Over the last year, we experienced a pandemic that affected the entire globe. The way we live, work, learn, and meet were turned upside down. Lockdowns and disruptions triggered an uncertain economic environment with high levels of unemployment, businesses closing, and many struggling families.
The pandemic also accelerated deeper trends, from retirement challenges and income disparities to systemic inequalities and difficult access to health care. It collided with a wave of historic protests for diversity and inclusion around the world, and with it, much political turmoil and upheaval that reminds us how vulnerable and how precious a democratic system can be.
Despite these challenges, the CIA prevailed with the help of its incredible volunteers, trusted Board, and dedicated staff.
The CIA rose to the challenge in the face of COVID-19
The CIA carefully monitored, and continues to monitor, the COVID-19 situation and worked with relevant health authorities and its partners to protect the health and safety of our members and staff.
At the onset of the pandemic, the CIA Head Office was well positioned to implement a work-from-home plan with limited disruptions to overall operations. The Institute switched to better internal and external communications systems and held more frequent virtual staff meetings to maintain staff engagement while working remotely. Staff also have access to an employee assistance program, which covers a wide variety of services such as wellness programs, mental health support, and family services.
Additionally, the Head Office HR team worked on several initiatives during the summer to prepare for a phased in approach to the Head Office reopening. These initiatives included the development of a pandemic policy, a COVID-19 office procedure, and procurement of personal protective equipment. Staff were also provided with health and safety and COVID-19 procedural training.
“The pandemic has shown the importance of managing risks well. We will soon be in the aftermath of the pandemic when risk management experts will have an important role.”Michel St-Germain, FCIA, CIA President
Despite the pandemic, we developed and delivered efficient virtual platforms for our continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities and education programs for qualification. We published a world-class policy statement on pharmacare, introduced new ways to engage and recognize our volunteers in meaningful ways, and implemented major governance changes. We also initiated diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies for our profession, which will have long-term benefits as we deliver on those commitments going forward.
Moreover, we created a hub for COVID-19 content, showcasing articles, analyses, and resources that are relevant to actuarial practice in the face of the pandemic. And, to help actuaries consider the impact of COVID-19 on their practice, the CIA hosted a series of webcasts from April to May 2020 on the matter.
“On a smaller but proportionately significant scale, I am very proud to report that our dedicated team of volunteers and staff stepped up to unite the Canadian actuarial community,” states CIA Executive Director Michel Simard. “Within the first days of the global pandemic we turned on a dime together to re-engineer our delivery of programs and services to meet the needs of our stakeholders.”
The show must go on
The CIA’s Education Department was particularly affected by COVID-19 from the first announcement of the global pandemic. It acted quickly to advise the Board on contract deferrals and cancellations with external vendors such as hotels, meeting venues, and speaker contracts to minimize any potential negative financial consequences for the Institute. It turned its attention to re-engineering all education and professional development programs for online delivery and sourced new suppliers.
“We leveraged existing technology while working closely with our volunteer partners at all levels of the organization to ensure smooth delivery, without sacrificing the quality of content or experience for attendees,” recounts Alicia Rollo, Director, Education and International Affairs at the CIA. “The scale of our achievements as a small but resourceful and resilient team were impressive. The changes brought about by COVID-19 will have permanent positive effects on the way we deliver education and professional development programs.”
A Presidential term like no other
Michel St-Germain, CIA President, had a unique presidential experience with limitations due to the pandemic but made the most of the new normal. He related, “Like many, I self-isolated with my partner, without contact with my children and grandchildren. But this lack of in-person contact was replaced by numerous Zoom meetings with our President-Elect and Immediate Past President, Board members, the CIA Head Office staff, and the numerous volunteers,” he says. “I would like to thank everyone for their support and their dedication to the profession. I know that for many of us, working at home without in-person contact with our friends, family, and colleagues has not been easy.”
Michel also praised the CIA for its continued support for actuaries in their responsibilities and its continued protection of the public. Insurance companies have continued to play their role and assume their risks. Pension plans are well managed, and Canadians can count on this source of income in retirement. Regulators too have benefited from the advice of actuaries.
He notes, “The pandemic has shown the importance of managing risks well. We will soon be in the aftermath of the pandemic when risk management experts will have an important role. Interest rates are impossible to predict.” He forecasts that “Technology will revolutionize the distribution of financial products. Canadians will change their work habits and the financial system will have to adapt and rely on actuaries.”
A message of hope
COVID-19 will leave a lasting legacy on our society. It has been a reality check on the complex ways in which we have become so interconnected and interdependent on each other, and on our planet and its living ecosystems. However, despite the otherwise bleak picture of the year, there have been signs of hope, benevolence, and solidarity. We saw businesses innovating to keep food and goods flowing during several waves of lockdown. We supported non-profit organizations and local businesses who served those in need, and multiple vaccines were developed in record time through international collaboration.
“Within the first days of the global pandemic we turned on a dime together to re-engineer our delivery of programs and services to meet the needs of our stakeholders.”Michel Simard, CIA Executive Director
Michel Simard leaves us with a message of hope: “Let us retain the ultimate lessons that COVID-19 has taught us: that we should preciously guard and savour our time with loved ones, family, friends, and colleagues. Life goes on. Never lose faith that we are stronger and more successful united and that together we will conquer the challenges that face us.”
This is the first of five articles from Together, Apart: 2020-2021 CIA Annual Report. Read the next article, Evolving education for an evolving profession.