The Public—and Your Profession—Need You!

By Andrew Melvin

In June’s (e)Bulletin, we offered suggestions on how actuaries could make their contributions to the media stand out. Here are a few reasons why CIA members should consider offering their opinions, and how they can avoid the reject pile.

Why You Should Write

The CIA has various ways of promoting and publicizing the views of its members and of the actuarial profession as a whole. It sends submissions to governments, regulators, and others. Its members speak to Parliamentary committees and working groups. Its Editorial Panel and Communications Committee, among others, work on publications designed for both the general public and more defined interest groups. It issues public positions. It sends press releases to hundreds of media organizations. It does all this and much more.

However, the views of individual, identifiable actuaries are not often heard in newspapers or on websites. For some CIA members, this unwillingness to speak out might be due to a desire to stay out of the public eye or to comply with rules set by their employer. For others, it could be due to a lack of confidence in their writing ability.

Notwithstanding this reticence, actuaries could discover that a certain newspaper or website becomes a valuable way of raising the profile of the actuarial profession and the members who make it what it is. Remember the following:

1. Pages must always be filled with readable content. Few editors are willing to discard contributed material as a matter of routine: their readers have a voracious diet that must be satisfied on an hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly basis. An opinion piece from you might be the right thing at the right time for an editor seeking to attract more readers or gain more hits on their site.

2. A personal opinion can have more impact than a press release. For those organizations that use them, a first-person comment—especially from somebody similar to, or known by, a reasonable number of their readers—can carry enormous weight. Readers like material with a name attached to it.

3. You are an expert. The importance and meaning of some developments in the financial world can confound those who do not work within it. As recognized experts in risk management, mathematics, statistics, and similar fields, and as people used to presenting reports and data to non-actuaries, CIA members can break down esoteric concepts into a few easily-understood paragraphs.

4. Your profession will benefit. It is an unfortunate truth that for many people, their response to the word "actuary" could involve some variation of, "Who?", "Something to do with insurance?", or "A kind of accountant?" The more frequently actuaries appear in the media, offering informed opinions about issues that matter, the more the public will come to understand the profession’s impact upon their lives. And actuaries can become trusted advisors on a variety of issues.

What You Should Write

Once you have decided to put pen to paper or, more likely, fingers to keyboard:

1. Be brief. Unless you have been commissioned to write to a certain length, a few hundred words should be more than enough.

2. Be clear. Depending on your audience, too many technical terms or initialisms and acronyms could be enough to see your contribution rejected.

3. Be memorable. A powerful message, like a powerful presentation, can be structured using the rule of three. Have an introduction, middle (which includes no more than three points), and conclusion.

Andrew Melvin, a former news editor, was the English editor at the CIA from 2010 until recently, when he moved back to the UK.

Canadian Institute of Actuaries/Institut canadien des actuaires