What Does it Mean to be a Professional?


By Dave Dickson, FCIA

On February 18 in Toronto, the CIA offered a unique opportunity to its members to discuss professionalism issues with their peers. This event was a pilot initiative to develop programming for senior members who wish to connect, share issues of concern, and enhance their professionalism continuing professional development (CPD).

The session featured a presentation by guest speaker Sally Gunz, professor of business law and professional ethics, from the University of Waterloo, who has spent significant time researching issues around professionalism and ethics in a number of professions. She talked about situations from other countries where actuaries have landed in trouble. One very relevant example was from the UK, where, following the failure of Equitable Life, the UK actuarial organizations saw the regulators become much more involved (the Morris Review) in how their organizations were governed. We discussed the environment in Canada and the changes that the CIA made, in part as a result of the UK situation, including introducing an independent body for setting standards—the Actuarial Standards Board, plus the Actuarial Standards Oversight Council—and tightening the CPD requirements, tracking, reporting, and enforcement.

The workshop continued with a brief review and discussion of the CIA Rules of Professional Conduct and our discipline processes. Our pilot three-hour workshop concluded with an hour-long discussion about what it means to be a professional. A dictionary search does not provide much insight. During my own search, the best definition I found was, "A job that requires special education, training or skill". Actuaries and other professionals are certainly highly skilled, but these special talents are only part of what makes us professionals. Our higher calling allows us to apply our unique talent with sound judgement. This is how we ultimately provide value to the business, earn the trust of our stakeholders, and protect the public interest, a high priority for the CIA.

As actuaries, we have professional independence, which allows us to deliver the right answer, even though it may not be the answer that our clients want to hear. Being objective is the result of being independent.

We also discussed how a profession can be defined through its qualifications for admission, rules of professional conduct, standards of practice, continuing education requirements, and a disciplinary process; all distinct aspects of the CIA that distinguish it as the professional actuarial organization in Canada.

One attendee summarized it very well: professionalism is the combination of competence, conduct, and character. We can judge ourselves by how we are described by others: if my work was peer reviewed, what would that person say about me or my work?

It was generally agreed that the changing business environment will continue to force actuaries to face pressures from many sources, and that as a profession we must remain aware of these pressures and influences and our corresponding actions as a result.

The attendees found this pilot project to be highly valuable and encouraged the CIA to offer more of these types of discussion opportunities.

Dave Dickson, FCIA, is the education liaison member of the Committee on Professional Conduct.

Canadian Institute of Actuaries/Institut canadien des actuaires