Modelling one side of a two-sided problem

Ah models, my old friends. You’re always wrong, but sometimes helpful. Often dangerous too.

A recent article in The Actuary magazine addressed whether “de-risking in members’ best interests?”  I say “recent” even though it’s from August because I am a little behind on my The Actuary reading.

In the article, the authors demonstrate that by modelling the impact of covenant risk, optimal investment portfolios for Defined Benefit (DB) pensions actually have more risky assets than if this covenant risk is ignored.

The covenant they refer to is the obligation of the sponsor to make good deficits within the pension fund. Covenant risk then is the risk that the sponsor is unable (typically through its own insolvency) to make good on this promise.

On the surface it should seem counterintuitive that by modelling an additional risk to pensioners, the answer is to invest in riskier assets, thus increasing risk.

The explanation proffered by the authors is that the higher expected returns from riskier assets allow the fund to potentially build up surplus, thus reducing the risks of covenant failure.

I can follow that logic, particularly in the case where the dependence between DB fund insolvency and sponsor default is week. It doesn’t mean it’s a useful result. Continue reading “Modelling one side of a two-sided problem”

Credit Life regulations and reactions (1)

Credit Life regulations have been live for long enough now that insurers are starting to feel the impact and the shake-up of amongst industry players is starting to emerge.

There have been plenty of debate around the regulations, in part because of the dramatic financial and operational impact they will have, and partly because of how imperfectly worded they are and the scope for interpretation.

I’ll be posting about this more in the coming days.

Basing the premium on initial or outstanding balance

First, a real anomaly is the ability for insurers  to charge the capped premium rate either on initial loan balance or on the declining outstanding balance.

There are good practical reasons to want to charge a single, known amount to policyholders. It is easier to administer and policyholders have greater clarity on what they are paying. Continue reading “Credit Life regulations and reactions (1)”

Zero deductibles and innovation from insurtech

Insurance is misunderstood. Consumers ascribe malice where often practical restrictions are to blame.

Take deductibles for example. A deductible in an insurance claim decreases the number of claims an insurer has to deal with. More than that though, it reduces the claims where the administration costs of checking out the claim and paying it are large relative to the benefit to the policyholder. Sometimes these costs would have been larger than the claim itself.

In that case it does not make sense for the insurer to be processing and paying the claims – the increase in premiums required would be more than reasonable to policyholders.

Lemonade’s new “zero everything” removes the deductible and guarantees no premium increases for up to two claims per year. The reporting on this innovation has generally been silent on the practical reasons why this is hard for traditional insurers and easier for Lemonade.

Lemonade on the other hand explicitly recognise (or at least claim) that due to their AI-based claims underwriting process they can drive down costs and therefore manage small claims cost effectively.

This is important. Many complain about the lack of innovation in insurance. Removing deductibles isn’t innovation. Reducing costs to the extent it becomes viable is the step that enables differentiation and better value for customers.

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Claims analysis, inflation and discounting (part 2)

This is part 2 of a 3 part series. Part 1 is here.

Non-life claims reserves are regularly not discounted, for bad reasons and good. This part of the series looks at the related issue of inflation in claims reserving. (You’ll have to wait for part 3 for me to talk about the analysis that prompted this lengthy series.)

In many markets, inflation is low and stable. Until a decade ago, talk of inflation wouldn’t have raised much in the way of deflation either. That’s still sufficiently unusual to put to one side.

Low, stable inflation means that past claims development patterns are mostly about, in approximate descending order of importance (naturally depending on class and peril) Continue reading “Claims analysis, inflation and discounting (part 2)”

Current and future state of bancassurance in SA

Bancassurance, says the oracle or finance definitions online (aka Investopedia) is :

…is an arrangement in which a bank and an insurance company form a partnership so that the insurance company can sell its products to the bank’s client base. This partnership arrangement can be profitable for both companies. Banks can earn additional revenue by selling the insurance products, while insurance companies are able to expand their customer bases without having to expand their sales forces or pay commissions to insurance agents or brokers.

Bancassurance has been a major part of European and Asian insurance markets and, for a time, was presumed to be the future of insurance distribution in most countries around the world.

What happened was different. Bancassurance has not taken off in all markets the same as it did in the early success stories. Some of this has to do with the reversal of trust relationships between banking and insurance. Continue reading “Current and future state of bancassurance in SA”

CT Water: News come 4 October?

Not much of value in this shoddily wording reporting on CT’s water shortage, except that we will hear an official update on the water disaster plan on 4 October.

This is a topic of direct personal and business relevance, but also of a technical forecasting and measurement perspective. Very little I’ve seen so far gives my confidence in the forecasting, which is either because of poor forecasting or from very limited communication.

I don’t know which bothers me more.

31, 151 and what comes next

This is my first new post in over two years. There are many reasons for that, and I may get into that in a future post.  As to why I’m restarting – a conversation with an old friend last night combined with a lunch discussion with an actuarial student a couple of weeks ago has inspired me to attempt to, temporarily at least, restart my blog.

I’m going further than just restarting, I’m committing to a new blog post each day for October. Now the reasons for having stopped blogging haven’t suddenly changed, so it’s likely that some of these posts will be short. (And similarly, some of them long.) Since the decision was made last night, I also haven’t though through anything like a full plan for the month.  I invite you along to see how it goes.

I’m probably not alone in being slightly more jaded, slightly less optimistic than I was two years ago. A summary of the two years might make its way into another post, more to help me collect my thoughts than anything else.

Cape Town is experiencing an intense, multi-year drought and there is a real possibility of the city running out of water before next winter. I will definitely be blogging more about the vacuum of credible communication and forecasting on this front in a later post. For now, a single-purpose website http://www.howmanydaysofwaterdoescapetownhaveleft.co.za/  is currently proclaims (they update weekly, I think, based on updated weekly reports of dam levels) that we have 151 days of water left and will run out of useable water on 1 March 2018.

For now, the claims of cholera in Puerto Rico have not been proven, but it does feel like it’s only a matter of time. Anyone fretting over drinking water in Cape Town should probably bump diseases such as cholera up their list.

The official position of the City of Cape Town is still “we won’t run out of water”, but there are reasons to doubt this and be concerned. I’m keen to work out objectively what the level of risk is. To that end, it would have been useful to be able to dissect the http://www.howmanydaysofwaterdoescapetownhaveleft.co.za/  methodology to understand how credible their forecast is. This is the entire disclosure of their methodology:

Using our recent consumption as a model for future usage, we’re predicting that dam levels will reach 10% on the 1st of March, 2018.

I’m not losing sleep over their forecast. So for now, sleep.