Jul 27, 2010

What kind of actuary are you?

We all know plain actuarial skills are not enough to be(come) a successful professional actuary.

Time and time again we have to conclude that it takes more than average communication skills to overcome the persistent communication gap between actuaries and their audience.

In a 2008 workshop Matthias Bonikowski (Senior Manager at Milliman) presented the outcome of a German survey.

Here are the stunning results:
Proposition Actuaries' opinionNon-Actuaries' opinion
1.Actuaries are pessimists85%85%
2.Actuaries are not opportunists70% 70%
3.Actuaries communicate clearly and transparently 15% 5%
4.Actuaries think out of the box50%15%
5.Actuaries live in an ivory tower10% 50%

The Copy Paste Actuary
From the Bonikowski survey it's clear that non-actuaries (including: board managers, sales directors, product managers, coaches and headhunters) don't speak highly of actuaries.

It looks like most of the 'actuary species' are perceived as a kind of 'Copy Paste Actuary'. One who's not able to think out of the box.

We are congenital pessimists, trained to do a sort of one trick pony act. An act we can't explain or communicate, like 'normal' people seem to be able to do. 

On top of this  - just like the famous Baron Münchhausen who was unable to escape from a swamp by pulling himself up by his own hair - we actuarial poor devils seem unable to lift ourselves to the next level.

We're obviously trapped in our 'non-communication' addiction, smoke gets in our eyes and nobody around us seems capable of helping us to move from our alien planet to the world of real people, business and social life.

The non-actuaries' view in Bonikowski's survey emphasizes this image...

The non-actuaries' view
The non actuaries' view on actuaries comes down to::
- They explain complex terms as complex as possible
- Inability to make actuarial things clear to non-actuaries
- They are not able to take a bird‘s eye view
- They are missing empathy for non-actuaries

As possible reasons for this view, non-actuaries notice:
- They are isolated from decision processes…
- High expectations about actuarial knowledge – deep and broad
- Communication skills are not a part of actuarial education

As a 'solution', 7 suggestions for successful communication are developed:
  1. Point out key messages
  2. Leave out details
  3. Use more pictures and examples
  4. Explain more in “black and white”
  5. Avoid academic language/technical jargon
  6. Pick up non-actuaries earlier
  7. Define target-group specific communication rules

As we all know, these issues and solutions are not really new or surprising. Why is this issue of non-communication and 'Ivory Tower Effect' so hard to solve?

Actuaries are invisible
In 'My Opinion' of the Actuarial Review 2010, Grover Edie shows that we 'actuaries' are not in any way involved in important (political) decisions.

Important decisions that society has to take in coping with challenges as aging, longevity, health, etc.  Grover Edie explicates: 'they don’t ask us (actuaries) because we are not visible'.

My view is that the 'invisibility of  actuaries' is more or less a global issue.

Undoubtedly this theme of invisibility finds his roots in the actuary's attitude. This is well illustrated by Grover Edie's summarized reactions of actuaries on the issue:
  • “If I do good work, others will ask me for more of it.”
  • “I don’t need to advertise or to sell my work: My work speaks for itself.”
  • “I certainly don’t need to sell others on the value of my work, and if they are too stupid to know the value of what I do, that’s their problem.”

Supply and Demand
Grover Edie thinks that this underlying 'laissez-faire  attitude' is the basic problem. A problem that - in his view - can be solved with a simple sales training approach.  With all due respect...., the invisibility of actuaries has probably a deeper cause than this superficial laissez faire attitude only, that is mainly the effect of the Law of Supply and Demand.

Most actuaries had to study hard to achieve their goal of becoming a qualified actuary. Once they'd become an actuary, there was, still is and will be, more than enough well paid work. In other words: The Demand side of the market market exceeds (by far) the Supply side of the market. Why should actuaries develop a commercial sales attitude if they don't need it?

In this situation the risk that an actuary eventually becomes a 'Mirror Actuary', is not inconceivable.

A mirror actuary, one who just reflects and gives back what the environment offers him.

He looks a bit like the invisible actuary. Without a real own opinion,  the mirror actuary just reflects the financial impact and consequences of decisions taken by others.  He  acts without sincere social engagement or conviction. Hence he's unable to generate a critical positive feedback viewpoint, necessary to make what its takes, the difference.

What does it takes?
Convincing actuaries to become more visible and socially or publically involved, takes more than a professional sales approach. Actuaries have to be made conscious of why and where they are and what they really want to achieve in life.
In other words:

What kind of actuary would you (really) like to be?

In this case the answer is not a traditional one like 'Pricing Actuary', 'Pension Actuary', 'Health Actuary; or the humorous answer 'very kind'. No, the answer to this question hits our actuarial soul....

The good old actuarial horse
Would you like to be the well paid 'actuarial horse' in front of the wagon, that gets his orders from the coachman and does his calculation work every time he's being asked to do deliver some?
Or do you want to sit on the wagon, next to the coachman, discussing and advising on the best route of the wagon?

Answering these simple questions is key in solving the persisting actuarial mind setting issue.

Visibility? Select at the gate!
This invisibility issue deals with the fundamental structure of an actuary's personality.  It's not something that can be easily learned or changed during or after achieving a (long term) study. If we want visible actuaries who are socially and publically involved, we'll have to select them on that attitude at the gate, before they undertake an actuarial study. Just like we test their arithmetic talent and other mental capacities, before actuaries start their study.

The Dancing Actuary

If we don't act upon this new 'visibility insight' and keep trying to beat the famous dead horse, things will never change.

In this situation there's a tricky risk that we enjoy our salary and comfortable position so much that we suppress our critical view and potential power to change things. In which case we become totally dependable on our monthly paycheck and the opinion of our boss or manager.

In doing so, we might gradually become implicitly susceptible to extortion and eventually things will escalate.

Ultimately in this situation, we could even develop to a kind of 'dancing bear', in this case a 'Dancing Actuary'.

Try to keep your eyes open. If you feel completely 'chained' or if our environment constantly forces you to support actions or decisions you can not really account for, seek help or step out before it's too late.

The Wise Actuary
Wrapping up this warning blog about invisibility, you could get the wrong impression that black swan actuaries doe not exist at all.

Of course we know better. There are lots of wise and visible actuaries around the world and as you've made your way to the end of this blog, you'll be probably one of them....

Wise actuarial owls that want to make the difference in life and society. Actuaries who are not for sale and who know their personal limits. Actuaries that know when and where to say 'no' or 'yes'.

Actuaries that don't just want to talk about a better world, but want to act(uary) on it.

Are you that 'wise actuary', who's visible, socially active and leading society to the next level?

If you want to find out if you're a wise, invisible, mirror or dancing actuary, take the next 5 minutes 15 questions test called:

Good luck with this 'actuary stress test'!

Related links/ Resources:
- Workshop Actuarial Communication (2008) Presentation (pdf)
- Article: They Don’t Ask Us Because We Are Not Visible
- Test:What kind of actuary are you?

Jul 14, 2010

Solvency II Project Management Pitfalls

When you - just like me - wonder how Solvency (II) projects are being managed, join the club! It's crazy...., dozens of actuaries, IT professionals, finance experts, bookkeepers accountants, risk managers, project and program managers, compliance officers and a lot of other semi-solvency 'Disaster tourists' are flown in to join budget-unlimited S-II Projects.

On top of it all, nobody seems to understand each other, it's a  confusion of tongues..... 

Now that the European Parliament have finally agreed upon  the Solvency II Framework Directive in April 2009, everything should look ready for a successful S-II implementation before the end of 2012. However, nothing is farther from the truth.....

Solve(ncy) Questions in Time
The end of 2012 might seem a long way of...
While time is ticking, all kind of questions pop up like:
  • How to build an ORSA system and who owns it?
  • What's the relation between ORSA and other systems or models, like the Internal Model
  • Where do the actuarial models and systems fit in?
  • What are financial, actuarial, investing and 'managing' parameters, what distinguishes them, who owns them and who's authorised and competent to change them?
  • How to connect all IT-systems to deliver on a frequent basis what S-II reporting needs......?
  • How to build a consistent S-II IT framework, while the outcomes from QIS-5 (6,7,...) are (still) not clear and more 'Qisses' seem to come ahead?
  • Etc, etc, etc, etc^10

The Solvency Delusion
Answering the above questions is not the only challenge. A real 'Solvency Hoax' and other pitfalls seem on their way....

It appears that most of the actuarial work has been done by calculating the MCR and SCR in 'Pillar I'.

It's scaring to observe that the 'communis opinio'  now seems to be that the main part of the S-II project is completed. Project members feel relieved and the 'Solvency II Balance Sheet' seems (almost) ready!

Don't rejoice..., it's a delusion!  The main work in Pillar II (ORSA) and Pillar III (Reporting, transparency) still has to come and - at this moment - only few project managers know how to move from Pillar I to Pillar II.

Compliancy First, a pitfall?
With the Quantitative Impact Study (QIS-5) on its way (due date: October 2010) every insurer is focusing on becoming a well capitalized Solvency-II compliant financial institution.

There is nothing wrong with this compliance goal, but 'just' becoming 'solvency compliant' is a real pitfall and unfortunately not enough to survive in the years after 2010.

Risk Optimization
Sometimes, in the fever of becoming compliant, an essential part called "Risk Optimization" seems to be left out, as most managers only have an eye for 'direct capital effects' on the balance sheet and finishing 'on time', whatever the consequences......

Risk Optimization is - as we know - one of the most efficient methods to maximize company and client value. Here's a limited (check)list of possible Risk Optimization measurements:

1. Risk Avoidance
- Prevent Risk
   • Health programs
   • Health checks
   • Certification (ISO, etc)
   • Risk education programs
   • High-risk transactions
      (identify,eliminate, price)
   • Fraud detection
      (identify,eliminate, price)
   • Adverse selection
      (identify, manage, price)

- Adjust policy conditions
   • Exclude or Limit Risk  
   • Restrict underwriter
      (excess, term, etc)

- Run-off portfolios/products

2. Damage control
- Emergency Plans (tested)
- Claims Service, Repair service
- Reintegration services

3. Risk Reduction
- Diversification

- Asset Mix, ALM
- Decrease exposure term
- Risk Matching
- Decrease mismatch
- Outsourcing, Leasing

4. Risk Sharing
- Reinsurance (XL,SL,SQ)
- Securitization, Pooling
- Derivatives, Hedging
- Geographical spread
- Tax, Bonus policy

5. Risk Pricing
- Exposure rating, Experience rating
- Credibility rating, Community rating
- Risk profile rating

6. Equity financing
- IPO, Initial Public Offering
- Share sale, Share placement
- Capital injections

Solvency-II Project Oversight
Just to remind you of the enormous financial impact potential of 'Risk Optimization' and to keep your eye on a 'helicopter view level' with regard to Solvency-II projects and achievements, here's a (non-complete but hopefully helpful) visual oversight of what has to be done before the end of 2012.....

(Download big picture JPG, PDF)

Be aware that all Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), Key Risk Indicators (KRIs) and Key Control Indicators (KCIs) must be well defined and allocated. Please keep also in mind that one person’s KRI can be another’s performance indicator(KPI) and a third person’s control-effectiveness indicator.

Value Added Actions
As actuaries, we're in the position of letting 'Risk Optimization' work.
We're the 'connecting officers' in the Solvency Army, with the potential of convincing management and other professionals to take the right value added actions in time.

Don't be bluffed as an actuary, take stand in your Solvency II project and add real value to your company and its clients.

Related Links:

- A Comparison of Solvency Systems: US and EU
- UK Life solvency falls under qis-5
- Determine capital add-on
- Reducing r-w assets to maximize profitability and capital ratios
- Risk: Who is who?
- Balanced scorecard including KRIs (2010)
- Solvency II, Piller II & III
- Risk Adjusted Return On Risk Adjusted Capital (RARORAC)
- ERM: “Managing the Invisible" (pdf; 2010)
- Unlocking the mystery of the risk framework around ORSA
- Risk  based Performance: KPI,KRI,KCI
- Risk of risk indicators (ppt;2004)
- Defining Risk Appetite
- Risk appetite ING KPI/KRI
- Board fit for S II?
- How to compute fund vaR?
- Technical Provisions in Solvency II
- Insurers should use derivatives to manage risk under Solvency II 
- Solvency Regulation and Contract Pricing in the Insurance Industry
- Overview and comparison of risk-based capital standards 
- Solvency II IBM
- Reinsurance: Munich Re  , Reinsurance solvency II

Jul 10, 2010

Actuarial Limit 100m Sprint

In June 2009 Professor of Statistics John Einmahl and (junior) actuary Sander Smeets, calculated the ultimate record for the 100-meter sprint. The actual World record - at that time - was set by Usain Bolt at 9.69 seconds (August 16, 2008, Beijing, China).

With help of the extreme-value theory and based on 'doping free' World Record data (observation period:1991 to June,19 2008) Smeets and Einmahl calculated the fastest time that a man would be ultimately capable of sprinting at: Limit = 9.51 seconds.

As often in actuarial calculation, once your model is finally set, tested and implemented, the world changes...

Or, as a former colleague once friendly answered when I asked him if his ship (project) was still on course:

In this case, the 'model shifting event' took place in Beijing, exactly one year later, on August 16, 2009: Usain Bolt sets a new astonishing 100m World Record in 9.58 seconds !

Of course 9.58 secs is still within the scope of Smeets' and Einmahl's model limit of 9.51 seconds...

Nevertheless, as a common sense actuary, you can see coming a mile away, that this 9.51 secs-limit will not hold as a final future limit.

As is visual clear, one can at least question the validity of the 'extreme-value theory approach' in this 100m sprint case.

Math-Only Models
In this kind of projections (e.g. 100m world records) it's not enough to base estimations only on historical data. No matter how well historical data are projected into future data, things will mesh up!
Why? Because these kind of 'math-only models' fail to incorporate the changes in what's behind and what causes new 100m World Records. To develop more sensible estimates, we'll have to dive into the world of Biomechanics.

To demonstrate this, let's have a quick -amateur - look at some biomechanical data with respect to Usain Bolt's last World Record:

Let's draw a simple conclusion from this chart:

Hitting 9.50 secs seems possible

Just like Bolt stated in an interview: "I think I can go 9.50-something", appears to be realistic:
  • 0.026 secs faster by improving his reaction time to the level of his best competitors: 0.12secs, instead of  0.146secs
  • 0.060 secs faster by reaching his maximum speed (12.35 m/s) at V50 and maintaining this speed for the remaining 50 meters. 

Biomechanical explanations
On top of this, Bolt outperforms his competitors on having a higher step length and a lower step frequency. This implies there must be deeper biomechanical factors like body weight, leg strength, leg length & stiffness (etc), that need to be included in a model to develop more realistic outcomes.

Newest biomechanical research ("The biological limits to running speed are imposed from the ground up" ) shows maximum (theoretical?) speeds of 14 m/s are within reach, leading to potential World Records of around 9 secs on the long run.....

Based on this new biomechanical information output in combination with an appropriate chosen corresponding logistic model, we can now predict a more realistic ultimate World Record Estimation (WRE) in time.

Curvefitting at ZunZun with the 1968-2009 data (including Bolt's 9.58 secs record) on basis of a Weibull CDF With Offset (c), led to the next, best fit equation:

With: y=WRE in seconds, x=Excel date number, and:
a =  -3.81253229860548
b =  41926.0524625578
c =  8.97894916004274 (=final limit)

As we may learn more about biometrics in the near future, perhaps the ultimate 9 seconds (8.9789 seconds, more exactly) can possibly be reached faster than we currently estimate (year 2200).

Now, just play around with (estimate) world records in this Google time series plotter:

As actuaries, what can we learn from this 'sprinting example'?
Well... Take a look at estimating future (2030 a.f.) mortality rates.

Just like with estimating World Records, it seems almost impossible to estimate future mortality rates just on basis of extrapolating history.

No matter the quality of the data or your model, without additional information what's behind this mortality development, future estimations seem worthless and risky.

Although more and more factors affecting retirement mortality are being analysed, (bio)genetic and medical information should be studied by actuaries and translated into output that strengthens the devlopment of new mortality estimate models.

Actuaries, leave your comfortable Qx-houses and get started!

Related links and sources:
- Ultimate 100m world records through extreme-value theory
- 90 years of records
- Usain Bolt: The Science of Running Really Fast
- Biomechanics Report WC Berlin 2009 Sprint Men
- BP WC Berlin 2009 - Analysis of Bolt: average speed 
- The biological limits to running speed (2010)
- Limits to running speed in dogs, horses and humans (2008)
- Improving running economy and efficiency
- Factors Affecting Retirement Mortality and Their Impact ... 
- Cheetah Sets New World Record 100 meter sprint2009 (6.130 sec)
- 100m World record data and WRE (xls spreadsheet)

Jul 5, 2010

Exceptional Longevity Predictable

A genome-wide association study (Paola Sebastiani et al) based upon 1055 centenarians, showed that Exceptional Longevity (EL)  - living 90 years or more - can be predicted with 77% accuracy!

EL Genetic Passport
This research development will have major impact on 'life insurance' and pensions. With an EL Genetic Passport in your pocket, you'll have the power to conclude with 77% certainty whether it's profitable (or not) to buy life insurance or to invest more or less in your pension fund.

Genetic Loss by GAS
To prevent major losses caused by 'adverse selection', life insurance companies and pension funds have no other choice left, than to base life insurance premium prices and pension contributions on 'genetic passport information'.

Just like it's (from a company's perspective) devastating to sell mortgages to people who cannot afford it, it's also killing to sell life annuities to people who have knowledge of getting 90 years or older with 77% certainty.

As Genetic Adverse Selection (GAS) also negatively affects current provisions and value of an insurance company or pension fund, GAS development effects should be included and estimated in actual liability calculations.

Without doubt, GAS will generate large Genetic Losses in the next decades. Perhaps GAS can be qualified as a substantial new kind of risk in Pillar I calculations.

Related links - Sources:
- Science: Genetic Signatures of Exceptional Longevity in Humans
- PDF: Genetic Signatures of Exceptional Longevity in Humans
- BU: Signatures of Human Exceptional Longevity (video)
- Centenarians in some European countries, 2007