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data science - future of actuarial profession

I was recently contacted by another actuary – an IFoA council member – asking for my thoughts on strategies the IFoA should think about for the future.

I thought I’d share my response on here, and would love to hear what other actuaries think:

“…. Like many other professions, I truly believe that our profession is facing a critical time given the pace of change.

So what can the actuarial profession do to remain relevant well into the future? Here are a few of my personal thoughts:

1. Perpetual Learning

Going forward, I think, there needs to be a greater focus on “on demand learning/upskilling” and accessibility to resources as and when needed for learning on the job. Eg understanding and applying artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, IoT, wearables, dealing with new emerging risks. The list goes on and is constantly evolving. I think the profession can and should continue to play a role in continuous ongoing learning after qualification. It increasingly seems that qualification is only the beginning and we need to be constantly learning and evolving as actuaries, to avoid getting left behind. Learning to learn and being flexible and having an ability to reinvent oneself are critical skills for the future. I believe the profession can help us stay nimble as well as fostering a culture of continuous ongoing lifelong learning. Otherwise, I believe, others (eg “data scientists”) that often have the more flexible mindset may continue to make inroads into traditional actuarial areas (eg pricing).

2. Innovation & Creativity

I would like to see a greater focus on innovation and creativity as well as more training in these areas. These skills are becoming increasingly important. The insurance world is now beginning to change and “catch up” with other sectors, in terms of technology adoption. We should be aiming to claim a slice of the InsurTech pie and not just seen as the regulator checkbox guys or technicians. Let’s learn to bring more of an agile mindset to our work. I think it will be increasingly important to be able to think like an entrepreneur. Building, testing, iterating. Let’s continually learn to take initiative and find unique solutions to the new emerging business problems.

3. Data Science

Data science, especially machine learning, is becoming more and more important as a tool for actuarial work. It’s great to see the profession doing a lot in this space. Can the actuarial qualification act as a more general route into a career as a data scientist? I think it possibly can. We have a unique position in this space due to our code of ethics and highly regarded professional qualification/recognised credentials. Hence, we have a unique advantage over many others claiming to be data scientists (given anyone can now say they are a data scientist!). The problem though is the opportunity cost of learning irrelevant material (for much of data science) to get the actuarial credential.

4. Professional Actuarial Judgement & Business Acumen

Related to the above – there’s a lot of talk about automation and people losing their jobs to robots. Whilst there is a certain amount of hype around this, I do believe automation will change the nature of many jobs in the future. Digital and automation is the future and we need to be part of that. Let’s, therefore, ensure that we continue to add value beyond the number crunching by having the skills to exercise professional judgment and business acumen whilst staying on top of developing trends.

5. Supply & Demand

I think the profession has a role to play here to help ensure this is managed carefully in different parts of the world. India, in particular, seems to be currently feeling the effects of an over-supply of new “aspiring actuaries” having difficulty getting on to the actuarial career ladder.

I believe we can collaborate more with other actuarial bodies to effectively build brand “actuary” (trusted advisors of risk). There will always be risk and especially today risk is everywhere and changing all the time. I would like to continue to see brand “actuary” as the trusted advisors in financial risk, but with more creativity and innovation. I believe one of the key positives of our profession is that it attracts really bright people. We should focus on continuing to make the profession attractive to the brightest and best.

Our new IFoA President, John Taylor, has talked about “growing the membership,” so I think it will be interesting to see what direction this takes.

6. Innovative Research

A greater focus on truly innovative research. We live in exponentially changing times. Let’s be at the forefront of change and bring a creative, innovative mindset to our work underpinned by relevant cutting-edge research.”

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Mark Farrell FIA PhD

FIA Actuary | Founder of ProActuary | Senior Lecturer of Actuarial Science at Queen’s University Belfast | Fulbright Scholar | Consulting Actuary | Love all things actuarial but also travel, adventure, cycling, hiking, reading & keeping up with my 3 children.

Mark Farrell

  1. Hi Mark

    I agree with your sentiments. A colleague (Lesley Traverso) and I have been dong work around actuarial educations coming from the Australian perspective. We have developed an approach which we believe provides a framework for education development and delivery (noting the distinction between the two), and are now trying to move onto ‘operationalise’ it to get a transition from theory into practice.

    If you are are interested we would be pleased to share and have a conversation. If so, can you let me have an email so I can include Lesley? Thanks and look forward to talking to you.

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