I've been with John Hancock since I started working full time in 2016 and have had three roles here. I started out in experience analysis, working on Long Term Care (LTC). I did that for two years, then joined the life product pricing team for about two years, then I moved into my current role, where I'm back working in LTC on the LTC Inforce management team. Our main responsibilities are working on wellness and fraud initiatives and claims innovation.
One of the more important characteristics is the ability to communicate effectively to a wide audience. My current role has been the most innovative role that I’ve been in, and I’ve found that it requires me to communicate to different audiences often and it's important to be able to do that effectively. Especially if you're proposing a new idea, you really have to focus on the key points to communicate it in a way that's clear and concise.
Being able to have an open mind and think outside of the box is important for driving innovation. Don't conform to the status quo. Don't hesitate to think of something new and to propose it, even if it's only to your small internal team.
Being adaptable when things don't go as planned is another important characteristic. A big part of innovation is thinking of something new, testing it out, and failing. In a case where something fails or doesn't go as planned, being able to adapt right away and think of the next step quickly is important.
Lastly, simply being curious and asking questions. If you can start doing that early on in your career it will help you going forward.
I interned at John Hancock the summer before I joined. They put on an event called the Actuarial Innovation Competition with my intern class. That was the first year that they did it. It went really well and it turned into a company-wide event that happened for four or five years after that.
That project opened my eyes to what the actuarial career could be. Up to that point I thought, “Okay, I like math. I'm going to be doing math” and I was content with that. But by surprise I had this opportunity to think of a brand new product for John Hancock that would bring in sales; it was totally open-ended. As an intern, being given the freedom to think outside the box and have senior management interested in it was awesome. My career focus since then was to seek opportunities where I could tap into that innovative mindset and apply that to analytical tasks.
Company culture is a big one. When I interned, the innovation competition was something senior management wanted to happen. They were excited about it. Innovation was simply part of the culture. At the time, John Hancock had just launched an innovative product called Vitality that focused on wellness for our life insurance policyholders. It was one of the first programs of its kind. It was successful, it got a lot of publicity, and it really ingrained an innovative culture within the company that’s still present today.
"Part of innovation is trying new things and failing."
Similarly, an environment where failure is not looked at negatively is important. Part of innovation is trying new things and failing. With our wellness initiative, we are trying to find an intervention that will work the best to reduce our claim costs and help our policyholders. We're choosing the right intervention to the best of our ability, but this is a new area for everyone, so we know that it may fail, and that's okay.
Another factor is simply having time to innovate. In some roles there's so much room for innovation, even if it's not customer-facing it could be internal process improvement. One main reason it doesn't happen is not because the actuaries are not capable, it’s that they don't have the time. Especially if it's a role where you have month-end duties that are back to back; you're always busy and you don't have time to innovate. As you're doing these processes every month or every quarter you might think, “This could be so much easier if I could just have two weeks to really nail down this process.” But it is challenging to find the two weeks needed to do that.
Predictive analytics and big data are growing. At John Hancock, this has been a topic at the front of discussion for a few years now and it's continuing to grow. The SOA is also putting more emphasis on this topic. I think it's going to be a big skill that companies are looking for going forward. Plus new actuaries are going to have this skill set, and they're going to want to use it. So they're also going to be looking for companies that allow them opportunities to do so.
I’d love to see Excel go away, or at least only be used for basic analysis and summaries. For anything more in-depth than basic tasks, other programs are better suited. They're more powerful, they're faster, they’re easier when you get the hang of them. Whether that's R, Python, Power BI, Tableau, etc. The exploration into all of these programs will continue and companies will end up choosing what works best for them. Even that will evolve and change over years.
I also would like to see more collaboration between actuaries and data scientists. I say that because I work very closely with our advanced analytics team. We both learn a lot from each other, and our skill sets are similar, but they also complement each other. Going forward, I think that will evolve. We’re probably going to see some actuaries move into data science roles. As data science becomes more important in the actuarial curriculum, you're going to see more meshing of those skills.
Be curious and don't hesitate to ask questions. Don't hesitate to share your interests with your manager and explore them. Try out a variety of areas in the field whether that's different types of insurance, different companies, different functions within a company, technical heavy roles, communication heavy roles. It's important to try a variety of roles early on because it will help you figure out your interests and develop a wide range of skills.
I work with data scientists almost every day. At John Hancock, the actuaries and the data scientists work well together. Oftentimes, I know what I need to do involves data heavy tasks that would take me significant time because that isn’t where my expertise is. That’s where having a good relationship with the data scientists comes in handy, because they are always willing to step in to help out.
There's a lot that they know that I don't, so there's plenty of opportunity for me to learn. On the flip side, actuaries tend to have more experience with insurance and business topics than they do, so they also learn a lot from us. We both know we're experts in our own area. We respect each other, we know what we're each capable of, so there's no shame in asking questions and learning from each other.
Innovative solutions help companies achieve goals and makes lives easier, which in of itself is impactful. But having innovation at the forefront of company culture amplifies that impact. It opens up opportunity, it shapes employees, and it helps employees become open-minded who may have been hesitant to share new ideas or ask questions.
I bucket innovations in the actuarial field into two categories and they are both impactful. One being customer facing and the other being internal. With my work, the customer-facing innovations are related to wellness; they help the policyholder, and it really impacts the customer directly. For the internal innovations, process improvements are what come to mind, which help save time and reduce costs.
There isn’t much innovation that is taught through the SOA. Your prelim exams are all formula based. Your upper exams are about business knowledge; insurance, reserving, pricing. In general, they're looking for specific answers, and although many topics are applicable at work, there wasn’t much room for innovation, which is quite different from what my roles have entailed.
Understanding business problems, looking at things from a customer's perspective, discussing pain points of our everyday processes, challenging ourselves with how we can be better as employees and as a company. Changing your mindset to go through those things on a regular basis can really help innovation. Once you start thinking of things that could be improved and seeing problems from different perspectives, you’ll have more problems to solve and more reasons to be innovative.
Taking a step back to put our actuarial brains to the side will allow us to do that better. If you can take a more high-level perspective, it's easier to pinpoint and understand what the problems are at hand. Once those problems are identified and understood from a more logical perspective, you can put your actuarial hat back on and that will really come in handy to brainstorm a solution and solve the issue. Being able to switch back and forth between that high-level business perspective and detailed actuarial mindset is important. Doing that seamlessly takes time, but eventually that will spark innovation on a more regular basis.
Actuaries should also talk to each other more, both within the company and even externally. Actuaries in the industry should talk more and be more open. It’s difficult to do that sometimes, especially if you're still selling business you want to be innovative with new products, you can't talk to your competitors about it. But that isn’t a big concern in the long-term care industry, so we're a lot more collaborative with other carriers in the industry and it has helped us find solutions.