Ewen Tweedie - Actuary, PwC UK

Ewen Tweedie - Actuary, PwC UK

December 1, 2020

How long have you worked as an actuary?

I’ve worked as an actuary for about 15 years in a mixture of industry and consulting.

Which markets have you worked in as an actuary?

So it’s been entirely in the UK market and in life insurance. Within that I’ve worked on reporting, with profits, and product design and pricing.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Telekinesis - moving objects with the power of your mind is pretty cool!

What do you see as key characteristics of innovative actuaries?

I think one thing is certainly open mindedness, especially when it comes to embracing new technologies.

There’s always new techniques and tools coming out, and it can be quite tempting and easy to stay within your bubble and not consider other options that require a learning curve. But those opportunities can be the areas where you end up innovating. Another is considering what the future could be like. Analyzing trends is part of being an actuary, but it’s one thing to see and acknowledge them and another to take them as opportunities to be innovative and shape what will happen.

I think it’s also important that actuaries challenge pre-existing beliefs. Asking why something works the way it does or how it could work differently is a quality that lends itself to being more innovative.  

What factors do you believe influence the impact actuaries can have within their organizations?

You need to be mindful of stereotypes. Actuaries are often stereotyped as the ‘numbers guys’ and some people might not think there’s a lot of opportunity for them to add value beyond those traditional roles, which isn’t true. It’s a combination, I think, of embracing the good parts of that stereotype and not being afraid of challenging it and thinking outside the box.

I see being talented as an actuary as the same as being talented at a host of other things as well. It’s more than just the traditional boundaries of the profession that define what you’re good at.

I also think some organizations see actuaries as an expensive resource, and therefore tend to keep them in role to deliver what they always have. It then feels costly to use actuaries outside of those key, standard roles. But applying actuaries to problems in other areas can help promote innovation because it expands the mindsets and skills that are working on that problem.

It’s through that cross collaboration, and diverse thinking that you get highly innovative ideas. 

What are some key ways you see the actuarial profession evolving in the next few years?

The exams for qualification is a key indicator. There’s plenty in there now about data science, modelling, and, quite crucially, communications. These are going to be key aspects of developing within the actuarial profession moving forwards.

We’re seeing more and more actuaries interested in a wide range of topics, which will certainly develop the profession, particularly in places pushing out of those traditional finance functions. 

Outside of the insurance industry, actuaries can help drive better outcomes if they’re willing to push the boundaries.

I think one of these areas will certainly revolve around climate change. Clearly, actuaries already work on issues around the financial impact of climate change, but I think there’s plenty of opportunities in risk management within that field as well. I also think there’s space in some government departments as well where actuaries could lend their skill set, or even in developing statistical models or assumption sets to understand the impacts.

Despite there being significant collaborative potential between data science and actuarial science, the two expert fields don’t always mesh in insurance. How do you believe they can work together more successfully?

To make the best team, you want the best player in each position. It’s about understanding that data scientists are better than actuaries in certain areas, for example data analytics or machine learning, and they have unique skills they’re particularly strong at. On the other side, actuaries have their own version of this, particularly around judgement, risk analysis, understanding and communicating model outputs, etc.

I think if you can get each party doing what they’re best at in a collaborative setting, you can create a situation that’s much better than just expecting an actuary to be a data scientist. This setting, I think, will always create more opportunities and insights than one that’s more divided.

What makes innovation impactful? 

When it answers a need or solves a problem for someone.

The difficulty with that is you can ask someone what their problem is or what they need, and they will tell you, but that’s not necessarily the answer. It doesn’t always solve the problem. I think the way to get to the answer is accepting challenges and understanding that the first answer that comes up might not be the right one. You have to dig into the heart of what you’re trying to solve for.

Within life insurance specifically, I think there’s huge potential for change and innovation. It’s an industry that’s been a bit static, some products haven’t changed for years, and it’s my view that now is the time for that change. I think the technology is there, access to data is greater than it’s ever been before, and customer appetite and demographics have changed significantly. What they need has shifted.

All of this comes together to create a perfect backdrop for innovation. Recently, the pandemic has opened eyes to the possibility of making these things happen, and happen quickly. We’ve now shown that things can be changed and done differently with a bit of effort. 

What are some of the more impactful innovations in the actuarial field and why?

Recently, probably some of the visualization toolkits that are now available. I think that’s making it easier for actuaries and data scientists to explain what’s underlying certain trends and make that more accessible to other areas of the business. These tools are enabling actuaries and data scientists to show the value of their work more easily to areas like marketing, sales, and leadership.

What advice would you give someone considering an actuarial career today?

Firstly, do it - it’s a terrific career.

Further to that, I’d say don’t get so caught up in passing the exams and getting qualified that you don’t develop the other skills that will help you stand out in your career. Develop the way you write reports, your understanding of results, your communication skills, your relationship building; these are all massively important skills you can only generate through on-the-job work and through taking the time to do that.

The technical stuff, you’ll get there, so it’s about recognizing that there’s more to being an actuary than simply the technical. Focus on developing the other skills as well.