A Sneak Peek into the Virtual Course on Professionalism

by Menghan Wu, CLC Candidate Representative

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought changes and made us rethink our way of doing things. Given the worldwide public health emergency, the CAS started offering a virtual Course on Professionalism (COP) in 2020. This enabled candidates to make good use of their time and accomplish something towards their ACAS credential if they were not comfortable taking exams. The Candidate Liaison Committee (CLC) had an opportunity recently to speak with CAS Staff Actuary Ken Williams, FCAS, MAAA, who is a member of the Committee on Professionalism Education, the committee responsible for developing the COP. We hope this article helps candidates succeed and have valuable experiences.

After a long journey of passing exams, the candidates are armed with essential tools to become effective actuaries. Believe or not, the COP is the only time the CAS requires candidates to attend a meeting. The CAS values this as an important course on the road to becoming official CAS members and practicing credentialed actuaries. On top of the technical answers that actuaries usually think about, the purpose of the COP is to ensure candidates’ understanding of the professional standards and responsibilities associated with their designation. The COP also covers ethical decisions they will need to make throughout their careers and the consequence of not following standards. To be prepared for a successful COP participation, candidates must complete a variety of pre-work assignments, including readings and 10 accompanying e-modules, as well as producing a short recording of themselves. The readings tend to increase candidates’ familiarity with the professionalism documents used in our profession. During the pre-work, candidates should consider their past working experiences where ASOPs (actuarial standard of practice) and the CAS Code of Conduct would be helpful to solve a problem. The e-modules take approximately three hours to complete and are all designed in the same manner, reinforcing basic ideas of each of the ASOPs. Finally, the candidates must complete a short recording of themselves to prepare for the communication skills part of the course. Introducing basic communication skills is a recent course development that aims to equip candidates with essential skills when conveying actuarial results to a variety of audiences with different backgrounds.  

For the virtual course specifically, the CAS offers “tech check” sessions to tackle any technical issues that the candidate may encounter. The virtual course is currently held in Microsoft Teams over two days. In formulating the virtual course, Williams said that a few things had to change. The biggest change is that the movie Billion Dollar Bubble and the mock trial are now considered “homework” to be done by candidates either before the course or on the first night of the course. Watching both of these elements outside of the course shortens the course slightly and builds in two 45-minute breaks that helps to minimize “screen fatigue.”  

The CAS has continued to offer the virtual sessions, with a total of seven U.S. courses so far in 2021. For candidates in Asia, there was a virtual course offered in July. The Asian course is designed for those candidates practicing in China and Southeast Asia and reflects the professionalism standards in those regions. Given the success of virtual sessions and positive feedback received, the CAS does plan to continue to offer a virtual course option going forward. At this time, the CAS has not decided on how frequently it will be offered. Options for virtual sessions may benefit some candidates in other countries, when traveling to the U.S. is challenging even without the worry of COVID-19.  

Offering the COP virtually has its advantages and disadvantages. Prior to the pandemic, a candidate was required to attend the COP in person. When attending an event in person, candidates are much less likely to be distracted by other life demands as opposed to taking the course virtually. Another advantage of the in-person COP is that candidates can feel more engaged and get to know each other over two days; virtually, engagement is more challenging. One of the biggest things that is missed virtually are fun activities that can be done in person.  

The CAS has tried its best to minimize the changes from the in-person course regarding the learning experience and networking. For instance, virtual “meet and greets” between candidates and volunteer course leaders have been added recently during lunch times in the week before the course begins.  

Despite its virtual accommodations, the CAS still considers the in-person course a valuable experience for the candidates. The hope is that in-person sessions will resume as early as December 2021 in Orlando, Atlanta or San Diego.  

Last but not least, participation is the key to COP success, both in virtual and in-person sessions. Williams indicated that the previous candidate feedback described the course as a “necessary evil” for attaining the ACAS, but candidates generally ended up enjoying the course and getting a lot out of it. Williams suggested that candidates need to come with an open mind and be willing to share their thoughts on different business situations that they may run into.  

During this extraordinary time, it is even more crucial that we stay connected and navigate the new normal together.  

For more information and details, please visit https://www.casact.org/exams-admissions/course-professionalism.