Upgrading value: How tech is changing how we do thingsMAY 2020
Leaders from the Society of Actuaries (SOA) gathered online in four cohorts to reflect on the past year and to share their perspectives on the future of the organization and the actuarial profession. The virtual roundtable conversations are published in four installments this spring.
This article, the third in the 2019 Annual Report series, examines the ways the SOA creates more value for its members and candidates through efforts in areas such as member services, education and professional development, as well as how changes in technology and the growth of InsurTech have influenced these areas.
Q: To kick things off, let’s talk about member services. How are we meeting members’ and candidates’ needs overall and specifically through tech improvements?
Jim Glickman: In 2019 we determined that millennials now represent almost 50 percent of our Fellows of the Society of Actuaries (FSAs), and we recognized the need to engage and communicate in a way they value, which is far different from the communication preferences of our members from prior decades. One of our most important initiatives last year was to begin creating these new types of millennial involvement and engagements, which requires a significant investment of time, money, and effort.
Among some of the improvements we are already working on are updates to MySOA online, so members can more easily handle their dues, profiles, purchases and certifications online. For candidates, we now have the My Education and Exams area, where they can track their progress in pursuing their credentials.
In relation to member services, we have an artificial intelligence–based program. It is part of the SOA News Weekly digital newsletter, and it helps focus email content to the areas of interest for each member based on click-throughs. With this program we learn what information we should continue to send out and what types of new materials that we don’t currently provide would be of value to our members.
Joe Wurzburger: We all know there’s not just one kind of actuary, so we’re realizing that as technology allows for it, we can focus our communications. Over the past year, we’ve embraced this new tool Jim just mentioned to craft the message that gets sent out in the weekly newsletter email. So the message you receive is different from the one I receive based on the type of actuary I am, what I’ve clicked on in the past, and what my interests are.
We’ve also looked at ways to help members find the right opportunity to volunteer that’s most relevant to them. For obvious reasons, most of our members know about the exam process and ways to get involved there. But they’re not always aware of other ways that they can volunteer, including some “micro-volunteering” opportunities that are shorter term in nature. These types of volunteer opportunities provide a way to dip their toe in those volunteer waters, and with any luck, they will enjoy that experience and volunteer even more.
We are also using our communications activities to share more with our members about what the SOA is doing and to improve transparency in general. We know our members are very interested in making a difference in society, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. The more we can highlight the ways actuaries are having and can have a positive impact on society, the more that energizes our member base and makes the importance of our work resonate with them.
Q: Any other tech improvements related to communication with members and candidates?
Christine Hofbeck: Yes! For candidates, we launched the SOA Learning Companion, which helps provide a community for candidates to chat with each other, adding a real-time social interaction. The idea is that the community will encourage cohorts of candidates to learn together and continue to engage with each other over time.
For both members and candidates, we launched the SOA Meeting App a few years ago for major meetings, and every year we continue to improve it. Attendees have access to community postings within the app, and they receive updates on special events. We’ve enhanced the registration process for professional development and updated our hub for speakers to get resources in preparing for presentations at SOA meetings. I’ve used both the Meeting App and the speakers hub. I’ve found both of them easy to use and highly informative. With the Meeting App specifically, I’ve had members reach out to me during major meetings to get together for coffee and to chat about all things actuarial, SOA, predictive analytics, Board of Directors or whatever. It’s a great tool to connect and engage. I’ve met many incredible actuaries through the use of these tools.
Q: Let’s talk about the Young Professional Engagement initiative in 2019 and what’s been achieved in key focus areas.
Glickman: We view Young Professional Engagement as one of our most important Board and staff issues to ensure we’re addressing all of their needs. We’ve noticed that there’s less involvement from our newer FSAs than we have seen from our now-older FSAs. We created the Young Professional Taskforce to learn firsthand how we can better serve this fastest-growing segment of our membership. Over the next few years we will be taking all of that feedback and incorporating it into new activities specifically designed to engage our newest and youngest members.
Hofbeck: To increase participation, we recognize the need to build more modern digital and cutting-edge tools that will specifically appeal to our newer FSAs. Although we’ve done this in response to the Young Professional Engagement initiative, it will benefit all our members.
Q: Great. Let’s shift gears a bit and talk about Professional Development Redesign and how we’re addressing participation at Professional Development events.
Glickman: We spent a large part of 2019 researching how other professions and educational providers best engage with their constituencies so we can incorporate the best of those models into our educational process. We’ve begun exploring ways to develop alternatives to the web-based engagement our baby boomers have always valued. For our millennials, we’re working on digital applications through one-touch phone and tablet apps, using the communication methods we know they value most. Also, we want to create on-demand delivery environments that feature smaller, but more frequent and timely educational materials for all to enjoy.
Our Professional Development Taskforce is always identifying new methods for creating traditional and non-traditional methods for enhancing our member’s skill sets. As everyone knows, we’ve added predictive analytics to our basic education. We have developed an in-depth Predictive Analytics Certificate for post-FSA education that usually takes about six months to complete and culminates with an intensive two-day final assessment. We are also looking at introducing other new certificate programs. Some of the ideas that have been discussed include a program focused on business skills and another on communication skills. There has even been a suggestion to start creating sub-certificate programs that take less time but allow actuaries to improve their skill sets and demonstrate, both within and outside our traditional industries, their abilities beyond core actuarial skills.
As long as we’re talking about learning experiences, I want to mention the pilot program for MentorLink. The goal of this program is to give members the opportunity to engage with and learn from other actuaries by sharing experiences and talking about their journey within the profession. It’s still in its experimental stage, but when I got the initial email about it, I signed up. I didn’t know what would happen, but about a day later, I was matched up with a mentee, who told me that he had put in his information when he received the e-mail and was surprised to find that there was a 95 percent match between us. We’ve now had seven weekly one- to two-hour calls that I believe he values and I know that I do. Feedback from this pilot program will help determine whether it will become a permanent, full-scale offering.
Q: Jim, thanks for that personal anecdote. We’ll look forward to seeing what happens. Does anyone have observations on how tech improvements have affected Professional Development?
Robert Eaton: At the Professional Development opportunities at the big conferences, such as the SOA Annual Meeting & Exhibit, I’ve been really happy with the interactivity I’ve experienced from both the app and the sessions themselves. I’ve seen a real evolution in how the SOA has structured sessions—not just panel presentations, but also workshops. It’s a kind of interactive education, and I’ve been very pleased with that. I’d also like to mention that our engagement in social media really ramps up around the times of these big Professional Development events. Actuaries can follow along, even if they’re not there personally, through LinkedIn, Twitter, and other means. And then they follow some of the actuaries who are there. I’ve been very happy with how that has emerged.
Q: Great. Let’s go a little further with that and talk about some of the new ideas we’ve tried out over the past year, such as the Long-Term Care Medical Symposium and the Predictive Analytics Symposium.
Wurzburger: Let me first talk about the Long-Term Care Tech Summit, because that really was an innovative offering near the end of 2019. It went through a lot of different phases and planning, but in the end, it aligned nicely with the partnership we entered into with Plug and Play. I know we’ll be talking about that a bit later in the discussion, but this is where the intersection of InsurTech and long-term care happens.
We partnered with Maddock Douglas and had an event at Plug and Play’s Silicon Valley headquarters. What was really innovative was that it was what I’ve been referring to as a “hybrid event,” where there was an in-person audience and a virtual live audience at the same time. The event was intended to be small and intimate, so we capped attendance at a relatively small number. But as we created the program, we prioritized the experience for the virtual audience. We made sure to have a high-quality camera and a professional-looking stage with lighting geared to that virtual experience. We knew that if it looked good to the virtual audience, it would also look good to people in the room. We had a dedicated emcee in the room for the live audience and a dedicated online emcee. The feedback from this fast-paced, one-day event was really favorable, in particular, the feedback from the virtual audience. So that was encouraging. It was the first time we had tried that kind of event, but we are going to do a virtual one year, expanding the scope to ElderTech—not just long-term care, but any technology related to the aging population, such as “aging in place.”
Eaton: I didn’t actually know there was an online emcee as well as our physical emcee at the event, since I was there in person. I’m glad the feedback from online viewers was so positive. I can say from being there in person that this is where the SOA’s relationship with Plug and Play has really paid off, because their Tech Center is a dynamic, interesting kind of engaging atmosphere. It has a lot of physical spaces that make it very conducive to short, small meetings with people you’ve never met before. There was a lot of buzz there about all the interesting ideas that were being thrown about. The energy was exciting.
Q: Those are the words I kept hearing from people: energy, buzz, dynamic. It was palpable what people felt there. It was really different in a positive way.
Eaton: Yes, I really enjoyed getting to play startup actuary for eight hours. I should talk about the Long-Term Care Medical Symposium briefly.
In 2018, Shawna Meyer, a long-term care colleague, and I had an idea that the LTC Section could benefit from getting the advice and opinions of experts outside the insurance industry. We wanted to make sure we didn’t get locked into any kind of group-think, and we wanted to capture, from other experts’ perspective, what the trends in the actual care itself might be in the next five or 10 years. So we convened a one-day symposium with eight or 10 people around a table. These were people outside of long-term care insurance but still in the long-term care space. We had a handful of topics, including how technology will impact long-term care providers, the future of actual care and care delivery, and how that may evolve in the next decade. We had a dynamic discussion, with everyone chiming in and bouncing ideas off each other in a really unique conversation that I don’t think you can get anywhere else. It was captured through a recording and notes, and we were able to share the results of that conversation with everyone. We also had quite a few online viewers, who were paying attention the entire day, and we received very positive feedback from them as well.
Wurzburger: I also want to mention the 2019 Predictive Analytics Symposium, which occurred in September in Philadelphia. We had just under 200 attendees, and for the bulk of the symposium, there were four concurrent sessions for each time slot. One was geared toward the beginner/implementer group; another was for the manager/supervisor audience; a third was for advanced practitioners, and the fourth was geared toward all levels. It was a very successful event, and we got a lot of favorable feedback from it. We are planning another one that is currently scheduled for September 24 and 25, either as a virtual meeting or a combination of in-person and virtual events.
Moving on in that vein, we have already seen the COVID-19 pandemic impact some of our other major meetings. I’m proud to say that SOA volunteers, staff and others have banded together quickly and thought through some innovative ways to avoid flat-out canceling events, transforming them so they—or at least a version of them—can be delivered virtually.
The first big event to feel the COVID-19 impact has been the Life and Annuity Virtual Symposium hosted in May. The group in charge of that event pivoted quickly to a virtual format where, on the days when that meeting was going to take place, there will be virtual sessions that people can attend from home. One of the days will be dedicated to sessions on life insurance and the other day to sessions on annuity, which together should be relevant to the majority of people who would have attended the event in person. As you can imagine, it’s difficult to convert a large meeting like that on exceptionally short notice when everyone is in isolation. So I definitely have to tip my cap to the folks who got in motion so quickly to put that in place.
We’re in the process of doing something similar for the 2020 Health Virtual Meeting, which would have normally attracted about 1,000 people and had roughly 100 concurrent sessions throughout. We’re not going to be able to hold that event in person, but we’re going to have a compelling program in its place. On June 8 and 9, the days originally scheduled for the meeting, we’re going to have a virtual conference. This is not just two days of webcasts. It’s going to feel like an event people are participating in together. There will still be a keynote speaker at the beginning, and there will be a number of concurrent session blocks. Due to technology constraints, we can’t offer the 10 sessions that we would normally have had, but there will be choices for members during those sessions.
During the lunch breaks, we’re going to have some content for those who want to stick around and remain engaged in the program. There’s usually a Health Section breakfast, and we’re moving that content and an update from the Health Section to one of the lunch periods. We’re also going to do a virtual version of last year’s quiz game that everyone who was there for lunch got to participate in.
We are having a virtual fun run. We’ve gotten roughly 100 people in past years to show up and run that event, and we’re excited that the tradition can live on virtually. Everyone will run on their own, keeping a safe distance from others, but we’ll track their run through an app so we can share pictures and the experience virtually and hopefully benefit some charities at the same time. We will do our best to virtually recreate some of the networking that people seem to love about the Health Meeting. It’s not just about the sessions or the continuing education; it’s about the whole meeting experience.
In addition, we will have a 10-part webcast series that extends from shortly after the Health Meeting into September. The series will run roughly once a week, with a few weeks off for holidays or other reasons. Each day will have a theme; for example, one day will cover Medicaid, and on that day, there will be three webcasts on Medicaid. There will be ten days because there are so many subspecialties within the health practice area, and this way, there will be something for everyone.
Q: Wonderful. Shall we move on and discuss what’s happening in predictive analytics? Why has there been such an emphasis on predictive analytics, and how does this benefit both members and candidates?
Glickman: The insurance industry, has started to fully engage with data analytics, so predictive analytics, data analytics and artificial intelligence are all areas where we know actuaries will need to build their skills. We started with core predictive analytics, because if nothing else, insurance companies already have a wealth of data, both individually and collectively, that they can analyze. We need to be sure actuaries have the skills they need, not only to compete, but to enhance their qualifications to obtain management level positions within insurance companies. They need to be able to take and enhance the work data scientists are performing and, essentially, add to them the actuarial skill for looking beyond the raw data to figure out how the conclusions best fit into the applicable business environment. Perhaps, even more importantly, they need to make sure that these new tools are used responsibly and properly by the insurers who employ them.
Hofbeck: Just as a reminder of what predictive analytics is: predictive analytics combines increased computing power with new sources of data, new models and new algorithms to predict things a little better than we did before. We, as actuaries, may rely on the toolkit we’ve historically used, but now we have the capability to do more. The reason we’re so well prepared to develop this area of learning is because—as Jim said—we understand the context. We understand the regulatory environment. We understand the data that are available within insurance companies and other organizations, and we understand the ethical implications. This is why the SOA wants to ensure that we have the skills needed to build, implement, use, monitor, and explain predictive models.
Q: Robert, can you tell us what candidates and employers have said about the predictive analytics module for candidates?
Eaton: I’ve spoken with candidates, including candidates on my own team and in my company, as well as employers about this. The candidates really like this opportunity. It gives them practical knowledge. They are using R Studio, which for actuaries is a non-traditional program that is becoming more and more standard. Candidates really appreciate the interactive nature of getting into these models, and the online module format is conducive to serving up a piece of information, letting candidates process it and play around with it themselves. That’s really a positive experience.
We’re maintaining the SOA’s rigor and high standard of testing, but everybody who has come out of the program has felt great about it and all they’ve learned on predictive analytics. They’re gaining new skills that they can take into the workplace, and generally that’s really a positive review. On the employer side, they’re getting the benefits of students having this new information. The students or candidates are now armed with the ability to open up a predictive model, plug in a new dataset, get model results and output, fit models. This certainly isn’t the education the SOA delivered 15 years ago; it probably wasn’t even possible then. But now employers see actuaries and actuarial students empowered with these new tools. They ask the students – how can these new tools apply to our existing problems that you’ve traditionally worked on with generalized linear models or other decision tree models? What solutions can you think of now that weren’t even possible five or 10 years ago? It’s been very positive from both the employee and candidate side as well as on the employer side.
Wurzburger: Added to that, the program has been so attractive to candidates that we’ve had more than 5,000 people taking the predictive analytics exam in the first three offerings.
Q: Earlier, Jim mentioned the Predictive Analytics Certificate program. Robert, since you’ve taken the certificate, can you describe the program in more detail and talk a little bit about its future?
Eaton: This program mirrors the examination that candidates take and is ideal for folks who already have their credentials—maybe five or 10 years out. The program is workshop-based and very rigorous, consistent with the SOA credentialing program, and participants learn in the same way that the candidates taking the exam might do. The final exam is a two-day event.
We started this program, in part because actuaries are generally curious people, and I think it’s incumbent upon our profession to take on these new challenges and learn about new tools and techniques. It really affects what we’re doing. I agree with Christine’s comments that these new tools and methods can hopefully give us better answers. Why wouldn’t we be interested in hearing about that? I jumped at this opportunity to be part of the pilot program, and it delivered in full. A lot of models were prepared for us, and the education by Dr. Stuart Klugman and others is top-notch. We can even take all these tools with us; it’s not a situation where I log into a system, learn about all this, and then it goes away. There’s a lot that you keep and take with you—the message, the techniques and the models themselves.
We originally had four groups for the certificate program, and there’s also one overseas, so the program has been very popular. We’re going to continue it in 2020.
Hofbeck: Personally, I’ve spent the last decade building predictive analytics capabilities within insurers, and I was a grader for the Predictive Analytics Certificate program. I was absolutely blown away by what our members learned during that program and what they returned on their final exams. They certainly rivaled anyone I would have hired who had a deep background in predictive analytics. It was highly impressive. I would certainly encourage anyone who is interested in predictive analytics to take it.
Eaton: If you’re a credentialed actuary, you might manage actuarial candidates or students in your job. I think it’s important to take the predictive analytics certificate program, not only for yourself so you know how to use some of these techniques and methods, but also to manage your students and teams who are probably using these techniques and methods. In a sense, it’s a wonderful management tool that lets you speak the language and understand what analysts in your organization are doing in their day-to-day work.
Hofbeck: I’m so glad you brought that up, Robert, because there’s a huge opportunity for actuaries to take leadership roles in predictive analytics teams that may be made up of actuaries and data scientists or just data scientists. If actuaries understand the language and the process—even if they’re not the ones who are going to be building the models— they’ll have a greater opportunity to lead and positively impact their organizations, results, and innovations.
Q: Let’s switch gears one more time and talk about how InsurTech is affecting the profession and how the SOA is expanding into these areas.
Hofbeck: Technology companies, startups and entrepreneurs are developing new ways to offer insurance to consumers and streamlining many aspects of the traditional insurance process. While that creates competition with—and/or creates new methods for—traditional insurers, it also provides a great deal of opportunities for actuaries. In fact, I’m working with a startup right now, helping them to navigate the insurance and regulatory and actuarial landscapes. We actuaries have deep expertise in many areas that InsurTechs may not.
As part of the SOA’s long-term growth strategy, we’re exploring how we can best prepare our members for the future, which includes areas of InsurTech. We’re focusing on preparing candidates and members to better compete in an InsurTech world—being open to new delivery methods, new ways of pricing, new ways of offering insurance. We have an InsurTech Advisory Taskforce, which has outlined a plan that has been approved by the Board and focuses on three key objectives. The first is to address key stakeholder interest in maintaining integrity while using data and analytics in insurance. This is an area of strength for actuaries, so how can we help to ensure integrity throughout the InsurTech space? The second objective is to conduct outreach to the InsurTech community to promote the value of actuarial science and actuaries. And the third is to ensure that we continue to promote the value of SOA credentials. We want to make sure we are maintaining our reputation as the industry’s premier data analytics experts. Let’s remember, we have been managing data and predicting the future much longer than anyone else!
Wurzburger: In regard to the second objective, the SOA has partnered with Plug and Play, and a lot of 2019 was spent developing that relationship and working toward what that partnership is going to look like. A lot of the execution is going to happen in 2020. It stemmed from the InsurTech Advisory Taskforce, which identified the various stakeholders related to the SOA’s planned InsurTech activities. A lot of it comes down to promoting the actuarial skill set and the SOA brand within the InsurTech community, as well as making sure our members and candidates are educated in this area and facilitating ways for them to operate within that world and seize opportunities.
This partnership with Plug and Play demonstrates the SOA’s commitment to providing its members with dynamic learning experiences. It’s providing a lot of rewarding volunteer opportunities as well as collaborative events where those who have an interest in InsurTech can mix with both other actuaries and non-actuaries who are operating within the InsurTech world. The partnership is going to include a number of deliverables. One is the Get Plugged In podcast series. Robert is the host of that podcast series, and it features a different InsurTech startup each month, carefully chosen for its relevance to actuaries. The series is another opportunity to expose actuaries to what’s going on in InsurTech. There is also the bimonthly Inside InsurTech webcast series. Up to this point, each episode has had three startups. They are all loosely bound by a particular theme, but they’re unique companies doing unique things with topics relative to actuaries. This gives our members direct access to some of these emerging technologies.
Eaton: I’m really happy to be able to host Get Plugged In, the collaborative podcast series from the SOA and Plug and Play. We reached out to Plug and Play and got a list of companies in the InsurTech space that are doing a lot of innovation these days and trying to think interestingly and in new ways that the traditional insurance companies usually don’t. The purpose of the podcast series is to talk to these companies about how actuaries might work with them; what actuaries should know about their companies; and how actuaries might be able to add to their own skill sets, toolkits or business and industry knowledge. I’ve been happy with the quality of my guests on the podcasts, and it’s been a great experience.
Wurzburger: We’re also creating an advisory network, a virtual office-hours environment for two or three actuaries at a time to meet one-on-one with an InsurTech innovator. The meetings give the actuaries a chance to engage in dialogue and really demonstrate the value they can bring to InsurTechs. Hopefully, it leads to further engagement between InsurTechs and actuaries, and that will go a long way toward what Christine was talking about—validating some of the data and technology around these InsurTechs.
Plug and Play has also helped us to create and embed InsurTech content in existing SOA meetings, such as the Annual Meeting & Exhibit, the Predictive Analytics Symposium, and a number of other SOA events. We’ve been able to get higher-quality InsurTech content and exposure to more dynamic InsurTech presenters directly through that relationship with Plug and Play.
Finally, because of our relationship with them, we’ve been able to increase our impact and presence at InsurTech Connect, which is the largest conference related to InsurTech in the world. The SOA having a presence there again helps to raise the profile of the organization and the profession in the InsurTech world.
I also want to mention the Immersion experience. We’re still working on the details, but the goal is for a relatively small number of our members at any one time to go to Silicon Valley to Plug and Play’s headquarters and get “dropped into” the experience there. The company runs programs that last several months for different batches of, usually, late-stage InsurTechs. They’re learning how to take their business to the next level and getting to interact with each other, so this is a dynamic experience. We’re going to drop them in at a strategic time, probably for a few days, based on the calendar of the program that is already running.
Q: I know we covered some information about Long-Term Care Tech Summit already, but is there anything we haven’t covered about that and InsurTech?
Glickman: Each September, for the last several years, there’s been an InsurTech Conference in Las Vegas. I had the good fortune last year to attend, as the SOA president. At that conference, the SOA co-sponsored with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) a special preconference event that was very well attended. The format of the preconference event featured a couple of leadoff general sessions, followed by two specialty track sets of sessions.
One track featured InsurTech companies pitching their product ideas to investors and insurers. The other track involved the NAIC regulators from approximately a dozen states, most of whom are in charge of InsurTech regulatory efforts at their state. This session was of mutual benefit to InsurTechs, investors and regulators, helping all parties to understand each other’s viewpoint, since there often hasn’t been very much knowledge exchange among those three parties.
Overall, this conference has been growing dramatically. It had around 7,000 attendees last year and probably will be even bigger this year. It really is a merging of the InsurTech and the insurance legacy worlds; trying to figure out how—even in small pieces—we can integrate operationally, if not more completely, into the insurance world of the future.
The fourth and final article in this series will address the SOA’s long-term growth strategy.