New pathways to CIA membership

The CIA is embarking on the most substantial changes yet to our qualification system, which will offer new and varied ways to achieve membership in the Institute. Joining us to discuss our exciting new direction is Alicia Rollo, Director of Education and International Affairs at the CIA.


Fievoli: Welcome to Seeing Beyond Risk, a podcast series from the Canadian Institute of Actuaries. I’m Chris Fievoli, Staff Actuary, Communications and Public Affairs, at the CIA.

Member qualification has been and remains an important function of the CIA. As the next step in the evolution of our system, the Institute has introduced a set of new education pathways, which represent a major step forward in the qualification process for Canadian actuaries. Joining us to discuss these changes is Alicia Rollo, the CIA’s Director of Education and International Affairs.

Thanks very much for coming on the podcast today.

Rollo: Thank you, Chris. Very happy to be here.

Fievoli: Before we get into these recent developments, I was hoping you could recap what changes the CIA has implemented over the past decade as we introduced our University Accreditation Program (UAP).

Rollo: Well, actually, the discussion of transformation of the CIA’s approach to education and qualification of its members started somewhere in the 1970s. That may come as a surprise to some, but it’s very true.

When I first took this position with the CIA in 2010, I was asked to be a change agent. Those were our previous Executive Director’s words to me when I was hired, but I’ve never forgotten that message. As I started my quest for change, I looked at the CIA’s history. I read transcripts of CIA meetings dating back to the mid ’70s, again in the ’80s and the ’90s, that talked about finding a better way than the traditional actuarial exams.

And in those early transcripts, it was called a “future education method,” and it was aimed at better leveraging university education to avoid duplication of effort and look at more innovative ways of actuarial education. So discussions were held early on between the CIA, the CAS and the SOA until about 2009, and then, ultimately, the CIA decided to go alone with our University Accreditation Program in 2012. And that was really a pivotal change for us, but as we all know, change is hard. It can take a long time and a lot of effort.

But we’ve gained invaluable experience since first rolling out the UAP program, and I’m really thrilled that we finally have momentum on this exciting and really quite transformational change that we’re undertaking now.

Fievoli: So before we get into this new framework, can you share with us some of the motivations that led us to adopt it?

Rollo: The why is actually incredibly important. In all the presentations and information sessions that we’re doing with various stakeholders, we really try to stress that it’s not because we believe that the traditional education systems of our education partners are flawed. They have their own business objectives and they have associated models that serve their interests very well.

However, the CIA is the governing and qualifying body in Canada. It’s the CIA’s responsibility to ensure that its members are highly qualified, and we have an obligation to continually raise the bar. The CIA is accountable to the Canadian public, to regulators, to employers and, obviously, to our members, so we’re doing this because it’s the right thing for the Canadian actuarial profession.

Globalization and the movement of individuals internationally was also a key consideration. We needed to have a consistent, fair, accessible and also innovative means for ensuring equity in how we treat all candidates. We’ve all talked about competition from other professions – emerging areas such as data science – and that just further demonstrated that we needed to make the education and qualification process for actuaries more attractive and more accessible. Not easier – I want to stress that. Just more accessible.

But honestly, the biggest catalyst was COVID. It clearly demonstrated that traditional exam centres, which were either closed or operating at half capacity, were a huge disadvantage to candidates and their employers. Having individuals fly across the country or even out of the country was unthinkable for most during the height of the pandemic.

The CIA, like every other organization, had to pivot to new ways of service and bringing value to members. And we’re very proud of what we were able to accomplish with our programs that we were able to continue uninterrupted, like the Professionalism Workshop, the Practice Education Course (PEC) and, of course, all of the continuing professional development (CPD) programs.

But we were only able to pivot and do that because the programs were under our control. When you outsource services, you really are at the mercy of your providers and their own business decisions. So the CIA needed to take ownership and full accountability, and that’s what we’re doing.

Fievoli: OK, let’s get into the details of the new process. There are now three different pathways to membership. I was hoping you could explain what they each entail, and which candidate groups each of them is aimed at.

Rollo: I’ll dive into the details of each in a moment, but at a very high level, Pathway 1 is the new CIA education system from start to finish. Pathway 2 is for candidates with either full or partial qualification at the Associate level – either, for example, an ASA, an ACAS, or maybe just having completed some of the exams towards those designations. And then Pathway 3 is for fully qualified actuaries, so Fellows of other recognized organizations.

To take a deeper dive, Pathway 1 begins with a degree from an accredited university. I mentioned the University Accreditation Program earlier. We’ve expanded that from a course-by-course mapping to SOA and CAS exams to recognition of a degree in actuarial science from one of our 11 accredited universities.

We are supplementing that degree, which, by the way, must include a set of mandatory courses within that degree that the CIA has identified as being essential to the foundational education that they receive there. We’re then supplementing that university degree with a set of ACIA modules, 100% developed by the CIA, and a Capstone Examination, which will not retest all the university-based education.

The universities do an excellent job of delivering the education and assessing candidates. We don’t want to retest what they’ve already been assessed on, but test at a much more practical level that candidates are able to apply the requisite skills that we deem appropriate for a new Associate of the CIA.

So, the modules prepare candidates for the Capstone, and the Capstone assesses that they have what they need. The Professionalism Workshop remains a key component, of course. With their ACIA designation, they can then carry on to the CIA Fellowship exams and modules, so we’re providing opportunities or tracks in all of the traditional areas: P&C, life, pension, group benefits.

We’re also providing new options in our finance track with a banking exam. For each of those tracks, there will be three Fellowship examinations. Exams will be 100% virtual, online and, again, focused on assessing the candidate’s ability to apply technical skills to real-world scenarios, so very practical application rather than rote memorization.

We’re focused on the delivery and application of a higher Bloom’s taxonomy through the open-book format in a proctored environment. So, three open-book examinations, two fellowship modules, and the experience requirement remains the same as it has been traditionally. Pathway 1 candidates will need three years of professional experience, including 12 months of Canadian-specific experience accrued while an Associate of the CIA. So that’s Pathway 1.

Pathway 2, as I mentioned, is for individuals who have full or partial qualifications at the Associate level from another actuarial organization. So that could be the SOA or CAS, or it could be individuals from countries that we have mutual recognition agreements with, and it could also be for candidates from countries where there is no existing mutual recognition agreement.

Obviously, with the diversity of candidates in that pool, there is a certain amount of individual assessment required. If they already have a recognized designation, there’s not too much additional required. The second of the two ACIA modules will be required. The Capstone Exam will not be required, because the individual will have fully completed the exams of a recognized body. They will still need the Professionalism Workshop, and then they have the option of continuing with the CIA Fellowship modules and exams, somewhat merging into Pathway 1. So if you imagine a funnel, Pathway 1 and Pathway 2 really merge at the Fellowship level to complete the CIA’s exams and modules, and the experience requirement remains the same for those individuals.

So three years of professional experience, including 12 months Canadian experience accrued while an associate of the CIA, and that Canadian experience – I forgot to mention in Pathway 1 – must be certified by a Fellow of the CIA, so we haven’t changed those components.

Coming back to Pathway 3, as I mentioned, it is for fully qualified actuaries from recognized organizations. So those recognized organizations include the CAS and the SOA, as well as the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries in the UK, the Australian Institute, the Actuarial Society of South Africa, as well as Ireland. A Fellow with an existing FSA, FCAS, etc. designation can become a fellow of the CIA via two routes, the first being an experience route. We’ve heard for years that the duplication of effort is a real barrier for qualified actuaries working in Canada who aren’t members of the CIA.

For example, an FSA who took the retirement track of the Society of Actuaries in the US that has included two five-hour, US-specific exams. In order for that person to become a Fellow of the CIA, they would have had to retake those two five-hour exams, which are largely the same but obviously have specific differences when it comes to the regulatory and legislative environment in Canada.

Individuals in a situation like that don’t need to take any further exams, but they must have three years – and here’s the difference between the first two pathways and Pathway 3 – they must have three years of Canadian-specific experience accrued after the achievement of the first Fellow designation. So this allows individuals who’ve been doing Canadian work fully qualified by another organization to now apply to the CIA, and that application process is now open – it opened in August of 2022.

We are going through a transitional period for candidates who formally would have come through the mutual recognition route. They may have been in progress, perhaps had not yet achieved the first Fellow-level designation but had already been doing some Canadian work. We are allowing those candidates who were already in progress a transition period to November 2025 to be able to complete those qualifications. So that was 3A, which is the experience route.

Pathway 3B is a fast-track route. So, taking the same example of someone perhaps who is newer to Canada, recently arrived, does want to get qualified a little bit sooner and does not want to wait three years to acquire the Canadian experience. Pathway 3B allows us to assess their education or knowledge gained by education versus experience. So they will write a Canadian-specific examination prescribed by the CIA.

Right now, until the CIA exams roll out, that would be a Canadian-specific exam of the SOA or the CAS. And when the CIA exams are available, it will be one of our Fellowship exams in one of the tracks that I mentioned earlier. So they have already (or are working towards) that other Fellow designation in transition, they write one examination, they’ll still need to attend a Practice Education Course, and they do need the same experience requirement that exists for Pathways 1 and 2: 36 months of practical experience, including 12 months of Canadian experience.

To recap quickly because it was a lot of information: Pathway 1 is 100% CIA from beginning to end. Pathway 2 is for individuals who are qualified either fully or partially at the Associate level from another organization, who then merge in to do the CIA’s modules and examinations. Pathway 3 is for individuals who already hold a recognized Fellow designation, with two options: either experience or fast-track route. So, we’ve designed these three pathways to try to accommodate the needs of candidates from a diverse array of backgrounds and needs and stages of qualification.

Fievoli: There were a couple of really important details in there that I just want to go back and revisit, namely, the fact that for Pathways 1 and 2, the Fellowship exams are going to be administered solely by the CIA. They are going to be open book, and everything will be remotely proctored. Did you want to provide a little more detail on how that’s going to roll out?

Rollo: Yeah, absolutely. The principle underlying this is we don’t believe that memorization or practicing how to successfully complete exam questions are necessarily the best way to create well qualified, well-rounded actuaries.

Since my very early days with the CIA, I have heard from members that they often don’t remember anything that they had to memorize in order to pass their exams. The exercise required to be successful was valuable to them in terms of learning focus and discipline, but it’s not what they said made them great actuaries. That came from practice – real-world application of technical skills.

Employers have also told us that new candidates don’t understand, necessarily, the business world. They may be very highly qualified technical individuals, but students are quite unprepared when they arrive in the workplace. They don’t understand how their skills are going to apply to those business problems. And so that feedback was really the basis for our approach to education – online, open-book examinations that really force a candidate to demonstrate that they’ve got the requisite knowledge to practice as either an Associate (ACIA) or a Fellow (FCIA) of the CIA.

And I’ll just mention that this approach isn’t new, by any means, to the CIA. In the year 2000, the CIA created the Practice Education Course when all nation-specific content was removed from the SOA syllabus. The PEC was a two-day course, culminating in a three-hour, open-book exam that was created to bridge the examination system with the practical world of work, and the PEC ran in that format for 17 years and was highly regarded by both candidates and employers as one of the most valuable education experiences they had.

On average, we still had 15 to 20% of candidates failing the PEC despite being successful on Fellowship exams, because they weren’t able to demonstrate that they knew how to apply the skills that they had to those real-world scenarios.

So, 100% online. We’re actually in the process right now of working with a new online learning management system. The exams will be delivered through this new LMS, or learning management system, with secure remote proctoring. We’re using a combination of AI and human intervention to identify candidates. They will need to go through a series of security protocols before they can start their examination. Once the examination starts, they will be monitored throughout the duration of the exam.

Given that this is an open book exam, they’re not going to have a locked-down browser, for example. We want them to be able to access the resources that they need to be successful on the exam. We want them to access CIA Standards of Practice, guidance material and other external sources that an actuary would have access to in their day-to-day work. I’m sure, Chris, that as an actuary, you didn’t have to memorize formulas and various pieces of information in order to do your work. You had that information at your disposal.

So that really is the premise of the exam. It’s not “can you memorize it?” – it’s “do you know what information you need in order to solve the problem?”, “do you know where to find it?”, “do you know how to apply it?” So that’s the general approach. And as I mentioned earlier, that will apply both to the ACIA Capstone Examination as well as to each of the three Fellowship examinations for each of the each of the tracks that is in development.

Fievoli: Sounds good. Let’s just wrap up by going over the expected timeframe to roll everything out over the next couple of years?

Rollo: Obviously, this is an enormous project. It’s important that we get it right, not that we do it quickly. Our aim right now is to have all of our Fellowship modules and examinations – so that will be the last stage – rolled out by the end of 2024, so that’s when the actual administration will take place. The syllabuses for the exams will be available about six months prior. So over 2023 and 2024, you can expect to see lots of information.

We’ve recently just published our ACIA syllabus, the FCIA general syllabus will come out early in 2023, and then you’ll start seeing information about the availability of ACIA modules, the ACIA exam, followed by Fellowship exams after that. Really important to mention as well, we do have a new education website. It can be accessed from the home page menu of the main CIA site. It will take you to an external site, where we’re trying very hard to make sure that candidates and employers and members have all the information that they need.

Transition is always complicated. We’re trying to make it as straightforward as possible. There’s lots of information there and we’re going to continue to add it as these changes roll out over the next few years.

Fievoli: Well, that was a lot of useful information. Thanks very much for joining us on the podcast today.

Rollo: Thank you very much, Chris.

Fievoli: We now have over 150 episodes in our podcast series over the past three years, so we certainly encourage you all to subscribe. You can do so through whatever platform you use to get your podcasts.

We’d also like to hear from you, so if you have any suggestions or episode ideas, please send them to podcasts@cia-ica.ca. As well, we’re always looking for content for our Seeing Beyond Risk blog. So, if you have some ideas you would like to share, you can contact us at seeingbeyondrisk@cia-ica.ca.

Until next time, I’m Chris Fievoli, and thank you for tuning in to Seeing Beyond Risk.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

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