From the President: Change Happens
Gail M. Ross
I recently read a thoroughly enjoyable and very enlightening book called Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D. Since there seems to be less time in my life these days to sit down with a good book, when I read for pleasure I generally prefer fiction. However, I had seen this book on nonfiction best-seller lists, and heard lots of buzz about it, so I picked it up in an airport bookstore while waiting for a delayed flight.
Ninety-four pages later (pretty jumbo print), and in less time than it took for my flight to arrive (one hour), I realized this book had a profound impact on me. It's a very simple story about two mice (Sniff and Scurry) and two "Littlepeople" (Hem and Haw) searching for cheese (happiness and success) in a maze (life). Via this story, Dr. Johnson presents a metaphor on life and how different people deal with change.
Aside from thinking about the changes that are going on in my personal life (hitting the big "5-0" last year, setting goals for eventual retirement with my husband, dealing with an ill parent), the book got me to think about the changes that are occurring in our profession and how the CAS is responding. Some of the book's tenets (presented as handwriting on the wall of the maze) jumped out at me.
"Smell the cheese often so you know when it's getting old."
It is important for the CAS to continually assess its position as the preeminent organization for educating casualty actuaries. On an ongoing basis, we must keep reevaluating our practices and our strategic direction to assure that we don't become complacent in our activities.
"Movement in a new direction helps you find new cheese."
Our profession began in 1914, as a workers compensation statistical organization with 97 charter members. From there we moved in new directions as ratemaking and reserving specialists in all property/casualty lines of business and by our golden anniversary our ranks grew to 397 members. Almost forty years later, with 3,710 members, we are now finding new areas of opportunity for the casualty actuary in financial and enterprise risk management roles. Finally, we have developed an international strategy that will allow us to serve our existing and future members in both developed and emerging nations around the world. By broadening our scope of practice and geographical focus, we will be successful in finding new opportunities for ourselves and the next generation of actuaries.
"Old beliefs do not lead you to new cheese."
One of the large issues the CAS is facing this year is the concept of mutual recognition. In November, the board agreed that it would be beneficial for the CAS to pursue mutual recognition agreements with a limited number of actuarial associations that have specialty exam tracks in general (i.e., property/casualty) insurance. I, together with the board, believe that mutual recognition, with the proper controls in place, will lead to new opportunities for the CAS and its members as we pursue our international strategy. I hope that the voting CAS members will vote in favor of a change in our constitution (our old beliefs) to allow us to capitalize on the opportunities (the new cheese).
How Does CAS "Sniff the Cheese Often?" (or What Are We Doing Right?)
As an organization, we're doing many things to stay on the right track, sniffing out change and adapting to situations as they arise.
- Every five years we conduct a survey of our membership to monitor what our members want and need and what our organization must do to succeed. A request from the 1998 membership survey asked for all CAS publications and papers to be available online. We listened as an organization and we made it happen.
- The CAS Web Site is another example of how our organization has sniffed out change and adapted. We left behind our old electronic bulletin board system and established our Web site—one that is the envy of our peer organizations. CAS continuously updates the site, thus improving our service and the information available to members.
- Since educating casualty actuaries is one of our core purposes, we continually review and monitor the education and examination process through our Syllabus Committee, our Examination Committee, and our specially appointed education task forces. In addition, we have sought outside assistance from the Chauncey Group to work with the Syllabus Committee to develop appropriate learning objectives and to train the Examination Committee to write appropriate questions based on those learning objects.
- The Future Education Task Force is looking at the whole admission process to determine what should be included in basic education (that is, the material that all actuaries need to know and that should be tested) vs. continuing education.
How Has the CAS "Hemmed and Hawed?" (or What Opportunities Have We Missed?)
At times, there have been situations presented to which we have been unable or slow to respond, thereby resulting in missed opportunities. For example, in 1999, we chose not to participate in the formation of an actuarial office in China with other actuarial organizations (SOA, Faculty/Institute of Actuaries, and Institute of Actuaries of Australia). At the time we were unable (or not ready) to envision the value of expanding our global influence, especially in an emerging nation like China. Now, through the efforts of our Asia Regional Committee (chaired by our former president, Bob Conger) we are making inroads in China and the Far East and have asked our sister organizations if we can participate in the Hong Kong actuarial office. However, our hemming and hawing has certainly put us behind our peers in developing actuarial opportunities for casualty actuaries in that developing region.
If you haven't done so already, I would encourage you to read this book and give some thought to how you respond to change within your own personal world and as a member (or future member) of the CAS. Finally, be mindful of one other bit of handwriting on the wall:
"If you do not change, you can become extinct."