Back to the Future—From Down Under
By Roger Hayne, CAS Vice President-Research and Development
Tom Myers and I had the privilege of representing the CAS at the 2007 biennial meeting of the Institute of Actuaries of Australia (IAAust) held in Christchurch, New Zealand. For the few geographically challenged individuals who may be reading this, New Zealand is a relatively short three-hour flight southeast of the East Coast of Australia across the Tasman Sea (affectionately known there as “The Ditch”). New Zealand has two main islands, dubbed “North Island” and “South Island,” with Christchurch on the generally cooler South Island. Being south of the Equator, the late September timing of the meeting was at the start of spring, as evidenced by the large number of lambs seen in the numerous sheep flocks dotting the countryside.
Of course, one of the first questions that might come to mind is, “Why have the meeting of the Institute of Actuaries of Australia in New Zealand, three or so air-hours away?” No, it was not just an excuse for a junket, but actually has a historical reason. Prior to 1977 the Institute of Actuaries of Australia was known as the Institute of Actuaries of Australia and New Zealand and encompassed actuaries in both countries. In 1977 the New Zealand Society of Actuaries was formed, providing an independent body for New Zealand’s actuaries. The Australians felt it appropriate to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the New Zealand Society by holding their 2007 biennial convention there.
En route through a "jungle" at a Maoricultural center in Christchurch, Roger Hayne and his wife were "challenged" by this Maori warrior who, after ascertaining their peaceful intent, allowed them to pass
I quickly learned that though separated by The Ditch, both countries have vibrant actuarial communities with some aspects familiar and some new.
It has been said that the United Kingdom and the United States are two great countries separated by a common language. Much the same can be said for the United States compared to Australia and New Zealand. A few aspects of the actuarial profession Down Under took a bit of getting used to. Probably the most striking for a CAS member is scale. I believe the 2006 Annual Meeting in San Francisco, the last one prior to the IAAust, had more than 1,000 attendees, almost exclusively property and casualty actuaries and their guests. In contrast, 2007’s IAAust Biennial Convention set an attendance record at around 400 attendees, with actuaries covering all areas of practice including superannuation (pension), life insurance, and general insurance (property and casualty). Another difference is in meeting frequency; while we meet as a society twice each year, they get together once every two years, although the general insurance actuaries do also get together by themselves every two years, now in the off years.
A view of New Zealand's Southern Alps.
Even with an attendance similar to what I remember as the level of CAS meetings from the early 1980s, the program was rich in content and, compared to our meetings, a bit more intense. They had a total of five plenary (general) sessions plus eight blocks of concurrent sessions, with an average of six sessions per block. The meeting itself spanned a full two-and-one-half days without our customary “light” afternoon on the second day.
Just as we have tracks, the concurrent sessions tended to be spread around the topics of general insurance, health insurance, investment, life insurance/wealth management/superannuation, risk management (ERM), and others with most concurrent sessions having a selection from these categories.
The railway trestle in the Waimakariri Gorge, taken from a jet boat on the Waimakariri River in New Zealand's South Island.
Although we might think it strange to attend a meeting with all disciplines present, that is business as usual for the Australians and New Zealanders. I was pleasantly surprised that the content selected for the plenary sessions had broad interest across practice areas with topics such as “Global Forces” encompassing private vs. public ownership and climate change, “Ahead of the Game” covering the IAAust’s strategic plan, and a very entertaining and informative session on communications titled “Just an Actuary Minute” challenging actuaries to get their point across in a single minute. Other plenary sessions covered (enterprise) risk management, global securities regulation, and global issues largely touching on insurance, both life and general, as well as within the actuarial profession.
The Australians have taken the entire topic of (enterprise) risk management to heart. Not only was a plenary session devoted to the topic but there were also ERM-related sessions in all the concurrent session blocks. It is clear that they share our belief that actuaries are the professionals best equipped to lead ERM efforts, not only in insurance companies but in enterprises across the economic spectrum.
A view of New Zealand's Southern Alps.
Even though the days were quite full with sessions, I had ample opportunity to renew old acquaintances and to form new contacts, particularly in the research community. In addition to the customary breaks and lunches, the evenings were available for socializing and the meeting was capped off with a gala dinner held at the Air Force Museum amidst vintage aircraft and servers in uniforms with a World War II era flavor, all while being serenaded by a group that sounded quite a bit like the Andrew Sisters. Later a more contemporary band took up the beat with the floor open for dancing. Rumor has it that at the end of the scheduled activities a small group of intrepid souls continued the celebration at a local “watering hole” well into the next morning.
Something a little less familiar to CAS members is the idea of corporate sponsorship of the meeting and various functions. Although we experienced this last June when our spring meeting overlapped with the ASTIN Colloquium, it is not the norm for CAS meetings.
Although odd, it was generally rather unobtrusive, and did provide for a bit more “swag” than we are accustomed to receiving. One sponsor provided rather nice backpacks that, surprise, contained even more merchandise with the logos of the various sponsors.
In the end, I came away from this meeting with a much closer relationship to our Australian brethren and a much stronger realization that we can learn quite a bit from our friends Down Under.