“Mirror, mirror”

by Emily Kessler, SOA Senior Staff Fellow, Intellectual Capital

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who in this land is fairest of them all?

(Little Snow-White, Brothers Grimm)

EmilyKessler Ah, the magic mirror. It always gives you a straight answer, whether you want it or not. It makes me wonder if the Queen wouldn’t have been happier with a question that permitted some ambiguity in the answer (“Mirror, mirror on the wall, am I reasonably attractive compared to other women of my age and social status?”). But the Queen didn’t live in a world where kids get trophies just for playing in the youth soccer league. You were the victor or you weren’t, and she would go to any lengths to regain her supremacy. You’ve got to admire her moxie, even as you condemn her means.

We all live with mirrors in our lives, including non-physical mirrors. Our actions (and inaction) are commented on from our earliest report cards through our performance reviews. Our family and friends provide the mirror for our emotional selves. These non-physical mirrors strive to achieve what the piece of glass with silver backing does so easily: provide a reflection on another part of ourselves. Why do we put up with and often seek out these imperfect non-physical mirrors? Because we know they contain elements of truth: our strengths, weaknesses, assets and limitations. As we recognize what is good and bad, it makes us who us who we strive to be.

As SOA members, we all have a new mirror in our lives. The SOA began disclosing members’ compliance with the SOA CPD Requirement on March 1, 2011. It’s tough getting a new mirror in your life, but it’s even tougher when you’re not quite sure what to make of its reflection on you. Is it accurate? What does this mirror tell me that my other mirrors couldn’t?

We live in a complex world. As professionals with significant technical expertise we find the demands on our expertise increasing while the understanding of the nature of our expertise (and its limitations) is diminishing. It’s not easy knowing something well that most others don’t understand. One solution to this problem is transparency: I’m going to be as clear as I can about what I thought about (and didn’t think about) when I made this recommendation. This includes making sure that everyone understand the limits of my expertise. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have expertise – it’s just that I have limits to my expertise. I won’t be practicing medicine, law, accountancy or even fixing my car anytime soon. I know the limits of my expertise.

But how do we best communicate our expertise, and its limits, to others? When we communicate the limits of our expertise to others, what does that imply about the rest of our knowledge? When I admit that I don’t have enough expertise to recommend particular investments to a pension trust, does this imply that I don’t know enough about the underlying risk of the asset classes to help the pension trustee determine how best to mitigate the underlying actuarial risks?

The SOA Board of Directors made a decision that it was important for the public – employers and clients – that the SOA disclose each SOA member’s compliance with the SOA CPD Requirement. The SOA CPD Requirement also requires that non-compliant members disclose their lack of compliance to users of their actuarial expertise. With the close of the first CPD cycle, and the first attestation period, members who have attested non-compliant with the SOA CPD requirement must now disclose their non-compliance to those individuals relying on their actuarial expertise.

What does non-compliance with the SOA CPD Requirement mean? Does it mean you’re no longer qualified to practice? That you’ve forgotten everything you’ve ever learned as an actuary? That there is no remaining place in your brain for information about health, life, pensions, finance, investments, risk management or the laws of basic probability? Of course not.

All of our training and education remains with us, even it’s not subject to total recall. And attesting compliance with the SOA CPD Requirement is just one way to demonstrate maintenance of skills and expertise to those who use your services. It’s a piece of information – but not the only piece of information – that informs others of your expertise. The most important thing is to start a conversation between actuaries, their employers and clients, about the actuary’s expertise. It can act as a mirror to help us understand how those who value our expertise see us, and our expertise. After all, none of us actually possess the Queen’s magic mirror.

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2 responses to "“Mirror, mirror”"

  • Alberto Dominguez says:


    To play devil’s advocate, might a formal CPD requirement as we’ve now put in place not serve in some way actually to limit conversation between actuaries, their employers and clients, about the actuary’s expertise, by unintentionally creating a check-box mentality about continuing education. We’ve replaced an open-ended question (“In what continuing education activities did you engage?) with a closed question (“Did you satisfy the SOA CPD requirement?”) with its well-known tendency to encourage nothing beyond a yes-no response.

    Best regards,

  • Outstandingly informative thanks, It looks like your trusty audience could very well want a good deal more writing like that continue the great hard work.

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