW: When you’re starting an assignment, go back and look at the current standards of practice. That will give you valuable information on what you need to consider as you are doing the job.
SP: In the last year, remote learning opportunities, webinars, and meetings have become more widely available. For the solo actuary, that has been a positive development, because it has made keeping up with CE more viable.
All of you, at some point, have been in the position of a solo actuary. Drawing on your experience, what advice would you give to someone in this situation?
KW: Don’t isolate yourself—maintain your network among other actuaries. I make an effort to go to meetings to talk with people and understand what’s going on.
SP: I’m going to steal from the old real estate mantra. The most important thing is network, network, network—especially with other actuaries in similar situations. Also, never be afraid to admit your weaknesses or lack of expertise, particularly to yourself. It’s better to let a potential assignment get away than find yourself in over your head.
JP: In addition to the traditional networking of going to meetings, volunteering for a committee earns you CE credit and connects you with people in your particular area of expertise. Joining a committee at the Academy or one of the other actuarial organizations can be a great benefit.