Neha Agarwal - Director of Actuarial Services, iPipeline

Neha Agarwal - Director of Actuarial Services, iPipeline

How long have you worked as an actuary?

I’ve been working as an actuary over 6 years now, always within technology firms in a non-traditional actuarial role. 

Which markets have you worked in as an actuary?

I’ve mainly worked in the technology sector, helping insurance companies innovate and digitalize mainly on the Protection side of the UK market. Other than that, I did a bit of work with one of the consultancy companies where I was involved in Solvency II audits and valuation for life insurance companies.  

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

It would be the power to apply machine learning and AI to insurance data and take it to the next level. 

What do you see as key characteristics of innovative actuaries?

For me, as the bar for actuaries continues to rise, innovative actuaries continue to be in high demand. When I think about characteristics, what comes to mind is a combination of traditional actuarial knowledge, technology, and innovative thinking.

To really light the flame of innovation,  actuarial knowledge acts as the oxygen and technology acts like fuel. If you can combine both then you really have good innovation. 

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

This really depends on which companies actuaries are working for. The key factors that really influence the impact is them being involved in the heart of decision making. So, for example, actuaries can get involved in how to analyze risk for complex products in a world where companies are constantly reconsidering where, when, and how they can deliver insurance products, from apps to telematics to usage-based insurance. So I think that’s one of the key areas which can and will influence the impact actuaries have. 

The other thing is, we’re seeing more and more actuaries taking leadership positions within insurance companies because, as they develop a strong foundation of both business knowledge and an innovative mindset, leadership opportunities become more common. 

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

This has been a hot topic of discussion everywhere. I think within the next few years, there will be a technological revolution within the insurance industry and in the actuarial profession. We’re seeing actuaries becoming more forward thinking, more responsive to technological advances. We’ve also seen the entire actuarial curriculum in the UK being revised, where candidates now have more exposure to languages like R. They’re doing more coding as part of their professional training. 

Having worked in the technology field for most of my career, it’s really thrilling to see how the industry is evolving and how more and more actuaries are choosing a non-traditional actuarial role. One of the key shifts we are seeing is actuaries moving from number crunching to value addition with the advancement of computer power.

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?

That is an interesting question – because in the last couple of weeks, we have initiated the discussion on how we can collaborate the data science and the actuarial team better and where they can complement each other’s work, with business knowledge from one side and technology from the other.

For any change to happen – we need to try. For any change as big as this to happen, we need to start identifying small and specific areas where both teams can work together and see the outcomes come to life. Once we’ve tried and executed smaller projects, we can expand to more complex projects before it becomes imperative for both the teams to work together.

What makes innovation impactful? 

Innovation matched with desired outcomes is impactful. For example, we could be working on ten innovative projects, and all of them may look very interesting, but when you actually sit and think about it there may be only a couple which  would really make an impact. 

Let’s think of a very simple example: automating a process so that you’re able to quickly achieve an outcome. If you lose the effectiveness in the process, then it’s not impactful. It’s not just about getting from A to B quickly, but also effectively. 

 With this question, I was reminded of a great article I read a year or so ago about a bridge that was built over a river, Choluteca. That bridge was designed to withstand the most powerful forces of nature. A few years later, a hurricane hit the region and flooded everything, and all that was left in that region was the bridge. The river completely changed its course, and it almost became a bridge over nothing. So my key learning from this article was, for any innovation, while ‘built to last’ is a popular mantra, ‘built to adapt’ is the way to go.

While innovating, we may be trying to create the most sophisticated product, but we need to pause and think about the possibility that the need for this sophisticated product will completely vanish in future. When the river changed its course, the bridge was useless, although it was one of the most sophisticated bridges built at its time. So in my mind, in order for innovation to be impactful, it has to be matched to desired outcomes and it has to be future proofed. 

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

Given the current trends, we’re seeing more and more use of data science, machine learning, AI, in the actuarial field. We’re starting to see data being used effectively, not only to monitor things like claims, but also at point-of-sales, more granular pricing, etc. Thinking more broadly, we’re seeing more and more insurtech start-ups entering the market, and it’s bringing a whole mind shift for the actuarial field as well, because if there are new insurtechs then it almost forces actuaries to digitize and innovate. 

What is the best type of change actuaries can adopt to become more influential in the insurance industry?

I think the first step is adopting the willingness to change. It’s always very difficult to bring about change, but once you’ve done it, it leads to broader change throughout your team and organization. Actuaries have always had an image of being very traditional in their approach, not being willing to shift so I think bringing the change from actuaries being viewed as geeks to the innovative experts of the insurance world is critical.

And of course, let us power that with appropriate training and programming languages, understanding data science practices, so that we can challenge and innovate.

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

Join the actuarial profession with a very open and inventive mindset. Challenge the status quo and identify areas where technological evolution can bring more efficiency and better outcomes, then go out and make it happen. 

More broadly, some advice I like to share is that life is always going to give you ups and downs, and there will always be phases when you want to give up. One thing that has always kept me going is my passion. Anybody joining any profession, I would say you need to search for that passion and your journey will become much more fulfilling.