Higher interest rates already have translated into higher discount rates for solvency and accounting valuations, which means good news (lower liabilities) for DB pension plans. The sensitivity of a pension plan’s liabilities to the discount rate used to determine their value depends on the demographics of the plan members, the type of valuation and level of discount rates being used. Generally, the “duration” for most pension plan liabilities (defined here as the percentage decrease in liabilities for a 1% increase in discount rates) will range from 10 to 25.
In the United States, the average accounting funded ratio increased from 94.6% in July 2021 to 104.5% in July 2022, according to the Milliman 100 Pension Funding Index, despite significant decreases in plan assets during that time. This is because the average accounting discount rate (typically based on long-term, high-quality bond yields) increased from 2.59% to 4.25% during that same period, driving down accounting liabilities at a faster pace than asset losses. Figure 1 demonstrates this effect in more detail.
Professionalization leads us to an interesting dilemma. Actuarial culture and, for that matter, organizational culture got insurance companies to where they are today. If the culture were not moderately successful, then the company would not still exist. But this is where Prospect theory emerges from the shadows. It is human nature not to want to lose the culture that enabled your success. Many people nonetheless thirst for the gains earned by moving in a new direction. Risk aversion further reinforces the stickiness of culture, especially for risk-averse professions and industries. Drawing from author Tony Robbins, you cannot become who you want to be by staying who you currently are. Our professionalization, coupled with our risk aversion, creates a double whammy. Practices appropriate to prior eras have a propensity to be locked in place. Oh, but it gets worse!
By the nature of transformation and modernization, knowledge and know-how are embedded in the current people, processes and systems. The knowledge and know-how must be migrated from the prior technology to modern technology. Just like your computer’s hard drive gets fragmented, so too do firms’ expertise as people change focus, move jobs or leave companies. The long-dated nature of our promises can severely exacerbate the issue. Human knowledge and know-how are not very compressible, unlike biological seeds and eggs. In a time-consuming defragmenting exercise, information, knowledge and know-how must be painstakingly moved, relearned and adapted for the new system. This transformation requires new practices, further exacerbating the shock to the culture. Oh, but it gets even worse!
The transformation process requires existing teams to change, recombine or communicate in new ways. This means their cultures will potentially clash. Lack of trust and bureaucracy are the most significant frictions to collaboration among networks. The direct evidence of this is when project managers vent that teams x, y and z cannot seem to work together. It is because they do not have a reference system to know how to work together.
As you begin (or consider) volunteering with Society of Actuaries (SOA) Education, you may have questions. As a long-time SOA Education volunteer and past general chairperson of SOA Education, perhaps I have answers that will help.
My volunteer journey began in 1993. I had just obtained my FSA when I got a call from SOA volunteer Bruno Gagnon, FCIA, asking if I wanted to get involved in SOA Education. It’s been an incredible journey of learning, support and networking since. I hope your volunteer journey is just as rewarding.
WHAT BENEFITS DOES VOLUNTEERING BRING? The most interesting aspects of this endeavor are of a different nature. For example, the first privilege was to work with subject-matter experts who were highly regarded and respected in the industry and learn from them. This could be from a technical and leadership point of view. It was rewarding to see a group of volunteers with similar interests working together efficiently while having fun. The members had specific roles and would not hesitate to help their colleagues when needed. Over the years, SOA Education volunteers have shown they can adapt to change quickly. The adjustments that were put in place during the pandemic are a great example.
A member volunteer can gain experience and look for opportunities to grow in their role and take on different responsibilities. The possibilities are diverse, allowing a member to become an expert in their role or a leader within the exam team, depending on their interests, skills and circumstances.
Having participated in all the possible levels within the SOA Education volunteer structure, I honestly can say the experience has been challenging at times—but always highly rewarding. I would relive the journey at any time, as I made very dear friends along the way.
Why is the insurance industry now facing increased scrutiny on certain underwriting methods?
Insurers increasingly are turning to nontraditional data sets, sources and scores. The methods used to obtain traditional data—that were at one time costly and time-consuming—can now be done quickly and cheaply.
As insurers continue to innovate their underwriting techniques, increased scrutiny should be expected. It is not unreasonable for consumer advocates to push for increased transparency and explainability when insurers employ these advanced methods.
What is the latest regulatory activity on this topic in the various states and at the NAIC?
Activity in the states has been minimal. In 2021, Colorado became the first (and so far, only) state to enact legislation requiring insurers to test their algorithms for bias. Legislation nearly identical to the Colorado law was introduced in Oklahoma and Rhode Island in 2022, and it is likely other states will consider similar legislation. Connecticut is finalizing guidance that would require insurers to attest that their use of data is nondiscriminatory. Other states have targeted specific factors, but most have adopted a wait-and-see approach.
The NAIC created a new high-level committee to focus on innovation and AI, but it has become clear that a national standard is not likely at this time.
Author(s): INTERVIEW BY STEPHEN ABROKWAH, Interview with Neil Sprackling, president of Swiss Re Life & Health America Inc.
If we consider how risk events unfold in reality, they usually occur through a sequence of interacting factors (see Figure 1). For example: A control does not quite work as intended because the usual supervisor is not available, and coincidentally a staff member has unintended access to a system from which they are able to extract personal information. On any other day, those conditions might have been different and resulted in another outcome. The reality, therefore, is that risks emerge as a result of a complex series of interactions among a large number of factors, and small changes in conditions can lead to significantly different risk outcomes.
Risk events also often involve active participants who learn and adapt their behaviors accordingly. Cyber is a good example—the attacker generally is trying to outthink their adversary and stay one step ahead. All of this means that past performance is not necessarily a reliable predictor of the future. There are too many things that can be subtly different, leading to hugely different outcomes.
With nonbinary genders recognized on legal documents, customers are beginning to ask for forms and applications to include nonbinary options as well—so they’re not forced into a false selection. Even so, a person still could make an inaccurate selection. A customer falsely selecting a nonbinary gender is slightly less risky for the insurance company than selecting a false binary gender, as nonbinary rates are likely to fall somewhere between male and female to ensure they’re not discriminatory.
In the end, providing false information on an insurance application is fraudulent activity regardless of the question. Many of the states that include nonbinary gender markers on birth certificates and/or driver’s licenses already require the individual to sign an affidavit stating that they are not changing their gender marker for a fraudulent purpose. The benefits of including options for nonbinary customers and the potential for more accurate risk evaluations hopefully will outweigh a possible increase in fraudulent activity.