How do you think the SOA should respond to the CIA’s University Accreditation Program?

Tonya ManningAs you may know, the SOA Board of Directors has been discussing the Canadian Institute of Actuaries (CIA) launch of its university accreditation program (UAP) in Fall 2012.  The CIA’s UAP allows accredited universities to offer courses which will provide some students who achieve minimum grade requirements with the option of applying to the CIA to gain exemptions from writing some specific preliminary examinations toward the ACIA or FCIA designation.

A task force of SOA member volunteers has dedicated time over the past year to gather information that will help the Board assess how the SOA should respond to this program including a survey of members and candidates deployed on August 26, 2013. In turn, the Board has been committed to making SOA members aware of the CIA’s program through a variety of ways, including webcasts, presidential addresses at major meetings and actuarial clubs visits, member announcements following Board meetings and articles published in SOA’s The Actuary magazine.

Articles on this topic written by SOA members within the past year include:

These articles represent a broad spectrum of viewpoints and raise important considerations. As your President and on behalf of the Board, I’m inviting members to provide thoughtful feedback here on the Speaking of Actuaries (SOA) Blog with regard to how the SOA should respond to the CIA’s University Accreditation Program. Member comments will further inform and advance the Board’s discussions in the coming months.

For convenience, a PDF compilation of the same articles referenced above can be accessed here.

So…how do you think the SOA should respond to the CIA’s University Accreditation Program?  Please do take a few moments to share your thoughts. I look forward to reading your constructive comments.

Post updated August 26, 2013

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39 responses to "How do you think the SOA should respond to the CIA’s University Accreditation Program?"

  • Robert Eaton says:

    The SOA, tasked with ensuring the integrity and relevance of our credentials, should take into consideration but ultimately reject recognizing the Canadian UAP.

    Our existing educational requirements are demanding and in many senses our exams validate more than our knowledge of the syllabus. The rigor inherent in preparing and sitting for our exams prepares us for more than the exams. We should validate with our credentials only individuals who prove capable of maintaining their composure under duress, who are able to synthesize complex ideas within a moment’s notice, and who can make calculations accurately in a bind. Each of these qualities we look for in our future leaders; they are the many of the qualities that our society values in its Actuaries.

    University Accreditation does not eliminate these facets of the educational system but I believe it waters them down sufficiently enough to be rejected. I take Mr. Stapleford’s point that UAP may produce (I am paraphrasing) a lower proportion of passers. Mr. Trimble’s indicates a flawless exam record for his A and A- students. But these two assertions miss the point: we do not (ostensibly) seek a lower proportion of passers, and if A-grade students pass exams without fail, what is the point of instating the UAP for them?

    Mr. Smith raises the risk of cheating, a point which I take seriously as I have supervised many actuarial exams. The discipline required of supervising and proctoring actuarial exams far exceeds any university exam monitoring I’ve seen. But Mr Smith’s motivating thought springs from an individual point of view: that his credentials are “the asset from which all other .. assets emanate”. I choose to focus on our mission to society.

    We are valuable as an organization only through acceptance by the public and private spheres. Our employers recognize the rigor of the exam-based process and reward us appropriately. The broader public holds us in high regard precisely because of our scrupulous exam validation. As an exercise, skim some recent articles on “Actuaries have the best job.” Re-word the (common) understanding: “becoming a full-fledged actuary lies in passing an intense series of seven to nine exams…” under a UAP-based system and you’ll understand the impact that such a change may have on the Actuary’s reputation.

    The strength of our credentials lies in the validation of our skills in large part from our exam-based system, and I believe the efforts to adopt UAP diminish that strength. Our employers and the public appropriately put their faith in our risk management as a direct result of this validation. By maintaining the integrity and relevance of the credentials, our Society is able to serve our society.

    [These views are my own]

  • Tyler Kroetsch says:

    As a student at the University of Waterloo, I initially was a supporter of the CIA Accreditation Program. This also wasn’t because I was going to take advantage of it (I’m a third year student and have already passed all of the preliminary exams in the original Multiple Choice setting), but because I wrote exams P, FM, and MLC after taking the course which covers the material, and found that I needed no extra studying whatsoever to succeed on my first attempt on each exam. I have not taken the courses required for MFE credit, and am only taking the courses required for exam C this term.
    Furthermore, the entirety of the grade, at least at UW, comes from testing. We have never received marks for participation or essays like so many people seem to believe. We’ve previously received between 10-15% of our grade from assignments, however the courses now only put weight on the midterms and final exams.
    I said ‘initially’ above because I no longer support the decision whatsoever. Firstly, the required grades are far too low. In each of the two required courses for exam MLC, I received grades of 96%. I received a 7 on exam MLC. I don’t think for an instant that a student with a grade of 75% or 80% would be more than 60% likely to pass exam MLC. I actually know several students who have achieved grades in excess of 80% or even 90%, and then proceeded to fail exam MLC. Of course, this may deal heavily with the fact that the MLC syllabus changed recently, but nonetheless the approach is different. An exam with a required passing grade of 60% is akin to a course requirement of 85%-90%; most students know how to approach any problem on the syllabus and will get at least half of the marks for problems they can’t get the correct answer to. A multiple choice exam only awards points if the final answer is correct.
    In addition to this, many courses get scaled / bell curved. As a course, this is more than okay. There’s no reason that if a midterm is unreasonably difficult for the grades to be curved. It would be grotesquely unfair to students such as myself, who have already passed the exams and typically receive grades in the mid 90s, to get stuck with a grade in the 80s and miss out on potential awards/scholarships to other math (but non-ActSc) students because there was an abnormally difficult (i.e. too long to finish) final. If we get rid of bell curving, I think that this will only serve to turn away the best and brightest from ActSc, as they’ll know that they cannot achieve very high grades and receive good scholarships if they’re studying ActSc, and would prefer to study a different Math related sector and maintain grades in the high 90s instead of the low 90s (as other courses would still be curved). However when keeping it, I believe that many students who would not have passed the Multiple Choice exam (at least on their first try) will be granted credit for it when their 65% is curved to a 75%. I think that the problem is not with the accreditation program so much as it is with the required grades, 75% is simply too low. At first I was fairly certain I had seen somewhere that the requirement was 85% and thought that would be acceptable, but at 75% I cannot support it.
    In a closing note, I would strongly urge the SoA and CIA to attempt to remedy what I’ve mentioned above. An accreditation program CAN work and would be very valuable. All else equal, the grade in a series of university courses will be much more indicative of a persons knowledge than their ability to pass a multiple choice exam. I think that giving half of students in each course a grade capable of receiving exam credit however is not acceptable. When exam pass rates are around 50% (which includes people writing the exam for their 2nd, 3rd, or later attempts), it doesn’t make sense for 50% of students to receive credit for taking a course on the material. Giving accreditation to the top students is a very good thing – it would be an added incentive to attract the best and brightest to a career in Actuarial Science – however giving it easily to so many will only dilute the quality of actuaries in the long term. The exam process is rigorous and needs to be kept that way. I’m grateful to be graduating slightly before this process’ influence will be clearly seen as I worry about difficulties for aspiring actuaries finding work in a market that was previously / is currently very easy to find work in. With accreditation, it may become very difficult for a student to distinguish his or herself from other applicants. I’ve been told by many to slow down my exam writing as employers do not want to hire someone lacking experience with too many exams (as they would have to overpay them), however with accreditation I would feel it necessary to complete modules or write upper level exams in order to gain distinction from other candidates. Unless the accreditation process is changed, I think that long-term the quality of actuaries will diminish because of the program.

  • Stephen Kane says:

    To maintain control over the candidates that are given credit for these important examinations the power accredit must remain with the SOA and no-one else. If an exemption is just as difficult as passing the real exam then students should be able to pass the real thing. We should do away with the exemption program.

  • Hermann Lentchou says:

    According to me the SOA should not accept CIA’s exemptions because as Mr. Bradley M said it is important to have a uniform testing system as SOA exams are offered almost everywhere around the world. If SOA accepts these exemptions then it will be difficult to explain to American and Asian students why they couldn’t also have exemptions, the results would be the creation of exemption system in every region. In such a world what would be the role of the SOA? Because exams would be given by universities and every university can decide how many people they want to pass any exams. After that what would be next? The assiociateship modules and seminary of course because if universities can give exam exemptions why wouldn’they be able to give modules and workshop; people will graduate from university with their ASA certifications.

    I also read the paper from Mr. James Trimble, What he said is very relevant but his main concern is about the fact that Canadian FSA/FCIA would maybe broke their relation with SOA but honestly I think people should focus about what the future of the profession would be.

    I think one of the roles of the SOA is to prepare most motivated students to begin a strong career and it helps us to develop some strength that universities don’t like the fact to be a self-study person. In recent months some newspapers ranked the actuarial profession as the number one but that was the actual actuarial profession if we change the way we educate actuaries, the profession will also change in a bad way I am affraid.

  • Lucian Schulte says:

    The actuarial profession welcomes those from a wide variety of backgrounds: statistics, commerce, business, economics and of course mathematics (both pure and applied). Providing this preferential treatment to those who receive an actuarial sciences degree appears to remove the “standard” from the standardized testing as well as send a message to future actuaries that there is a preferred path to fellowship, namely studying at a specific post secondary institution.

    I am from Canada and the UAP system results in preferential treatment for actuarial candidates based on both geography and finances. Not every candidate has the opportunity or means to attend the accredited institutions. To give these institutions some form of preferred treatment for their students is problematic.

    And let us not forget a very unusual component of the UAP – that a student must submit 80% of the exam fee to the CIA to receive an exemption.

  • H. Lee Michelson says:

    I agree with Mr. Schulte.

    I found actuarial science attractive as a second career because the single criterion for entry into the profession was passing exams, which I could do.

    I do not question either the value of university education or the SOA’s standards. I believe, however, that if there are two paths to entry into the profession then one will become the normal path and one will become the alternative path. An accreditation program including so many of Canada’s universities has the potential to become the normal path in Canada. Students on the alternative path will be viewed as second-class citizens by themselves and by potential employers.

    Students have many reasons for choosing a university (e.g., geography, cost, religious affiliation, available electives). Even if a university does not aim to be an elite institution with standards acceptable to the SOA, it can provide the facilities that a talented student needs to get a good education. The SOA should not adopt a policy that will discourage students of non-accredited universities.

    This post expresses my own opinion. It does not represent my employer.

  • Fred Thompson says:

    A few Canadian universities have always offered courses that will help actuarial students in their efforts to pass the SoA exams. No problem with that. Let the educators educate. However, as many have shown, a university degree is not a requirement to become an Actuary. Self study must always be an option. But when all is said and done only the Actuarial profession as represented by the SoA and (unless they sell out) the CIA may set the standards for admission.

    One might argue that we have a sacred trust with the public and users of actuarial services. To lower the standards, as will be inevitable if the educators are put in charge, will permanently lower the quality of Actuaries available.

    If the very low participation (under 20%) in the latest CIA elections is any indication it looks as if we must question whether the CIA actually represents Actuaries in Canada. We must hope that the SoA has the strength of character to reject UAP out of hand.

    • Bruce Schobel says:

      Perfectly stated! I’m not sure I could add anything to this post. I do wonder why we must rehash these college-credit proposals again and again. Steve Kellison pretty well demolished the idea way back in 1970. And the members — including those in Canada! — spoke out overwhelmingly against FEM (UAP under its previous name) just four years ago. Doesn’t the SOA have any institutional memory?

  • Doug Andrews says:

    I will declare my interests: I passed all the exams and like all the old boys am afraid that we may water down our sacred credential AND I am the Director of a Canadian university program that offers credits for examinations toward Canadian and “British” exams. Not only does the university make money at this but so do I.
    I am not going to engage in a discussion of relative standards but I am going to wave a red flag to SOA members who seem to think they are the “true actuaries”. The International Actuarial Association is the body that speaks for the actuarial profession internationally. The SOA and the CIA are both full members of that body. I have met many outstanding actuaries through the IAA, many of whom have been educated in different manners that did not require the exam-based approach of the SOA. An increasingly common development is for actuarial organizations to grant membership by mutually recognizing the qualification process of other actuarial organizations. The SOA does this. There are already SOA fellows who did not pass all the SOA exams.
    I am not suggesting that the SOA take the retroactive step of expelling such members and break away from the rest of the world in order to protect its exam-based education system. The world needs actuaries. Let us get on with selling ourselves to the world as a profession that can help address its problems through our excellent training and rigorous professionalism.

  • Mary Pat Campbell says:

    For some context, let me link to the following paper where this sort of issue had been discussed:

    That is a paper written by Stephen G. Kellison, in 1970. While this was published in the Proceedings of the CAS, this was an argument going on within the SOA at the time.

    While some of the comments he has in the paper are not relevant to current exams, his core arguments still pertain. They also pertained in 1989/1990 when this came up, the early 2000s when this came up, 2009, and 2013.

    Is it really necessary to keep rehashing these arguments? Each time the membership has overwhelmingly noted their displeasure with the concept of credentialling through college courses. The objections they make can almost all be found in the Kellison paper.

    For fairness, here is a link to the entire publication page for the issue, as it has a description of the proposals current then as well as a paper in support of the concept:

    • Bruce Schobel says:

      Yes, indeed. The same tired proposal, dressed up in slightly new clothes, advocated by the same Canadian academics whose institutions would benefit the most from its adoption. Why must we fight the same battle again and again? We went through this just 4 years ago, and 90% of the 1100 SOA members who commented were opposed. Yet it rears its ugly head again just 4 years later? Amazing.

  • Benjamin Kester says:

    Another challenge with any collegiate exam accreditation is that it is anti-competitive. Smaller schools, or schools with smaller programs will be unable to compete with a few big schools, will lose more students, and will drop their programs. As a result, students will be unusually concentrated amongst a few select schools. New schools would find it increasingly difficult to start new programs. This will not achieve the growth in quantity or in breadth that the SOA is seeking. Additionally, in the U.S., most students would be unable to find a public in-state program and would have the options of: expensive out-of-state tuition far from home, strong competitive disadvantage vs. other actuarial students, or selecting a different career path. With the increasing costs of college and burden of student debt, the attractiveness of the third option only grows.

  • Rob Brown says:

    So, the SoA will admit Aussies who pass University credits and members of the Institute/Faculty of Actuaries (UK) who pass University credits and South Africans, who….need I go on.

    But you will not admit Canadians??

    • Lucian Schulte says:

      The issue with the Canadian UAP is that currently in Canada to become an FCIA the most common “track” or approach is to obtain your FSA designation through the jointly sponsored SOA/CIA/CAS exams. The CIA has now decided to allow students to receive exemptions from 4 of these exams in exchange for a fee of 80% of the cost of taking the exam. Before considering fellows, a larger issue becomes the associates.

      In Canada, students will now be eligible to become associates with 1 exam and the FAP modules assuming they did well in University. If these students were given ASA credentials that would create a huge imbalance because the ASA in and of itself is a well respected credential that often leads to greater opportunities. I do not thing attending a particular university, completing one exam and the FAP modules, should put you on equal footing with an American ASA who has also completed university and gone through the rigor of the exam process, completing 5 exams plus the FAP modules.

      How new fellows of the CIA are treated is an extension of the issue. This is not an issue about the SOA refusing to admit Canadians, but the SOA re-evaluating what credentials a Canadian actuary has, especially after the system has changed significantly. I am currently a fellow of the CIA and the SOA and I think it’s important that the SOA take a long hard look at this. It’s not an issue about whether to admit Canadians but an issue about whether or not the Canadian system meets the rigorous requirements of the SOA. Personally, and like many others here, I feel it does not meet those requirements.

    • Frank Bensics says:

      Yes you need to go. There is a marked difference between the mutual recognition agreements that admit a small number of individuals who have attained fellowship, and an agreement that waives components for a group comprising 20% of the membership.

      Does the SOA grant exam by exam waivers for those that have completed equivalencies in other actuarial organizations? Would the SOA have mutual recognition agreements if 20% of the membership were to seek admission under them. If you want consistency, let the CIA apply for mutual recognition for its Fellowship designation.

  • Mary Pat Campbell says:

    I agree with Rob Brown. We need to rethink our mutual recognition/waiver rules.

    I know we’ve been giving these credits for those who got their UK/Australia credits via college credit, which is still against our bylaws. I have kept asking for that to be reconsidered, but it gets swept under the rug. Perhaps we should have proof that credit was earned via exam, as stipulated by the SOA bylaws.

    Also consider: other professional orgs, such as PRMIA, have dropped exam waivers themselves (one no longer gets credit for being ASA/FSA to be exempt from PRM exams – implemented just this year). Seems like the going thing.

    • And yes, I know that Rob Brown was not actually arguing that we rescind exam waivers for college courses from the UK and Australia (though I am).

      My point is that if UAP supporters bring up what has been going on all this time, very quietly, with respect to the exam waivers, the response won’t be “Oh, it would only be fair to acknowledge the fait accompli” but “Wait — what are they doing? I don’t remember that being kosher!” The membership have never been fond of these proposals — though there have been very specific people who have been.

      So, UAP supporters, you may want to be careful with your cries of “Unfair!” It may bite you in ways you don’t want.

  • Robert A. Blough says:

    I have serious reservations about the SOA allowing credit for the preliminary examinations via any method except the validation methods adopted by the relevant examination committees. The introduction of multiple methods means that one will almost certainly be less difficult than the other, and thus be viewed both as more popular and damaging than the other. The only way that the SOA, or any credentialing body, can maintain control over the skills and knowledge of each member is through continuing their own validation process, whether it be through examination or some other method.

    The SOA’s examination process allows for exemptions from certain requirements via university courses. These are the Validation by Educational Experience (VEE) requirements, which emphasize, not surprisingly, education and experience. I graduated with a university mathematics degree and began taking actuarial exams while still in the university. One of the most common pieces of advice I received was to get the VEEs out of the way while still in school; it was easier that way. Even with these relatively low-stakes requirements, a clear preference for a certain path predominated. I fear that two classes of SOA credentials would be created if examinations were exempted through university courses: those that attained their credentials through examinations, and those that attained them through the usual exam process.

    My university had professors that were diverse; some were known to be easier than others, or maybe they simply better teachers than their peers. How would the SOA allow for measuring these differences? Would certain professors be forced to change their teaching styles, or to curve their grades down or up in order to meet a minimum/maximum number of successfully exempted students? Does the SOA have that sort of authority over independent universities? If a professor bent the rules for their favorite student, how could the SOA find out about this?

    I recognize that some international actuarial organizations, notably the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries in the United Kingdom, have similar university accreditation programs that have already gained acceptance into the SOA and gain exemptions from their associated exam(s). I would urge the SOA to reconsider their acceptance of this program as well, but even if they do not, I still am opposed to acceptance of the CIA’s UAP program for one predominant reason: Canada is a lot closer than the UK. For example, a US student from Seattle is a mere 2.5 hours from Simon Fraser University, and thus such a program would be a serious consideration. I know I would have seriously considered a university that relieved me from the burden of the SOA examinations.

    The UAP will take too much control away from the validation procedures of the SOA exam committees, and thus put at risk the standards of the credentials. A multitude of practical questions would also need to be addressed along with the seemingly simple implementation of such a program. The SOA’s international members are a valuable part of the organization, but that does not mean they shouldn’t have to satisfy the requirements that the other members must complete.

  • Michael J. Anderson says:

    Count me as in agreement with the article by Bradley M. Smith.

  • Mike Manchego says:

    As a long-time member of the SOA working in Canada, I do not really support the CIA’s UAP system. My conversations with others working in the industry in Canada – both relatively new and relatively old FSAs and FCIAs – suggest that this is the majority viewpoint. It would also be wise _not_ to assume that most of the universities are on board with UAP. I’ve spoken with some of my former actuarial professors (at one of the major CIA accredited universities) and it really sounds like accreditation is something they were forced into solely for the sake of image and marketing, not because they actually believed it to be a good idea.

  • Carol A Marler, FSA. MAAA says:

    I was against this idea some 50 or so years ago, when it was called “The Alternate Route.”
    I was against it when it was called “Future Education Methods” and my arguments against it included the fact that it’s not at all about the future. I’m still against it as a CIA initiative to accredit universities/

    If the University students have demonstrated in the past that their educational attainments are highly predictive of passing the corresponding exams, as the supporters of UAP have argued, then, in my view, they should simply continue passing the corresponding exams.

    This is not an argument against using universities to educate and train actuaries. it is an argument in favor of a completely level playing field for demonstrating the acquisition of knowledge. Knowing is not the same as demonstrating what you know.

    • Carol A Marler, FSA. MAAA says:

      I just want to add that any opinion expressed here is my own, and not necessarily that of my employer.

  • Christopher McRae says:

    The SOA should reject the CIA University Accreditation Program (UAP) because it does present any benefit to the public or qualified actuaries. I was working in the US when “Future Education Methods” were discussed and (I think) overwhelmingly rejected by the SOA membership, so I was very surprised when I returned to Canada to find the CIA had quietly adopted a UAP program.

    I completely agree with the two main points raised by Mr. Bradley Smith, i.e. that the testing/ validation process is best performed by an independent body (consistent with other professions), and that maintaining this structure does not diminish the value of university education/preparation.

    Additionally, I have been unable to find anyone able to articulate the value of UAP to the profession or the public. It certainly does not increase the value of actuarial credentials and, in my opinion, would materially lessen it as more less-qualified actuaries are introduced into the ranks thru lower standards or cheating. The value of our credential is of very significant financial and personal importance to most actuaries and should be jealously guarded by our actuarial organizations as their primary responsibility. I have attended two meetings with recent CIA presidents where this topic was addressed and do not recall hearing any concrete benefits to the profession or the public in its support. Until someone presents reasons otherwise, I can only imagine, perhaps cynically, that those who benefit most are actuarial employers who would likely benefit from reduced salary requirements due to increased “qualified” supply.

    The SOA and CIA have a responsibility to act in the best interest of the public and as much as possible its own members. The UAP proposal appears put to these aside in favor of the financial interests of actuarial employers, candidates who wouldn’t make the cut in the current system, and universities.

    Please reject this proposal (and those like it) once and for all thru some constitution-like amendment so that it cannot be resuscitated every five years (like a Quebec referendum) when the opposition believes it has the conditions necessary to get its way.

  • Vladimir Itkin says:

    I am against the proposal to adopt UAP. I was planning to write a letter to The Actuary, but dropped my plans after reading Brad Smith’s article. He expressed my thoughts perfectly; I agree 100%. I discussed the issue with about 25 actuaries (all voting members of the SoA practicing in U.S.) There were two people who wanted to adopt UAP. All the others were clearly opposed to it. A few years ago a similar proposition had to be tabled after an outcry by the membership; a special thanks to the Chief Actuary of Mercer who wrote the letter to SoA that made the most difference. I did an informal survey of candidates in the upcoming elections. I think they are split half/half supporting/opposing UAP. I created an informal SoA election guide based on this issue. Feel free to contact me if you want a copy. As far as Rob Brown’s comment: why do we accept people from other countries who got their designation via college rather than exams… I agree with MaryPat: we should reconsider giving exam waivers to people who just took college classes regardless of what country they came from.

  • Nicholas Yeo says:

    I am a FSA by mutual recognition via my FIA qualification. To qualify for FIA I had 8 of my earlier easier exams gained from exemptions by scoring an above average grade in the university and the other 7 exams passed by FIA actuarial exams.
    Honestly, it is by far easier to pass via exemptions than by sitting the exams itself. But I feel this should is an advantage and not a disadvantage, because the SOA would be able to lure more people towards an actuarial career. However, to attain a fellowship one would still need to go through part of the SOA exams, which is where the standards are controlled. By offering an easier path to some preliminary exams but maintaining standards for the more critical exams would not dilute the value of an FSA.
    Also, I feel a large part of the value of an FSA comes from how we conduct ourselves professionally, rather than what exams we passed.
    Hence, if we can attract more people to our profession, and only the better ones will make it to an FSA and conduct themselves professionally, the accreditation program should have a positive impact.
    I also disagree that we are increasing supply purely to reduce price. This is poor short term thinking. In the long run, this increase in supply (of good actuaries) will make us a stronger profession, create value in areas that we are currently not involved in. It is about making a bigger pie for more people to eat, not more people eating the same small sized pie.

    • Frank Bensics says:

      Why do most people pursue an actuarial career? My experience with students is not that they enter the profession to help people or because its what they have wanted to be an actuary their whole life. Rather they enter the profession because it provides reasonable compensation, and doesn’t require the excessive debt that many graduate degrees require. Can you in away way explain how this will have a positive impact on actuarial compensation.

      An unfortunate reason that many want to study actuarial science is that they are under the impression that it is easy to find employment. How is attracting more people into the profession with only the better ones attaining Fellowiship a positive? To me it is better to give people an indication earlier rather than later so that they can make alternative career choices.

      With respect to the bigger pie, all I can say is look at the impact of CERA has had outside of the insurance industry.

  • Greg Childs says:

    I’ll go against the grain and say I support SOA accepting UAP credit. I’m surprised by the vehemence and solidarity of opinion against UAP. I say it’s the 21st century and lets get with the times. The UAP system looks like a well researched, reasoned proposal that can leverage the education received at accredited universities. It may shorten the path to fellowship which is a good thing. The oversight addresses many (maybe all?) of the concerns listed about grade inflation, cheating etc.

    For those concerned about non-deserving students getting credits they wouldn’t get by exam, they still have to pass SOA exams to get their credentials. I think Mr. Trimble’s experience is likely to be born out but how about an SOA trial run. Either grant credit and see how those receiving do on future exams. If those students do poorly, the SOA withdraws from the accreditation program. Or if the SOA can’t go that far, commit to looking for a certain pass rate for those students over the next 3 years. If those students who get UAP credit meet the pass criteria for the exams they do take then the UAP is adopted by the SOA.

    BTW, Mr. Smith listed a concern about exam fees, the UAP gets most of the fees, without any of the cost. And the CIA staffed the UAP program with CIA staff and volunteers. Are you saying the SOA cannot do the same in the U.S.?

    • Frank Bensics says:

      Why is UAP anymore with the times than the current system? In the United States many are beginning to realize that the university based model is bloated and inefficient. I agree with your point that the SOA should be in no hurry to adopt this and an examination after three years sounds reasonable, I am not sure what your point is with respect to revenue loss. Having payments made to the CIA does not help the SOA.. .

  • Laura Bennett says:

    I agree with Nicholas, this should strengthen the profession. And I did not get an actuarial science degree and did write all the SOA exams. I have no problem sharing the profession with those that get through the exams they will have to write.

    • Laura Bennett says:

      Perhaps someone from the CIA could share the reason they thought it was a worthwhile direction given it was not the easy path to take.

  • Jennifer Doucette says:

    As an actuarial student, I agree with most of the comments against UAP system. I feel the society will lose the ability to maintain the quality standards currently in place. I chose the profession for the prestige and challenges it offers. If the UAP system is put in place the ASA/FSA credentials will lose some of their value and I consider it an honor to work in this profession.

  • Jason Vary says:

    I’m the Chair of the CIA’s Eligibility and Education Council and as such I would like to take this opportunity to offer further perspective from the CIA’s point of view.

    The CIA has responsibility for defining what it means to be an actuary in Canada. As such, only FCIAs are considered to be fully qualified actuaries in Canada. The recent introduction of the UAP and the ACIA designation has not changed this, nor will it.

    The CIA forged ahead on the UAP because the Institute felt that leveraging university accreditation was critical to enhancing the future of the profession in Canada, and that it will benefit from shifting focus in the early years from passing exams to obtaining a more well-rounded education. The classroom is the appropriate environment to teach (and test) many of the technical skills that actuaries require now and in the future that will allow them to compete for the best employment opportunities. We also feel that we are losing top university candidates to other professions with more straightforward education and validation systems.

    The UAP should not be mistaken for the introduction of a degree requirement for the profession, or an attempt to make actuarial education elitist. It merely provides an option for Canadian candidates to apply to the CIA for exam exemptions for preliminary exams FM, MFE, MLC, and C of the SOA, and 3L (future 3LC and 3ST) of the CAS. CIA candidates still have the option of completing the professional exams of the CAS and SOA, which the CIA will continue to recognize, subject to the CIA’s ongoing monitoring.

    Regarding the CIA’s control over the 11 accredited universities in Canada, I can confirm that it is significant with respect to the courses mapped to the preliminary exams. The full extent of the control is documented in our UAP Policy (; however, a clear demonstration of our control is embodied in the CIA’s use of paid external examiners (EEs), whose role is to assess whether the university has upheld its accreditation agreement and that the conditions under which the CIA granted accreditation are being maintained.

    Most recently, EE visits to all accredited universities took place in the spring of 2013. The EEs looked at the syllabus mapping and course outlines, testing and examination procedures, sample student exams and exam scripts, and the number of students achieving the minimum exemption grade. A final report was compiled for each university using a standardized template. As a result of the EE process, several universities received letters outlining areas that required immediate attention/correction in order to maintain their accreditation status in good standing. The types of issues identified included the practice of transferring weighting from mid-term exams to final exams, which can lead to grade inflation and is not permitted under the UAP, as well as inconsistency in grading procedures between various course instructors. While the responses from the universities are still being reviewed, at this time I can confirm that so far the universities have responded to the Institute’s demands in a satisfactory manner.

    The CIA’s concern is with Canada, and the UAP model will proceed (regardless of the SOA’s decision at this time) as one of the robust elements of the Canadian education system—just one element of what the CIA feels is a balanced eligibility and education process. The UAP works for preliminary exams but will not replace Fellowship-level education and exams. Nor can it ever replace the practical and Canadian work experience requirements.

    The CIA hopes that the SOA embraces UAP candidates as members, and that these members will ultimately strengthen the SOA’s education system through volunteerism. The SOA and CIA have long shared a common membership and volunteer resource base, and this is not expected to change.

    The CIA values all of the various perspectives and feedback, both positive and negative, regarding the merits of a university-based system for some of the preliminary exams. All of this dialogue leads to the ongoing strengthening and development of the Canadian education system.

  • Tom Bakos says:

    Consistently over the past 40+ years from the “alternate route”, FEM, and, now, Canadian UAP SoA members have been against a university course exam waiver program. The arguments against have been well thought out, varied, and consistent over the years and they have been restated eloquently in the above.

    There seems no argument that SoA credentials should be granted based on examination. The issue is what entity should oversee and administer the examinations. I think that entity should be the SoA. We define what an “actuary” is (at least an “SoA actuary”) and grant an SoA credential achieved through meeting education and knowledge goals we have established and we, I.e., the SoA, ought to control that process – directly.

    If Canadian universities want to offer an actuarial credential, then, perhaps, they should offer one of their own creation. Otherwise, Canadian universities ought to be encouraged only to educate actuaries and offer themselves only as an alternate to self-study or other university education program.

    If subject matter is no longer considered important enough to being an actuary for the SoA to test and validate directly or can be validated through other tests indirectly (say, as a necessary prerequisite), then it would be much better to eliminate that subject matter entirely from our syllabus (replaced, perhaps, by something else) than to pass its validation on to some other third-party entity whose processes we would need to continually review and approve.

  • Kyle Rudden says:

    Let me begin with my conclusion – if the SOA does not integrate university exemption into our professional examination program in some significant way, we run the risk of being made less relevant on the global stage. Much like the risk the Casualty Actuarial Society is currently running by choosing not to integrate with the SOA. Maybe not immediately, but demographics and global trends will operate against us.

    I am a UK FIA (by examinations – no exemptions), an FSA by mutual recognition and ACAS by examination. I have had the benefit of working with students doing SOA and UK Institute exams, and from US, Canadian and UK universities. I have been a member of SOA examination committees and participated in global strategic planning for an international non-actuarial professional body with more than 150,000 members.

    To make comments that university based testing will water down the profession indirectly insults our international colleagues. In the anglophone actuarial world: UK, Australia, Ireland and South Africa have been “watering it down” for years. Actuaries from continental Europe rely even more significantly on university rather than professional examinations. They look down on us professional exam actuaries because we didn’t do original research in a masters dissertation in order to become an actuary.

    The SOA already defacto gives credit to UK university exemptions when we grant mutual recognition to UK FIA’s. It is currently possible to get exemptions for almost all the UK’s professional examinations. That is conceptually already more than what Canada is asking for.

    I agree that the logical conclusion to accepting the Canadian proposal is to open the door to the SOA accrediting non-Canadian universities. There are significant logistical issues involved in accrediting universities internationally, or even state by state. However, to fail to do this will decrease the competitiveness of the SOA brand internationally and its ability to influence developments on the world stage. For example, when a major Chinese university negotiates accreditation with the UK Institute, but cannot do so with the Society ..,.

    I agree with several of the comments made against exemptions. However, I do not believe that we have a viable alternative that will not harm our strategic positioning in the future.

    • Tom Bakos says:

      University “education” is worked into the SoA education program. University students who learn enough in university to pass SoA exams will be accredited by the SOA. What is wrong with that?

      It is not clear how “university exemption” works to make an organization like the SoA more or less relevant. An organization like the SoA is relevant (or not) based on the quality of its membership to practice as actuaries in the world market. The SoA has better control over qualifications and standards if it operates, under its sole control, its accreditation system. That just makes sense.

      And, what does “competitiveness of the SOA brand” mean? In this context it seems to mean establishing standards of admission that will work to attract actuarial candidates to the SoA vs. some other actuarial organization. Why, exactly, should we be concerned about that? Does that mean quantity is more important than quality? If so, why not then consider exempting candidates from examinations for other reasons: relevant experience; apprenticeships under current members or actuarial employers; certified self-study; research paper authorship; etc. Would that make the SoA more relevant?

      It just makes no sense to say that an organization like the SoA which does not exempt candidates from its entrance requirements becomes less relevant by doing so when, in fact, it may become more relevant to employers because of a perception, at least, of higher, uniform standards.

      I think university education is one great way to learn what a practicing actuary needs to know. My understanding is that most university actuarial MS programs (in the U.S.) are guided by the SoA associate exam level syllabus and educate students so that they, at least, have an understanding of that material. That being the case, it would seem no problem for universities to grade their students, in part, on performance on SoA associate level exams – working the SoA exams into their programs. Perhaps timing of university programs with SoA exams is a problem. If so, perhaps, that can be addressed.

      The only issue with respect to “university exemption” is that universities want the right to test the students as part of the SoA accreditation process that they have educated. That seems, at the very least, to be fraught with conflict of interest.

      • Kyle Rudden says:

        Any examining body that sets its own standards, including the SOA, has potential conflict of interest issues. I have heard comments over the years ranging from “They are making the exams easier so they can get more members.” to “They are making the exams harder than ever to keep people out.” The risk is mitigated by benchmarking, measuring pass rates, external reviews etc. The real test, of the university or the professional body, is the market perception.

        The UK Institute & Faculty of Actuaries website lists universities that have courses currently meeting their accreditation criteria for exemptions. I see several UK universities, as well as: Australia (5), Egypt, China / Hong Kong (2), Ireland (5), Portugal, Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, Canada, Zambia, India. The countries without numbers have 1 university each. My understanding is that it is actually quite difficult to get accreditation. Just to mention that in the UK you also need to demonstrate 3 years acquisition of supervised work based skills. That’s not covered under the SOA, but would be indirectly required of some wanting to be a MAAA, EA etc.

        I don’t think the Institute exams are harder or easier than Society exams. They benchmark each other regularly. Neither do I think UK or US actuaries are more or less competent than each other. This is not surprising, since the actuarial profession is actually one of the most internationally mobile.

        The issue in brand awareness is ultimately market driven, as you have suggested. If the brand is devalued, employers, regulators etc will not place value on it. But the brand has apparently not been devalued in those countries that use exemptions.

        If the UK route, with exemptions, does not produce an actuary as good as an SOA actuary, you should not accept them under the mutual recognition process.

        [Personally, I find the possibility of a good university student being able to get exemptions from all but 1 of the UK exams is too much. I think you should not be able to get exempted from the Fellowship level exams. I also think in practice you pay less for persons with exemptions than exams, until they can demonstrate they can pass exams / do real work.]

  • Amarya Feinberg says:

    If the SOA can control the pass rate of students who take these courses, then it should be approved. And I mean the institutions agree that roughly half (or whatever is the normal examanation pass rate) of the enrolled students actually fail the courses, don’t even receive college credit. Because that’s what we experience if we fail an exam, no credits whatsoever. Or better, set their passing percentage 10% below the exam passing percenentage.

  • Mary Pat Campbell says:

    Good session of pro/con on UAP recently.

    Are the results of the membership & candidate survey on UAP going to be shared with us? That might be informative.

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