Showing posts with label ethics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ethics. Show all posts

Apr 24, 2010

New Actuarial Ethics

As actuaries we have to act in a complex world. This is no easy task. If we're honest, we have to admit that in this last decade we got ourselves dragged along the road of unrealistic and too optimistic ROI outlooks.

'Good' and mathematically sound advices turned out 'Bad'. Pension Plans are in trouble. New ROI-hope seems to be on our doorstep. With a look of weariness and despair, board members and clients seek our advice.

It's our duty to advice them in this financial jungle. Unfortunately we can not look into our Cristal Ball and predict the future. Moreover, topics like the ROI and longevity outlook become more and more an ethical issue instead of a mathematical exercise in uncertainty.

Yes, it's our responsibility to guide insurance companies, pension funds and other financial institutions through an unsure future. As new age risk managers, we have an enormous responsibility on our shoulders to winnow the Bad from the Good advices. One thing is sure, we have to do better than we did in the past, but how?

E=A-L ?
It's not enough to judge whether a 'one point Equity estimate' keeps the Assets and Liabilities in balance. What's even more clear, there is no one point E, A or L. There are only probabilities and to judge those, our personal ethical principles become even more important than our essential technical skills and experiences.

Our main puzzle is that this decade has shown that observations of the past are no convincing guarantee anymore for predictions of the future. This implies that we have to fall back on other, more ethical, principles in our advice. The good old ethical principles and methods to deal with actuarial dilemmas, need a fresh up.

Genuine Moral Intelligence (GMI)
Main issue is, that the more 'objective' and significant our data get and the more sophisticated our models may become, the more our advice becomes susceptible to unpredictable developments.

On top of all this, more control, increasing data or more advanced models, will only create a false sense of certainty. These old instruments won't  help us anymore en will only reduce the long term returns and aggravate the ultimate volatility. The only way out is to throttle back on our 'risk attitude' on basis of some new ethical principles.

These new ethical principles are not just about 'minimal legal compliance'. Modern actuary ethics goes further than that. In fact ethics is reincarnated as 'Genuine Moral Intelligence' (GMI).

GMI, as defined by Richard E. Thompson, is: Aristotelean decency, vision, purpose, and uncommon sense.

The applicable GMI equation is given by:  


ER = Ethical Reasoning
Rather than "pick an ethical theory and stay the course," one may ask and answer a series of questions.
Some examples: Who are the stakeholders? What ethical principles apply? How do they apply?

UPVs = Underlying Personal Values.
UPVs are used to answer the above questions.
Some examples:
  • As a board member, do you vote for continuing a needed community medical service that is losing money, or for cutting the service to avoid financial problems?
  • As a pension board member, to what kind of probability are you willing to increase the pension of the pensioners at the risk of having to raise the contribution of future pension fund members?

Underlying personal values also determine whether we act according to our morally intelligent conclusion, or choose to ignore it.

RSI = Reasonable Self Interest
Ethics only makes sense if we can come up with a sound answer to the question "Why act ethically?"

Here, Aristotle comes in with a helping answer: "To serve one's own self-interest".
Keep in mind there's a difference between self-interest and greed. The wise Aristotle explains: "Love of self is a feeling implanted by nature, but selfishness is rightly censured, because selfishness is not mere love of self but the love of self in excess, like the miser's need for money."

So self-interest is nothing unethical in itself. An example from the famous Adam Smith stresses this:

"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest." (reasonable self-interest)

From now on actuarial advice is different!
GMI could be the new key to economic recovery. We have to get back into realistic pension plans. We need to establish the necessary changes (due to aging) in our social security systems. It's our task as actuaries to share and discuss the above principles with our clients and the boards we advice, in order to force the crucial (economic) change that's needed. This is no easy task, as board members are often not used to such transparent en open discussions involving their own underlying personal values, preferences and (reasonable) self-interest.

So from now on, when you discuss an actuarial report or advice on board level, it's different! From now on, we've got New Actuarial Ethics, where GMI is inclusive. 

This new ethical theme, including the communication and discussing techniques, should be incorporated in our actuarial education program....

Used Sources/ Related Links:
- Thompson: Ethics is dead, what do we do next?
- The crystal ball 
- When Bad Things Happen to Good Plans
- Actuarial Ethical Dilemmas(2010,ppt)
- Actuary Duty (Vrystaat)
- Clay Bennett Cartoons