Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why Working With Actuaries is Desirable, In My Humble Opinion

Actuaries often get a bad rap. In my thirtieth year in the profession, I feel like I have heard it all. We are nerds. We are numbers geeks. We can't think outside the proverbial box. We are literal. outgoing actuaries look at YOUR shoes when they talk to you.

Despite all that, there is much to be said that is positive about the profession. An employee (not an actuary) of the US Department of the Treasury once said to me that actuaries were the single most honest and ethical profession that he has dealt with.

Many of us majored in college in something like actuarial science, risk management, math, or economics. Probably, a large number of us thought about a career in academia. I have a number of friends who have remained in academia and that I can think of, every one of them to my knowledge is an honest and ethical person. But, generally, that is because of who they are, not what their professions require them to be. For much of academia, codes of conduct tend to relate to embarrassing the college or university that employs them. In my personal experience, those codes of conduct are not overly stringent, at least not if we compare to the actuarial Professional Code of Conduct.

Recently, much has been in the news, or at the very least, the conservative news of a particular Professor of Economics at MIT, Jonathan Gruber. Dr. Gruber is highly regarded by his peers as one of the preeminent health care economists that we could find. Dr. Gruber also developed many of the econometric models put forth with the Affordable Care Act (ACA, PPACA, ObamaCare). He has been engaged by either or both of the United States Congress or the current presidential administration for his expertise as well as by a number of the states to consult on the economics of the ACA. By his own admission, he helped to deceive the public about the ACA and its costs and sources of revenues. Paraphrasing Dr. Gruber, he justifies this as being for the greater good. That is, he has proclaimed that the ACA was a good and necessary law to pass and that the goodness of the law justifies any deception.

Dr. Gruber may be right about that. Or, he may not be. You may have an opinion on whether he is right. I'm not here to express mine on that particular issue.

There are many actuaries who are qualified, given the appropriate data and choices of assumptions and methods, to project health care costs or the costs of a health care plan or plans. Those who fit that bill have attained initial qualification through examination and maintained it through continuing education. While this process has a different rigor than does the process of attaining a Ph.D., it has created a relatively small community of individuals who work in the field.

Actuaries tend not to be political animals. Part of the reason for that may lie in our Code of Conduct. Quoting directly,
An actuary shall act honestly, with integrity and competence, and in a manner to fulfill the profession's responsibility to the public and to uphold the reputation of the actuarial profession. [Precept 1] 
An actuary shall not engage in any professional conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation or commit any act that reflects adversely on the actuarial profession. [Annotation 1-4]
Those are two strong statements. Actuaries who have failed to abide by the Code of Conduct have been counseled, censured, suspended, or even expelled from the profession. Many of those cases have been for violation of Precept 1 (and its annotations) among others.

So, while jokes have been told about actuaries regarding the variety of answers that we might provide, I suggest it is because ours is not an exact science. We use our experience to make sound professional judgments. But, we have a duty of honesty and of integrity. We have a duty to not misrepresent or deceive.

To me, this is laudable. It makes me proud to be a part of the profession. It's why there would not have been an attempt by actuaries to deceive the public had actuaries been used by the government to model the costs under the Affordable Care Act. It makes it desirable to work with actuaries.

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