Every year, the CIA recognizes our long-time volunteers who have received the Lifetime Award for completing at least 24 terms of service. This year’s recipients are FCIAs Jim Brierley, Dave Dickson, Kit Moore, Jacques Tremblay and Nancy Yake. In this episode, the award winners speak to us about their volunteer experience and how it has helped shape their careers.
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Fievoli: Welcome to Seeing Beyond Risk, a podcast series from the Canadian Institute of Actuaries. I’m Chris Fievoli, Actuary, Communications and Public Affairs at the CIA.
The CIA has announced its latest Legacy Award recipients, honoring their long-time service as volunteers with the Institute. We are joined today by four of this year’s winners. Former CIA Presidents Jim Brierley, Dave Dickson, Kit Moore and Jacques Tremblay. I would also like to make sure we recognize Nancy Yake, who was also an award recipient this year but was unable to join us today.
So, thank you all for coming on the podcast.
Moore: My pleasure.
Dickson: My pleasure too, Chris.
Tremblay: Quite an award. Thank you so much. I’m thrilled.
Fievoli: That’s great. So, looking back on your actuarial career, I just wanted to know for each of you, what would you think was the most rewarding or challenging assignment that you took on as a volunteer? And maybe we can start with Dave for this one.
Dickson: Yeah, I was in the President role for these three years, but one that jumped out at me, and Jacques will remember this, is that I had joined the Research Committee quite a few years ago, with the intention of becoming chair.
At that point, the Research Committee was struggling a little bit. They had a lot of projects that were stalled, and also, they’d been under pressure from the Board to spend their budget, which they were unable to do. So, one thing I like doing is sort of taking a problem on and getting it resolved.
So, I joined the committee, and I got quite few of the projects going again. And we also went out and formed an alliance with the Society of Actuaries, and from all that activity we generated quite a few research projects. So, within a year I remember I got a call from John Dark, the treasurer and he said, “Dave, we were putting pressure on you to spend your budget, but you spent more than your budget.”
And I said, “Oh, I didn’t realize that.” So, then they said, “Oh, it’s OK. We just increased the budget because we kind of like what you’re doing.” But I still remember that. And I thought it really was sort of a great experience of taking something that needed a fair bit of work and making it go.
And we did quite a few good research projects. And we also formed an alliance with the Society of Actuaries and did quite a few joint research projects with them. Often, they paid the entire cost of those projects. So, it was quite beneficial for both parties.
Fievoli: Jacques, did you want to go next?
Tremblay: Sure. Thanks everyone for being here today. Yeah, I had the pleasure of being on the Board when we asked you to take over the Research Committee, and indeed you got us out of a pickle because the membership was wondering what the heck we were doing in moving some of these things along.
So consistent with that, the thing that stuck with me was our announcement and our public announcement with Public Affairs. And when I was President-elect and President, we used to have statements that would say: These are the five things that you should consider doing, and these are the five things you should consider not doing. And we would stay away from taking a position.
And I wanted us to be more present in front of the Canadian public, so we created a task force to basically set up the rules as to: When can the Canadian Institute of Actuaries make a public statement? Is it something that can be quickly released right in the press today, and we have a voice? Or is it something that we want to spend time on and come out and make an impact to Canadians? So we did all the work internally such that the procedures were set, got that passed by the membership.
And lo and behold, as soon as we had done this, Michel St-Germain got a hold of me and asked me to chair a committee to have Canadians consider seriously changing their normal retirement age from 65 to 67. It took us about 18 months. I had 18 pension actuaries on my team. Six wanted to change the normal retirement age, six didn’t and the other six were neutral. So, I was really set up by Michel St-Germain. I was able to get consensus, at the end of the day, to change the normal retirement age to 67, to try to put pressure on the governments to start thinking this way, even though it may not be politically correct.
We ended up being in all major newspapers in Canada with our announcement. Over a course of a week, the communication department at the Canadian Institute of Actuaries stocked us tremendously with pamphlets, articles – even le journal [the newspaper] in my little province in Quebec, Le Soleil. Some of my friends sent me a note saying, you know that you’re quoted in the paper today about changing the normal retirement age from 65 to 67?
And to bring this home, then I got a call saying you’re the one in Toronto and this thing is catching fire. It was on 680 news this morning. And BNN Bloomberg wants to do a live interview this afternoon. So, my wife drove to downtown Toronto, brought me a suit because I was in casual that day. [Chuckle] And so, I did the Superman routine, changed in my office, went to the BNN Bloomberg location in downtown Toronto, had about 20 minutes to prepare and did a video interview, which I actually listened to again this morning.
And I was just proud of the work we did and the delivery we did and then, not finally, but that we have a voice, we can help Canadians. And in this case, we did the right thing. So that was quite a moment for me, Chris.
Fievoli: OK. That’s great. Jim, can you top that?
Brierley: I don’t know if I could top that or not because I think that was a huge step forward for our profession to take a more active role in public pronouncements, but I’m going to try to top that.
For me it was the creation of generally accepted accounting principles for life insurance companies. This was an absolutely herculean effort by just a giant group of our members, and I was privileged to be at the heart of the work on the Finance Reporting Committee, Chair of the committee, on the council as well as President. The problem to begin with was the CICA wouldn’t accept the net premium valuation for financial reporting, which meant that every life insurance company statement was qualified. And the job fell to the Financial Reporting Committee to sort this out.
First, we had to understand what the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accounts needed for the actuarial liabilities in order to make them acceptable for the financial reporting. And this led us to the creation of the policy premium method. Such a gross premium valuation required far more detailed professional standards and professional judgment than we had used in the past. Which I was heavily involved in authoring and co-authoring a number of technique papers. Then we had to convince our own membership that adopting such detailed standards was the best way forward for the profession.
Finally, we wanted to avoid having the actuary create two different valuations, each purporting to the actuarial liabilities, and that required OSFI to accept the gap reserves for statutory reporting purposes. It was during my year as President that I met with Michael Mackenzie, the Superintendent of OSFI, and got him to agree that it was actually in OSFI’s best interest to have a more accurate and comparable income statement, even if that meant in some cases lower actuarial liabilities, and he could protect solvency on the balance sheet with a surplus test. He agreed to that and that was the end of, as I said, a herculean effort by literally hundreds of our members.
And at the end, we ended up, in my opinion, Canada having the world’s best and most accurate professional actuarial liability calculation and financial reporting setup. So, I was very proud of that entire project which lasted many, many years.
Fievoli: All right. And let’s wrap up with Kit. What do you remember from your time at the CIA?
Moore: Definitely the most rewarding and probably the most satisfying for me was the work that we did on the Canada Pension Plan and the Quebec Pension Plan. I chaired two task forces, and I actually did them ten years after I was President, so it was long after my main work that I was doing with the CIA, but it was very satisfying because I brought a bunch of actuaries, very knowledgeable actuaries, together.
They all had different opinions. I had to bring them together to somehow agree on what should happen with the Canada-Quebec Pension Plans. We held these two task forces over a period of a couple of years, and presented our ideas to government, who was looking at the issue. Normand Gendron and I actually went up to a parliamentary committee and presented our recommendations from the task force, had an excellent meeting with the, I guess about 20 MPs from the different parties, and they accepted many of our ideas. And I think that we felt a certain responsibility for helping to get the Canada Pension Plan and Quebec Pension Plan back on their feet again. That, to me was a perfect example of volunteer work with the CIA because it gave me a chance to learn negotiation skills better.
I think the development of the presentation skills was probably the most exciting part of that project because we had to present certain actuarial concepts and ideas about the plans to government officials and especially to the media. We had many media presentations on radio and TV and newspapers, of course, and those were challenging, but also very satisfying.
And then, of course, project management skills is another thing, that I think some of the others mentioned, that ties into this kind of a project where you have a very definite deadline to meet, and you have to put the report together and actually run the task forces properly. So, that definitely was the most satisfying of all the projects I did.
Fievoli: I was hoping you could share your ideas on how volunteering with the CIA helped you be a better actuary, and if you had any advice for members who are thinking about volunteering but are worried about the time commitment or lack of experience. What suggestions would you have for them?
Dickson: Just to jump around here a little bit on the lack of experience… one thing that we started doing in some committees was to encourage people that had virtually no experience to join the committee as sort of an internship, learning opportunity. And I still think we’re doing that. I know I’m Chair of the Discipline Committee, and we’re adding a couple of people that haven’t had a lot of experience with the CIA. So, I think that’s a good way to get started.
I’m just going to step back a little bit and how we got involved with the CIA volunteering. When I finished my exams, I was approached by the Society of Actuaries, as a lot of us were, and joined a couple of their exam committees. And along the way, I ran into Fred Thompson, who I think everybody remembers, and he was putting together a group to work on a joint annual meeting, CIA-Society of Actuaries, to look at producing some sessions. So, he asked me to get involved with that, and I can’t remember why.
So, I did that, and I recruited quite a few people for some interesting sessions – joint sessions. And then along the way, I got connected with the CIA Program Committee. And I think… I forget who the chair was. Rob Stapleford! So, Rob asked me to join the Program Committee, which I did. And then from there I’ve been involved for quite a few years with the CIA. But I always found the volunteer work very challenging, and I guess from my perspective I think doing some of the… especially chairing committees and things certainly improved my management skills ‘cause it’s quite challenging often to chair a committee and get consensus and get things done.
And the other thing that really stuck out for me was networking. I got to know quite a few people and there was a number of work things that came up. I remember we had a pricing issue with a term plan and one of the guys on my committee worked for I think Empire. And I was talking to him, and he said “Oh, we solved that problem” and he in about five minutes he detailed how we could deal with that, and it worked very well.
And the other one that’s struck me was we were involved with the US class action lawsuit with our vanishing premium universal life business, and I ran into another actuary, Gordon Grant, who had just finished a project with Prudential along the same lines and he got me started on coming up with a solution which I took to my company and eventually we put in place.
So, advice in volunteering: I think it’s great. I wouldn’t volunteer unless I found it fun, and I got to meet all kinds of interesting people. And as I mentioned, the networking was really good and most of the work I did I found very challenging and interesting. And the other good thing about volunteering is most of the assignments are relatively short term. So, you can move on to something else.
Tremblay: My experience is consistent with Dave. I started as a member of the Committee on Life Insurance Financial Reporting. And a large portion of my work is valuation of policy liabilities and capital requirement. And Jim, actually, I was with your brother John. John was Vice-Chair at the time and then eventually became Chair.
So what I would say to people out there is you get to learn a heck of a lot being on a committee of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries. So, from your skills themselves, and similar to what Dave was saying, an issue with term product, or in my case an issue with valuation, and we started talking about segregated fund valuations. And you’ve got 15 people around the table representing small, medium and large companies and you end up with an awesome network of talent.
So, it’s good for you, but it’s also good for your employer because you get to learn what’s going on in the Canadian industry and you can bring them back to your shop. So, very often an employer will be quite happy to have you as a representative on one of the CIA committees.
So, from a knowledge point of view being on CLIFR as we know it was fantastic for me. And then I became Vice-Chair and Chair and associated with talented people like John Brierley, Lesley Thompson, Simon Curtis, just to name a few. Then I went to chair of the International Council. So, you get to know people internationally. Now you get to represent Canada.
And then finally, you know, being President of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries and you get to learn management skills. You get to learn to prioritize projects, cause time is limited. You learn to assess what to drive, what not to drive, how to do the politics of it all, how to get traction and to get friends to commit to the same thing that you think is important at the time. And I remember dealing with the Society of Actuaries on a couple of topics that were difficult. But at the end of the day, we made it work.
The other thing I’ve learned as well is public speaking. Whenever I would do a presentation at the Appointed Actuary Seminar, I would practice and practice and practice and practice. And then you become CIA President, and sometimes you have to do a speech on the fly. [Chuckle] Or you just have, you know, a couple of hours to prepare a speech, and you realize that, you know what? I can do this.
I don’t need to rehearse for three days. I know the content. You get more and more confident with yourself, and you deliver. And that brought me to, I still think about it today, at the 50th anniversary of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries Les Dandridge helped me come up with what I call today “Tribute to Canadian Actuaries” at the 50th anniversary.
It’s a bit of a rant similar to the Molson Canadian “I am Canadian.” While in my case, “I am a Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries.” It’s on YouTube, and I got a standing ovation from 800 actuaries at 9:00 AM in the morning. And I’m quite, quite proud of this tribute, and I would have never done this – never have done this if it wasn’t for my involvement as a volunteer with the Canadian Institute of Actuaries over the years. So that’s it, Chris.
Fievoli: OK, super. Jim, what do you have to add?
Brierley: Well, I just want to say I think Jacques’ rant was absolutely brilliant. I loved every minute of it. [Chuckle]
Tremblay: Thank you.
Brierley: Not surprisingly, my experience is very similar to both Dave and Jacques. I got started on the Younger Actuaries Committee, and I’d suggest that’s a great place to start because it’s all relatively new actuaries. And the whole idea there is to create meetings and get experience on committee or get experience with the Institute without the pressure of having you know, a past President sitting on the committee as well.
And I would also say to any new member that lack of experience should not never be a concern. Even the most experienced committee members remember when they were first starting out volunteering, only too happy to welcome any new volunteers coming to help with the work. Committee work keeps you at the leading edge of what’s going on with the profession. The knowledge and experience you gain is not only good for yourself, but as Jacques mentioned, for your employer as well.
The skills you learn – my number one item was public speaking. So, I agree with Jacques. The first time, I wrote the technique paper #2 and they wanted me to present it at a meeting. I had never even spoken in public. I was terrified. I only agreed to do it if I could sit at the table instead of standing up at the at the podium. But as time went on, I was required more and more to speak publicly for Institute work. And that served me very well.
By the end of my career, I was doing admin presentations because you’re the President of the company or you’re required to do a lot of public speaking. But I also had to represent my company globally for the life insurance operations at analysts’ conferences in Europe. And, to go from not being able to stand up and speak at a CIA meeting, to standing in front of 200 analysts firing questions at you was all thanks to the CIA. And I got far more out of my volunteer work than I ever put into it. And you learn leadership – I have to just echo everything that the Jacques said.
And in the end, I think we need to remember that the actuarial profession is a rather lucrative one, and partially that’s due to the volunteer efforts of those who’ve gone before us in the past. And it just makes you feel good to know that you’re paying the profession back and benefiting those who are going to come in the future. So I strongly encourage any member to get involved. It’s just a win-win for you and the profession.
Moore: My start was very similar to Jim Brierley’s. I started in the Younger Actuaries Committee because it was the most obvious one to do. I got my Fellowship in 1967, and within a year or two I decided I should start paying back the profession for what they’ve given me.
I started as simply as I could by going to the Younger Actuaries Committee. There, I was working with the younger actuaries like myself and none of us knew what we were doing in terms of the volunteer work. So, we had a lot of fun together just figuring out what our projects would be and what was needed for the younger actuary group. But that got me started. And once I did that, I was looking for more interesting responsibilities. And I decided that my interest is not so much in the technical projects, but in the public relations side of our profession.
In other words, publicizing the role of the actuary, telling the public about what we do, that sort of thing, and helping with some of the public issues that involved actuarial matters. So, I became more involved. I think the next committee that I got on was the Public Relations Committee. And eventually I became a Vice-President and a member of the Board, and President-Elect, President and past President, and that involved much more work, but was also more interesting for me. And like companies that I worked for all were quite happy to support the work that I was doing with the CIA because they realized that it had good implications for them as well.
I think that starting small is a good idea and then deciding what your particular area of volunteer work is that would interest you and challenge you.
Fievoli: Thanks everyone for coming on the podcast today and congratulations once again on receiving this award this year.
Dickson: Well, thanks Chris.
Tremblay: Thanks everyone.
Brierley: Thanks, Chris. It was a pleasure.
Fievoli: So, if you enjoyed today’s conversation, we invite you to subscribe to our podcast and catch up on prior episodes. As well, if you have ideas for a future episode or would like to contribute to our Seeing Beyond Risk blog, we would love to hear from you. Our contact information can be found in the show’s description.
Until next time, I’m Chris Fievoli and thank you for tuning in to Seeing Beyond Risk.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.