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Pathways to sustainability

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The greatest challenge of our time 

Global warming is occurring at an unprecedented rate as a result of human activity. This change presents ecological, social, economic and financial risks. The potential impacts of climate change are global and systemic. As well as highly disruptive physical changes, there are significant implications for the entire financial system.

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual Global Risks Report for 2021 has shown that climate change and failure to act upon it rank as the most pressing concerns for leaders globally. The pressure is on for government, industry, and companies alike, to play their part in accelerating the transition to a more sustainable future. However, it’s not as simple as cutting carbon emissions. There are increasing calls for a just and fair transition. One which aims to extend the economic and social benefits of sustainable energy globally, including economies that are currently reliant on carbon-intensive activities.

As a result of this increased pressure, sustainability risks, including the risks of climate change and biodiversity loss, have never been higher on the agenda. Increasingly ambitious sustainability targets are being set, with many private and public sector organisations, including the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, committing to net-zero by 2030.

These commitments are just the beginning – meaningful action is urgently required to effect real change. Transformative change will require organisations to fundamentally rethink how they operate and transition to sustainable business models. As a profession specialising in risk management, the actuarial profession is ideally placed to assist others in understanding and integrating the financial risks of climate change.

“Sustainability is undoubtedly a theme of developing profile and importance and will permeate all aspects of business life,” says Russell Picot, former Group Chief Accounting Officer at HSBC and a special adviser to the Financial Stability Board’s Climate-related Financial Disclosures Task Force. “It’s important that all financial professionals, including actuaries and accountants, have a sound grasp of what this means and how it will impact the business and investment environment in which they operate.”

As climate change and biodiversity loss are new threats, traditional methods can’t necessarily provide the insight that businesses are looking for.

“The fundamental question for actuaries, their employers, and their clients, is whether or not they are pricing risk correctly if they don’t include climate change in their modelling,” says Sandy Trust, Director of Sustainable Finance at E&Y and Chair of the IFoA’s Sustainability Board. That’s why Trust believes that in order for actuaries to be able to fulfill the demands that will be made of them, they need to adapt.

Competitive disadvantage

“If they want to continue to price risk accurately, they need to adapt their actuarial toolkit to take account of everything happening and that is where the profession comes in. If they don’t, they could not only be placing their organisation at a competitive disadvantage, they could be putting the organisation itself at risk,” he says.

The IFoA has placed a great deal of emphasis on sustainability considerations, working with the IFoA Sustainability Board to establish a Sustainability Volunteer Group and a Sustainable Finance Community. It has also issued a wide range of guides and support to help actuaries speak up about climate change and support their organisations in tackling its impact.

As far back as 2017, the IFoA issued a Climate Change Risk Alert to all members encouraging them to consider how climate change affects the way they work and come to decisions. These are not new considerations.

“An actuary needs to be progressive, forward-thinking, and leading on this rather than sitting back and waiting for the regulator to do something,” says Trust. “There is a professional and moral responsibility to be literate in this way. Look at the Royal Charter – there is a public duty of care around actuarial matters – so if climate change is impacting actuarial matters, then for me it becomes part of that duty of care.”

Beyond the duty of care, failing to incorporate sustainability considerations into their advice could see individual actuaries facing legal challenges in the future.

“The risks to the profession come in two parts,” says Louise Pryor, President of the IFoA. “The first is that this is a major, long-term financial risk - which is what actuaries model so they have to take it seriously. But secondly, by not acting, they could lose all credibility. There is a real risk of being accused of professional negligence. We are seeing a huge rise in climate-related lawsuits around the world and one of the groups that could get sued for not giving strong enough advice on sustainability issues is professional advisers.”

For Trust, it is vital that actuaries take advantage of the support and guidance offered by the IFoA, enhance their skills and develop their toolkit to provide the insight that their employers are looking for. He points to scenario analysis - understanding what could happen to the value of physical assets as extreme weather events increase in severity and regularity and sea levels rise - as one of these tools.

“It’s about thinking through the ways climate change can impact your financial decisions and the outcomes for your pension portfolio, annuity book, and the entity you work for. There is lots of sophisticated analysis that allows you to look into different climate scenarios,” he says.

The need for actuaries to engage on climate change and bring their skills to play in the response to is vital. And Trust believes there is an opportunity for the profession to carve out an ever-more crucial niche for themselves.

The impetus for actuaries to react goes beyond moral or professional obligations. Operational pressures are likely to start bearing down, with an expectation from boards that they are conversant in these issues and have the skills to respond.

Boardroom bridge

Emily Farnworth is co-director at the Centre for Climate Engagement at the University of Cambridge, an organisation that acts as a bridge between the academic research on climate science and the country’s boardrooms.  

She says that business appetite to learn about sustainability is increasing and points to the growing number of financial institutions making sustainability promises as evidence of that burgeoning awareness. And as more and more board members become au fait with the nature of the crisis and what their response to it should be, the demand for support and engagement throughout the company will increase, with much of that attention falling on actuaries.

“Actuaries should grasp the opportunities that sustainability represents to ensure that they continue to be relevant to their clients,” says Picot. “For example, in the area of investment strategy, a considerable amount of thinking is happening already about the design of strategies where this knowledge is critical. Without this, there is a risk that other professionals will step into the space.”

And now that the commitments have been made, there is a natural pressure to start delivering on those promises. There is nowhere to hide anymore, for anyone.

“The board can set the ambition, but it is going to require employees to come up with and deliver the solutions. There is going to be an increasing openness from the board to hear from employees about what needs to be done,” says Farnworth.

But it’s not all about managing expectations – there are huge opportunities for the profession if individuals are willing to grab them.

While nobody has a cut-and-dried answer on how to shift to a sustainable economy, actuaries have a crucial role to play in promoting the understanding and integration of climate risks and opportunities within decision-making. Indeed, the opportunities for actuaries go beyond advice. Actuaries could channel their unique expertise into providing much greater support for dealing with sustainability risks. By developing products and services that support and incentivise behavior and activities that are aligned with net-zero, the financial sector can be a driver of the change that is needed. Products and services can also support individuals and businesses as they navigate the changing risk landscape, helping society to adapt.

“There are all sorts of opportunities in financial services and more broadly because these risks are quite different than others. Most insurable risks happen over and over again but climate change and biodiversity loss happen once, and it is chronic and long-lasting,” says Pryor. “But the data doesn’t exist, so you need different techniques and that creates a huge opportunity for actuaries to step in and think about how we do it.”

It feels as though we are at an inflection point – progress is being made but the real test comes now when action is required, and actuaries are shaping up to have a key role to play. But to fulfill that role, actuaries will need to show a willingness to reach out beyond their traditional skill sets and resources and create new approaches that can give their organisations the insight they need.

 


Leading the debate on sustainability

Louise Pryor -  IFoA President Elect“Policy and thought leadership has on this subject has never been more important. I’m proud that the actuarial profession is able to step forward with a range of policy initiatives and incisive thought leadership to support a transition to a sustainable future”
 

Louise Pryor -  IFoA President 

You, our members, are playing a leading role in the policy conversation on climate change and sustainability. 

From climate change policy briefings to risk alerts and guidance, actuaries are helping societies and businesses to choose pathways to a more sustainable world.   

These pathways have been explored in the IFoA Sustainability Thought Leadership webinar series, which seeks to convene leading experts, thinkers, and decision-makers with our global membership to debate the key sustainability issues of our time which intersect both actuarial science and the interests of wider society.

The Regulatory Board is currently consulting on an amendment to the Actuaries’ Code to include a requirement for actuaries to have an appropriate level of relevant knowledge and skill on climate change and sustainability. The consultation also asks your views on whether the IFoA should introduce a new Actuarial Professional Standard on climate change.

To help your understanding of how climate-related risk plays a role in the work of actuaries, the IFoA’s Actuarial Review Team has completed an information-gathering exercise.

Read more about how actuaries are helping to shape policy on sustainability. 

Sustainability policy and public affairs 


Supporting your lifelong learning - IFoA Sustainability and Climate Risk course

Climate Risk Course

Sustainability is a major field for actuarial lifelong learning. From curated reading lists to a host of additional resources of use to actuaries, we're dedicated to supporting your lifelong learning in this vitally important area of actuarial science. 

Learn more about how your lifelong learning can benefit.

Sustainability and Lifelong Learning


Working together for a sustainable future

The social, business, and financial worlds are increasingly being affected by environmental and societal risks, the likelihood of future changes, and the measures taken by governments to try to deal with them.

As long-term risk managers, such developments are of crucial interest to actuaries. Led by the Sustainability Board, the Sustainability Practice Community works to identify the implications for actuaries and their clients and help in the development of appropriate responses.

Read more about how actuaries like you are working together for a more sustainable future. 

Sustainability Practice Community


 

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Events calendar

  • The Growth Mindset for Actuaries

    13 October 2021 - 8 December 2021

    Fully booked.

    This practical course is aimed at actuaries at any stage of their career who want to develop their own growth mindset and apply it to their work setting and personal or professional lifelong learning. The content of the course builds on the lecture given by Dr Helen Wright on Growth Mindset as part of the President’s 2021 Lecture series, and will be delivered over a period of 2 months, from mid-October to early December.

  • Spaces available

    Content will be aimed at all actuaries looking to understand the issues surrounding mental health in insurance and in particular those looking to ensure products and processes widen access for, and are most useful to, those experiencing periods of poor mental health.
     

  • Spaces available

    The IFoA Policy Briefing 'Can we help consumers avoid running out of money in retirement' examined the benefits of blending a lifetime annuity with income drawdown. Panellists, including providers and advisers, will look at the market practicalities of taking the actuarial theory through into the core advice propositions used by IFAs and Fund Managers. They will share a number of practical issues such as investment consequences before and after retirement and the level of annuity that is appropriate and answer questions from the audience.

  • Speech from the Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey

    Lincoln's Inn The Treasury Office, London WC2A 3TL
    1 December 2021

    The IFoA is pleased to be hosting the Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, to deliver a speech on delivering policyholder protection in insurance regulation. The speech will be presented to an in-person audience, and simultaneously live-streamed. If you would like to watch the event online please visit the event page to book your place.

  • The Many Faces of Bias

    2 December 2021

    Spaces available

    This webinar looks at the many types of biases, both conscious and unconscious and the impacts they can have in the workplace.  Raising our own awareness and understanding of the issues can help us avoid the pitfalls of unconscious bias in particular.  We’ve all heard the phrase ‘office banter’ but are we sure that’s how those on the receiving end perceive it and is it ok to go along with it?

  • Spaces available

    Actuaries need to take action now - but how?  With a focus on climate change, this session will provide informed insight to enable you to improve your knowledge and understanding of the issues involved, demonstrate how it will impact advice to your clients, and highlight prospective opportunities for actuaries within pensions and wider fields.

  • Spaces available

    Pension scams have become more prevalent as a result of the pandemic, and Trustees have increased responsibilities to protect members, which means that actuaries need to be in a position to provide advice in this area. Our specialist panel will include a professional trustee, an IFA and head administrator, two of whom are members of PASA.

  • Spaces available

    The Covid-19 pandemic creates a challenge for actuaries analysing experience data that includes mortality shocks.  To address this we present a methodology for modelling portfolio mortality data that offers local flexibility in the time dimension.  The approach permits the identification of seasonal variation, mortality shocks, and late-reported deaths.  The methodology also allows actuaries to measure portfolio-specific mortality improvements.  Results are given for a mature annuity portfolio in the UK

  • Spaces available

    In this webinar, the authors of the 2021 Brian Hey prize winning paper present a new deep learning model called the LocalGLMnet. While deep learning models lead to very competitive regression models, often outperforming classical statistical models such as generalized linear models, the disadvantage is that deep learning solutions are difficult to interpret and explain, and variable selection is not easily possible.

  • Spaces available

    The dominant underwriting approach is a mix between rule-based engines and traditional underwriting. Applications are first assessed by automated rule-based engines which typically are capable of processing only simple applications. The remaining applications are reviewed by underwriters or referred to the reinsurers. This research aims to construct predictive machine learning models for complicated applications that cannot be processed by rule-based engines.

  • Spaces available

    With the Pension Schemes Act 2021 requiring a long term strategy from Trustees and sponsors, choosing a pensions endgame strategy has become even more critical. However, it is important that the endgame options available are adequately assessed before choosing one. With an ever-increasing array of creative and innovative options available, this decision may not be straightforward.