A common image of the actuary is of a rumpled worker bee crunching numbers in a dreary, windowless office.
That image might not be 100% accurate but nevertheless, Barbara J. Lautzenheiser is out to change it.
"Not many people come into direct contact with actuaries in comparison to lawyers, physicians or even economists," she wrote in an e-mail from South Africa, where she was recently attending a conference. "We are working to make the profession better known and understood by the public and other key audiences, such as business and public policy leaders."
Ms. Lautzenheiser is the new president of the American Academy of Actuaries, Washington, and she wants to make actuaries the architects of financial security. That might be a tall order in today's world of alleged malfeasance from the corporate board room to major mutual fund companies to the nation's premier stock exchange.
But Ms. Lautzenheiser, who runs her own actuarial firm in Hartford, Conn., said she wants the academy, a 15,000-member trade group, to contribute to the ongoing development of regulation and business practices that seek to prevent the next Enron or Putnam.
"I believe our profession has an outstanding track record for high standards of practice and ethical conduct," she said. "But progress is only made by pushing the boundaries of excellence. We can begin to offer more input as legislative proposals are developed, both in Congress and in state legislatures, so that the foundation upon which regulations are written is stronger."
Furthermore, Ms. Lautzenheiser pointed out that as analysts of future risk, actuaries deal with critical life issues such as sickness, natural and man-made disaster, retirement and death, and develop solutions to mitigate the financial impact of these events.
"Being able to manage the consequences of these realities promotes financial security, whether it be for individuals, companies or even the government," she said. "Because actuaries are the people who design and build these programs, actuaries are truly the architects of financial security."