Can you future-proof an actuarial career?

Can you future-proof an actuarial career?

The future of the actuarial career, is a topic hotly debated when raised within industry forums and message boards. Most can see artificial intelligence, machine learning and other forms of automation heavily encroaching on the current job description of an actuary - but the extent to which this will happen and when it will happen is not yet known. Add to that the growing number of students studying actuarial science, and for a career that can take around 6-10 dedicated years to become fully qualified in, there’s a new generation of would-be actuaries reaching adulthood and questioning whether committing to this path will still be all it’s currently purported to be, in just a few short years.

A recent survey of insurance professionals showed machine learning adoption is rapidly becoming a significant trend, used by 54% of all respondents and 60% of those from companies with over 5,000 employees. One year ago McKinsey research predicted that 70 million jobs in the United States may be impacted by automation by the year 2030, and advancements are accelerating ever more rapidly.

But with insurtech companies like ourselves already working to improve actuarial tools, it does raise questions whether others will move to release tech solutions for the actuaries themselves.

It’s widely suggested the key skills actuaries need to focus on to avoid being pushed out by tech solutions lie in ‘soft skills’; in leadership and collaboration, in the ability to effectively communicate with other humans, to empathize and relate. Being able to form meaningful relationships with colleagues, and translate an actuarial understanding of data for more business focused minds. Some actuaries may also need to take their deep understanding of the insurance business, and move into more front line roles. Actively building retlationships and networking within the industry may become an even more important focus for actuaries to get ahead.

In Syed Danish Ali’s series on InsuranceNexus, he believes people will be delegated to creative tasks, and coming up with actions to drive business objectives. “Actuaries are head-on in regulatory, compliance and operational work but their mode of operation is still linear and not exponential. Actuaries need to hone their strategy skills more than their spreadsheet skills. The latest technology can be utilized to minimize the time gap between thought and execution so that actuaries can start focusing on making actionable insights.”

According to actuarial YouTuber MJ, the regulatory requirements for actuaries are likely to make them a key part of insurance for far longer than data science roles. But he also believes the “race is on” to be the one to create the first truly artificially intelligent actuary, as this will have significant payoff for the creator.

As Montoux’s Geoff Keast recently discussed with Milliman Principal of Life Technology Solutions Pat Renzi, automation has already drastically altered the roles of marketing and sales positions, enabling far more vast campaigns making strategy and creative thinking. Pat is seeing that many actuaries are already moving into other functions within the organisation, and agrees the best opportunities may be outside the traditional actuarial focus. She believes an actuary’s role may change significantly, but that it will allow actuaries to think more broadly and creatively - and focus on how to analyze the information rather than “crunch the numbers”.

A recent presentation at the New Zealand Society of Actuaries conference suggested actuaries of the future must look to broaden their resources for upskilling, and that actuaries will benefit from global collaboration between actuarial bodies. Institute and Faculty of Actuaries Council member Louise Pryor recently talked to The Actuary about Curriculum 2019, saying “It is clear that we’re not going to have these major revisions in future; it will be incremental, which should allow us to respond much more rapidly to changing needs.” This agility will be a necessity for Continuing Professional Development standards to keep up.

Noted economist Daniel Susskind spoke of a presentation to Black and Decker executives in which they were shown a slide of a power drill and were asked "Is this what we sell?" When they all agreed yes, they were shown another slide of a hole through wood, and told. “This is what you really sell, this is what the customer wants”. If young actuaries are looking to pursue the profession in order to deep dive into model building and number crunching, then based on Susskind’s perspective they may wish to think twice. But if willing to adapt and grow with technology through new ways of assessing risk and designing ways to ultimately reduce the financial impact of undesirable events, then with some flexibility and creative approaches they may well be able to enjoy long new age actuarial careers, complemented by technology.

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