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From the President

No Tennis for this Racket

by Robert A. Anker

Probably every actuary in the world has a personal, most commonly used phrase when asked about the actuarial profession and what it is. Some respond technically; some with personal pride and ego; others with overdrawn humility.

My own response has always been one of someone who grew up in a Minnesota farming community and never quite became used to matching my self-image with the profession. "It's a great racket!" I always blurt out, never affording the profession the dignity it deserves. But then, why not call it a great racket. It is.

There are many wonderful characteristics of this "racket." Perhaps a complete list is impossible, but my personal list includes a wide range of items.

Clearly, as has been noted elsewhere, this is a profession filled with people of great integrity and good will. The caliber of those who have chosen and qualified in the profession reflects positively on all of us and on the entirety of the profession. We are a body of individuals capable of exercising honest discussion and disagreement without rancor and often with good humor. It makes it fun.

Ours is a profession with great recognition in the insurance industry and among all those who seek a career applying math skills in a multidisciplinary environment. The recognition has led to relatively high levels of both status and income. On top of it all, they both tend to come fairly early in our careers. Not a bad result for folks described in the first insurance textbook I ever saw as "mathematicians with a kind of insanity so rare as to be valuable."

Perhaps even more important than the recognition and status is the fact that we have wonderfully complex and interesting problems on which to work. They are also usually problems with real meaning and impact. The profession is rewarding in almost every material dimension.

As we individually made our way through the ordeal of achieving actuarial credentials, each step was one of personal accomplishment putting a permanent tally on our lifetime record. The ultimate proof of value of each of the individual steps lies among those we all know who ultimately did not choose the profession or who lacked the will to go further. They are often the ones who declare most loudly and with great pride how many exams they passed.

There seems to be but a single fly in the ointment. Once outside the insurance industry, we have almost no recognition in the general public and very little even among those who are aware of the profession. This is not helped by the difficulty we have in defining our profession nor is it helpful that many who achieve broader career success chose to ignore or hide their actuarial background. Why they do so is troubling and likely indicating some real problems with the image we carry today.

For some years the CAS has participated in Forecast 2000, a quite successful joint public relations effort among North American actuarial bodies aimed at raising the profile of the actuary among the media and policy makers. We are now exploring whether there is a need to actively mold the image of the actuary in the public's mind. Discussions are very preliminary. Our only clear conclusion so far is that we do not agree on what our image is, much less on what we might want it to be. Please share your thoughts with members of the Executive Council on whether this is an area worth pursuing.

So how does all this tie together? Only to confirm both the premise that this is indeed a great racket and the belief that, just like anything else, it can be made better.