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The Actuary – Technician or Professional?

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By Micheline Dionne, FCIA
CIA President

The question of whether an actuary is a technician or professional often comes up, from a number of different angles. In fact, I have taken to pondering this question in recent weeks. When you get right down to it, what differentiates a professional from a technician? The CIA’s primary guiding principle puts us on the right track: the Institute holds the duty of the profession to the public above the needs of the profession and its members. But how does this actually play out?

To be sure, the actuarial profession includes a vast technical component, one that is central to our reputation and contributes to the myth of the actuary. That is why it represents an incredible asset. But at the same time, it represents one of our largest risk factors. This actuarial science of ours is not easy to convey in simple terms, and it can be tempting to shy away from even trying so as to appear more intelligent or simply not to be bothered. It can also be reassuring to confine ourselves to the role of technician, to refrain from value judgments, and to close our eyes while telling ourselves that our role is to determine a financial value and not to make decisions for our employer or our client. And make no mistake; our primary purpose as actuaries is to make good calculations when it comes to financial commitments and assumptions. Indeed, this is exactly what we are taught to do. These calculations are complex and require a great deal of judgment and experience, particularly to distinguish factors that are relevant and material from those that are not.

Being a professional means going beyond the numbers and asking ourselves whether there aren’t other pressing yet unidentified needs. This could entail making known our views on the value of the assumptions we are asked to use and on the risks taken, especially if we suspect that our employers or clients do not appreciate the full extent of the risks they are taking. It could well be that the initial reaction will not be very positive, but in the long run this sharing of knowledge will make a big difference in the future of our profession and in the future use of our services. A greater understanding of the scope of incurred risks is essential. We have a duty to be transparent and clear, and to take the time to explain the nature of our studies and recommendations in easily understood terms. Our public will be grateful for this. Their trust is increasingly dependent on our transparency. We are not God, and we can’t stop bad things from happening; we can, however, help mitigate the effects or help deal with them.
There is so much to do in a world that faces increasingly numerous and varied risks. The profession has a great future ahead of it so long as we can be more than mere technicians.

I for one am optimistic about the choices we will make!

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to write me at

Micheline Dionne, FCIA, is President of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries.

360 Albert Street, Suite 1740, Ottawa, ON K1R 7X7
Tel.: 613.236.8196 Fax: 613.233.4552