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SA needs solutions grounded in both data and human understanding

SA needs solutions grounded in both data and human understanding
13-10-23 / Tommy Jackson

SA needs solutions grounded in both data and human understanding

Johannesburg - Public interest must trump all other considerations when actuaries deliberate some of South Africa's most pressing challenges, according to Costa Economou, the incoming President of the Actuarial Society of South Africa (ASSA) and CEO of Colourfield Liability Solutions.

On Thursday, Economou called on the more than 1 900 actuaries attending the 50th ASSA Convention in Johannesburg to be bold and use their skills to help the country find fair and sustainable solutions to challenges such as inclusive economic growth, National Health Insurance (NHI) and equitable social welfare systems.

"I believe that we have a responsibility to help our nation's people achieve sustainable financial security and, in so doing, afford them the dignity which they so deserve," said Economou.

He emphasised, however, that the solutions put forward by the actuarial profession must always be grounded in both data and human understanding.

"Actuaries are trained to consider long-term impacts and a wide array of scenarios. By keeping the public interest at the forefront, they can guide decisions that are not just economically sound, but also socially beneficial."

He also reminded actuaries that by honouring their duty to serve the public interest, they not only uphold the dignity and integrity of the profession but also contribute significantly to building a more inclusive, stable, and prosperous nation.

"Our nation grapples with challenges, from economic disparities to an ever-increasing number of crises: an inequality crisis, an education crisis, an energy crisis, a water crisis, a transport crisis. Climate change, no longer a distant threat, demands our immediate attention and analytical skills. These aren't just challenges but opportunities – opportunities for us to drive change, shape policies, and craft a brighter, sustainable future."

Economou called on actuaries to apply their tools, including new technology such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, not only for commercial gain but also for broader societal good. "Every algorithm we write, every model we develop, should be imbued with a sense of purpose," he added.

Economou takes up the position of President of ASSA as the Society celebrates 75 years of serving the South African actuarial profession. The Society's inaugural meeting was held in Johannesburg on 22 December 1948.
In 1948, there were 42 people with actuarial qualifications in the country. Today, the Society has 4 682 members, of which around 2 000 are Fellow and Associate members.

Economou recounted a number of ground-breaking achievements that shaped the South African as well as the international actuarial landscape over the past 75 years, including:
  • Pioneering work by Peter Doyle modelling the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Southern Africa in the early 1990s;
  • The introduction of life cover for people living with HIV in 2001 – a world first;
  • Work by Peter Bieber, which led to the establishment of the JSE equity indices;
  • The development of critical illness policies;
  • The move from defined benefit to defined contribution retirement funds;
  • Pension fund surplus legislation, which is unique to South Africa; and
  • The introduction of the banking exam as a sixth Fellowship subject in 2015 was another historic world first for the actuarial profession.
Economou concluded by calling on South African actuaries to envision a profession that is not only a global benchmark for technical acumen but also a national emblem of positive societal impact. "As we steer into the next 75 years, let's join hands, merging our strengths and dreams for a brighter, inclusive South African tapestry."

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