Oct 23, 2010

Actuarial Word Clouds

We all know the saying 'one picture is worth a thousand words'....

What if that picture also contained words itself?
Such a Word-Picture must be worth at least a million words.....

What if that Word-Picture is also an Actuarial-Word-Picture?
This kind of picture must be worth a billion words!

Enough balderdash..., there's a fabulous online application, called Wordle, to empower and spice up your traditional power-point presentations.

Wordle uses words and their frequency to turn them into a Word-Cloud - or better - a Word-Picture.

You may use Wordle on any group of words or even a RSS-feed.
So in fact Wordle creates a weighted summarized and visualized impression of what you, your document or your employer is. 

Here are some examples of Wordle voor the RSS pages of two actuarial giants....

Let's start with Mercer:

Towers Watson

And now for some Towers Watson's...

Actuary Info
Let's conclude with an example of a more modest and smaller actuarial giant: Actuary Info

Presentation Tip
Next time you give a presentation,  instead of summing up the standard dry bullet points, replace them by a Wordle cloud.

Your audience will be spellbound , 'turn their head', 'look for expected words' and 'immediately grasp the relative size of the issues mentioned'. All resulting in (1) you - the presenter - will have much more attention and (2) the facts shown on your slides will be longer remembered, because the are 'your visualized words' and therefore will be better memorised...

An AON Example...
Let's end with a simple example from AON's 2010 Risk Survey:

I. Traditional (PPT) Slide Presentation

Risk Quantification Tools Used (2010)
(to measure demonstrable Value Received from ERM Efforts)
  • Qualitative tools 59%
  • Industry benchmarks 34%
  • Earnings/Cash flow/Value at Risk 27%
  • No use of risk quantification in ERM process 23%
  • Actuarial analysis 13%
  • Stochastic/Monte Carlo simulation 13%
  • Not specified 7%

II. Wordle Presentation

Now..., get your head in the 'Actuarial Word Clouds' an have even more success with Wordle!!!

- Download: AON Risk Survey (2010)
- Wordle

Oct 18, 2010

Voltaire: Diplomats, Ladies and Actuaries..

Actuaries understand the difference between 'being sure' and telling it....
Some of us are Diplomat, Lady and Actuary in One.... what a dazzling combination...

Diplomats, Ladies and Actuaries
When a diplomat says yes, he means ‘perhaps’;

When he says perhaps, he means ‘no’;
When he says no, he is not a diplomat.

When a lady says no, she means ‘perhaps’;
When she says perhaps, she means ‘yes’;
When she says yes, she is not a lady.
- Voltaire 1694-1778 quoted in Escandell 1993 -

When an actuary says yes, (s)he means 'probably'
When (s)he says probably, (s)he means 'sure'
When (s)he says 'sure', (s)he is not an actuary.
- Joshua Maggid Actuary Info 2010 -

Oct 15, 2010

Questioning Solvency II?

Every now and then, when you're in the middle of some-, any- or every-thing, it's wise to sit back and ask yourself some basic questions:

Is what I'm doing still adding value?
If so, what's that value and for who?
If not, how can I add value one way or the other?
If not, stop!

A Solvency example...
Suppose you're up to your neck in a solvency II project and you've not really seen your family for two weeks. Just sit back, relax and simply ask yourself the next questions:

  1. Why are we implementing Solvency II
    (Better: What's the goal of Solvency II)
  2. Are the reasons for implementing Solvency II valid and sound?
  3. Is it possible and profitable to define and measure detailed risks at company level?
  4. What's the RETURN on Solvency II for policyholders and shareholders?

The official (CEA) answer to question I reads in short:
We implement Solvency II because the current framework is too simple and does not direct capital accurately to where the risks are.

Key question (II) is: Are "too simple" and "more detailed directing capital" valid or sound reasons........?

A more valid reason for implementing Solvency II would be something like:
Recent decades have shown an increase of Insurance Companies Bankrupts (or Insolvencies) to a level of x% p.a. (measured in value instead of numbers). Solvency II intents to bring down this x% risk to (x-y)% in Z years by means of a more detailed capital-risk approach.

The estimated costs of this yearly y% reduction by implementing and maintaining Solvency II, are estimated at z% p.a. .

Main challenges implementing S II at company level

  1. Capital allocation
    At an individual company level, the effect of Solvency II on shareholder and client value will only be negative. More 'dead capital' has to be allocated, decreasing shareholder value and decreasing clients profit share.

  2. Revenues
    Pricing Solvency II, will increase premium/contribution levels. However higher contribution levels will have a negative net impact on sales and revenues.

  3. Capital Inadequacy
    On top of, the extra solvency created by Solvency II will turn out to be inadequate at an individual company level in case the deTAILed risks actually affects (hits) a company. A more (inter)national reinsurance program could bring help here. However, these kind of reinsurance programs turn out to be expensive. Moreover, take care that these deTAILed risks don't turn out to be systemic risks in the end....

It's clear that the Solvency II goals are not smart formulated. Nevertheless, Solvency II seems an irreversible process.

Therefore the key question is:
How can you use Solvency II to add (long term) value to your clients and shareholders?

The art of asking the right question
Now you've replaced your fuzzy feeling and foggy discussions about the goal of Solvency II, by a leading question.

Answering and discussing this question will turn out the way to create efficiency and joy in your project and time for your family.

A lot of colleague actuaries can help you on discussing and answering this question.

Start discussing this question in the company board's next meeting!

Risk management Moral
In fact Risk Management in general is more the art of asking the right question instead of giving the right answer. This is well argumented by Professor Stefan Scholtes (University of Cambridge), who states that what we need is a complementary balance between modelling and intuition; models that relate to and enforce our mental abilities, not replace them.

We actuaries can learn from that. Actuarial questioning turns out key. Next time you have to give a (Board) presentation, start by asking the right (effective) questions instead of giving answers straight away.

One last tip: Never ask 'Why questions', instead ask 'What questions'....

Related links
- CEA Why Solvency II?
- Prof. Stefan Scholtes: The art of asking the right question
- Asking the right questions

Oct 3, 2010

Pension Fund Humor: Ask an Actuary!

The art of Pension Fund management....

original picture source

Investment Strategy: The Price of Doubt

Most actuaries have seen it happen: A perfect designed investment strategy......., turning into a real nightmare. How could it come that far? What happened?

Life of an actuary...
Let's dive into a real life simplified actuarial case....:

As the actuary of your company, you've developed a perfect ALM study. Together with the head of the investment department, you've been able to convince your Board of the new developed 'Investment Strategy'. A consequent mix of 50% Bonds and 50% stocks, resulting in an average expected 6% return on the long term, turned out to be the best (optimal) investment mix given the risk appetite of your Board and the regulatory demands. All things are set for execution.

Now let's see how your strategic plan would develop (scenario I) and how it would probably be executed by the Board (scenario II) over the next ten years.

Although your investment strategy plan was designed on a rational basis and the execution of this plan was also intended to be a rational process, in practice they are not.....

Let's follow the discussion in the Board from year to year...

Year 1
The company's average portfolio return performs according plan (6%). Stocks: 8%, Bonds 4%, on average 6%. The Board concludes they have the right strategy. You, as an actuary, agree.

Year 2
Compliments from the Board. Stocks perform even higher (10%), leading to a 7% average return.
You sleep well that night.

Year 3
Another fabulous Stock performance year. A stock return of 20%, leading to an average return of 12%! Some Board members start to doubt and question your ALM-model. They are arguing that if stock prices are that high three years in a row, they would like to profit more from this development. They suggest to adjust the asset mix in favor of stocks. Your ALM model should me more flexible.

You are defending your Asset Liability Model to the grave, but after extensive discussions all board members agree that a slight 'temporary' adjustment to 70% stocks and 30% bonds would be 'worth the risk' to profit from this high stock return. With great reluctance, you agree....

Year 4
Although the performance of stocks is not as high as the year before, it's still relatively high (15%) and leads to an average return of 11.7%, which is 2.2% (!) higher than the 9.5% return that would have been achieved with a 50/50% mix.  The Board concludes that it took the right decision last year, to adjust the asset mix to 70/30%.

You - as the responsible actuary - warn again, but the facts are against you. Disappointed and misunderstood you return to your office as the President of the Board tries to cheer you up by thanking you for your 'constructive response' in the board meeting. You abstain from joining the festive Board Party that evening.

Year 5
Stocks are dramatically down to 0%, leading to an average mixed return of 1.2% this year.
The board meeting this year is chaotic. Some members support you as the 'responsible actuary' to readjust the asset mix to the original mix of 50/50%. Others argue that this stock dip is only temporary and that this year's average return is only 0.8% lower than would have been achieved with a 50/50% mix. On top of, most members strain that this year's 0.8% negative return is still lower than the 2.2% positive difference of last year. After two stressful board meetings, the Board decides to stick to their 70/30% investment mix.
The board president's eye fails to meet you, as you leave the board room that night.

Year 6
What was most feared, has become true.. A negative stock return of 10%, leading to an average return of -5.8% ....   When you walk into the board room that night, all eyes are on you as the 'responsible actuary'. You hold your breath, just like all other board members. After a short moment of silence the board president states that he proposes to bring back the asset mix to the original 50/50% mix. Without further discussion this proposal is accepted. There's no board party this year.

Year 7
Negative stock returns have increased to 15%, leading to an average return of -5.5% this year.
Some Board members fear that if stock prices will be down for another few years, the average 'needed' return of 6% will not be met. They doubt the current strategy.

Also the Regulator and some Rating Agencies insist on higher confidence and solvency levels with corresponding measures to be taken. Both are not positive and doubt the outlook on stock returns on the long term...

After a long meeting that night, the Board chooses for reasons of 'savety' (!) to adjust the asset mix to 30/70% in favor of the still 4% stable performing Bonds (Better something than nothing (!) ).

Again... you explain that night, that changing the asset mix following actual market performance, is the worst thing a company can do....  But again, you lose the debate.

The power of emotion is greater than the power of rationality. Now not only the Board seems against you, but the Regulator as well. Who wants to fight that! After all, 'ethical' rule number one is 'complying with the Regulator'. That evening you brainwash yourself and reprogram your attitude to 'actuarial follower' instead of 'actuarial leader'.

After two Johnnie Walkers you see the future bright again and seem ready for the new year.

Year 8
To everybody's surprise stocks performed extremely well at 25% this year. As a result the average return reaches a satisfying performance of 10.3%. With 'mixed feelings' board members take notice of the results. What nobody dears to say and everybody seems to think is: 'Had we stuck to our 70/30% asset mix, the performance would have been: 18.7% (!)......'

The Board President cautiously concludes that the Board took the right decision last year, leading to a proud 10.3% return this year. Compliments to everyone, including the actuary! Supported by your 'converted' mind, the 30/70% asset mix is continued. That evening you accept the invitation to the board party. Lots of Johnnie Walkers help you that night to cope with the decisions taken.

Year 9
Stocks perform at 20%, leading to an 8.8% average mixed return. No Board member dears to raise questions about the possibility of readjusting the asset mix to a 'more risky' (what's that?) one. After all, the overall performance is still higher than the needed 6%. So who may complain or doubt the new 'On the Fly Strategy'? Who cares or who dears? You go to bed early that night.

Year 10
Stocks returns have come down to a more 'realistic' level of 7%. As a consequence the average return is down to 4.9%, way down beneath the critical level of 6%. Board members have to strike a balance. Some of them doubt again. Continuing the 30/70% asset mix will not bring them the needed long term 6% objective return. Adjusting to a 50/50% mix probably will, but is more risky. What to do?

All eyes are on you as the 'final advising actuary'. With restrained pride you state: "Dear colleagues, what about our good friend, the original '50/50% asset mix'. Can we confirm on that?" Without anyone answering, the President takes a look around.... His gavel hits the table and the decision seems to have been taken.

That night you decide to change Johnnie Walker for a well deserved glass of 'actuarial wine': a simple  'Mouton Rothschild 1945' (at the expense of the Board of course). You enjoy the moment and the pleasure of being an actuary. Even after the Rothschild you realize that the decade price of doubt was high: 0.9% p.a. ...

When you go to bed for a good night sleep, you smile...., as some little voice in your head tells you that next year this madness decade-cycle will probably start again...