CIA (e)Bulletin/(e)Bulletin de l'ICA
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May 2016

What is an actuary?

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Kathy Thompson, FCIA 

The work that actuaries do is complex and not well-understood by the general public. How to explain succinctly and accurately the work ERM actuaries do was the challenge the Enterprise Risk Management Applications Committee (ERMAC) recently took up, with great success.

"The project goal was to define a branding statement for actuaries as risk management experts, or ERM specialists," says Kathy Thompson, a member of ERMAC, who led the project. "There was recognition of the fact that risk management work and ERM isn’t specific to actuaries," she adds. "There are a lot of different professional bodies involved in ERM work. We wanted to highlight the work actuaries do in this field; what differentiates us from others and how do we add to the work."

"The process started with Google searches to see what came up," Thompson says. "We looked at the CIA, Society of Actuaries, and Casualty Actuarial Society official sites, other general statements, and articles in The Actuary magazine. One of the articles included interviews with actuaries in different practice areas and several incorporated comments about risk management. We leveraged this material, including the existing CIA-branded statement." The group even looked at Twitter’s #WhatActuariesDo competition to describe an actuary’s work in 144 characters or less.


"We circulated ideas to the committee," Thompson says. "The committee agreed that shorter rather than longer was beneficial." It was a group effort, as almost everyone on the committee was involved. "It was great to get feedback," she says. "We kept narrowing down the options until we arrived at one we liked," she added. The committee created a short statement that can be used as an elevator speech and a longer, more detailed one, making a conscious choice to use the CIA tagline "seeing beyond risk" to tie in to the professional body as a whole.

After four months, the committee settled on a statement it liked:

Seeing beyond risk. An actuary is a business professional who analyzes and manages the financial effects of risk.

Actuaries have deep roots in applying math and statistics to predict the financial implications of uncertain events. Their training and experience have prepared them with the necessary technical and practical skills required to objectively assess strategic decisions, optimize risk-adjusted returns, and implement risk mitigation techniques. Although traditionally employed in the insurance and financial services industries, the actuary's skill set can be applied across a range of industries. Actuaries are risk management professionals, able to assess both quantitative and qualitative aspects of risk, and develop an integrated enterprise-wide view of risk, thus helping individuals and organizations plan for the future.

The statement will most likely appear on the committee’s page on the CIA website, as well as on the ERM resources page. "We would like to see those working in ERM adopt this, and to see how their work is reflected in this statement," Thompson says. "We hope it will help actuaries make their mark in risk management. We are competing with others in the risk management space. We need to find ways to leverage the skill set we have and bring value to the table."

Thompson is happy with the tangible things coming out of the committee, including the ERMAC Risk Governance booklet, the ERM skills and knowledge inventories (SKIs), and this "What is an actuary?" statement.

"It’s really satisfying when you see the membership of a committee get engaged with something that is an action item for the committee," she says. "It feels good to be part of a group that accomplished this."


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