Bitcoins, deflation and the slightly silly impact of loss

I think Bitcoins and the Blockchain are amazingly cool.  I still don’t think Bitcoins are a useful currency and I worry that many of Bitcoin’s biggests fans also like the gold standard, Austrian economics and some other crazy stuff.

What impact will the loss of Bitcoins over time have on the economy? Continue reading “Bitcoins, deflation and the slightly silly impact of loss”

Downwards counterfactual analysis

Stress and scenario testing are important risk assessment tools.  They also provide useful ways to prepare in advance for adverse scenarios so that management doesn’t have to create everything from first principles when something similar occurs.

But trying to imagine scenarios, particularly very severe scenarios, isn’t straightforward. We don’t have many examples of very extreme events.

Some insurers will dream up scenarios from scratch. It’s also common to refer to prior events and run the current business through those dark days. The Global Financial Crisis is a favourite – how would our business manage under credit spread spikes, drying up of liquidity, equity fall markets, higher lapses, lower sales, higher retrenchment claims, higher individual and corporate defaults, switches of funds out of equities, early withdrawals and surrenders and increased call centre volumes?

Downwards counterfactual analysis is the: Continue reading “Downwards counterfactual analysis”

Alternatives to uncanny

This is a rant about people who are wrong on the internet.  Also, why Huffington Post is a platform for big bad wolves. And why the asymmetric information and importance of financial advice means it’s not okay. Maybe this is just part of Cunningham’s Law.

Clickbait headline? Check.

3 Smart Alternatives to Life Insurance

Numbered list (the second one will surprise you…)? Check

Also, another numbered article by the same author “5 Viable Uses For A Reverse Mortgage”. No, I’m deliberately not linking. Then, without irony, another article, “The Death Of Click Bait Is Finally Here”.

Okay, but back to the actual topic. The first sentence in the article:

The simplest alternatives to life insurance include investing money and or saving it. If you are able to set aside enough funds each year, you can very well never have to worry about holding a life insurance policy.

So, in other words, a smart alternative to life insurance is just not having insurance at all.

The other two “smart alternatives” are, actually, life insurance. So the sum total of smart alternatives offered are “no insurance” and “life insurance”.

Maybe it’s fitting that the author describes himself:

Lazar is pronounced in his uncanny but effective content…

uncanny: strange or mysterious, especially in an unsettling way.  Check.


The importance (or not?) of actuarial exams

Erik Wenzel posed a provocative question on his LinkedIn stream.

I began my reply there, but the character limit foiled me.

Erik asks:

“Thought experiment– what if there were no more actuarial exams?”

He gives a starting set of pros and cons, many of which are interesting. That, and the comments on his post, left me a little confused as to what was actually being proposed.

Here are my thoughts.

Actuarial exams are predictive of later success

Although there are obviously exceptions, I’ve found performance in actuarial exams to be a strong predictor of the quality of work and later career success. No system is perfect, but discarding a system that works because it has some false negatives requires more evidence on the extent of false negatives vs true positives.

I recall one of the reasons employers hire PhDs is because it proves a level of commitment and determination and focus and work ethic and (also) smarts. So too with a tough set of actuarial exams.

The exams don’t test every relevant capability that we might want from an actuary – there are a range of other requirements to become an actuary which address at least some of these.

The proposal was for removing exams, but…

Removing the exams because “some students aren’t good at taking tests” is a very different point from removing the underlying course material or the need to study and understand them.  The actual time taken for the exam is negligible.

If the idea is to not bother understanding the material at an in-depth level, then I have additional concerns. But that wasn’t what was actually proposed.

The solution to “some people being bad at taking tests” is not to scrap all the study material. The solution to the problem of “the study material isn’t keeping up with demands” isn’t to scrap exams.

The material underlying the exams should not be dismissed just because it isn’t all about machine learning and CRISPR. A critical challenge in not being forced to have depth of knowledge on areas, even if the details become hazy over time, is the understanding of the boundaries of one’s knowledge and the extent to which the problems encountered already have possible solutions. There is a world of difference in understanding material at a level to pass an exam and what can be gleaned from reading an article or skimming a book.

Removal of exams doesn’t automatically create an appropriate alternative

How would an actuary know when to ask for help? Are we really sure the extent of mentoring in the actuarial profession is good enough for everyone? Better informed actuaries will better be able to critically evaluate the guidance they receive.

Should the exams actually be harder?

Incidentally, I’m generally more concerned about false positives.  I’d be happy to see regularly updated exam materials that are broader and more complex and, yes, harder than current materials.

Improving actuarial education

Actuarial education has not been stagnant. Should we strive for faster change and better improvements? Should we focus more on the use of technology enablement and add additional short courses on cutting edge topics? Should the profession better understand what is predictive of later success, self-reported or otherwise?


Move over cholera, here’s the Black Death

The Black Death, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, wiped out 30 to 50 percent of Europe’s population between 1347 and 1351

Now, South Africa has been placed on high alert for a potential plague infection.

Mortality rates are estimated anywhere between 30% and 100% without treatment. Many estimates are towards the top end of this range, 80% to 95%. Treatments are available (mostly antibiotics) and are generally effective. Mortality rate where adequate treatment is administered within 24 hours can be 11%.  (Either “just 11%” or “11%!” depending on whether you’re counting up from 0% or down from 95%.)

Spread of Black Death across Europe in 14th century
Spread of Black Death across Europe in 14th century

Plague in Madagascar

124 people have already been killed by the plague in Madagascar. But this is just a particularly bad year. Continue reading “Move over cholera, here’s the Black Death”

Collective nouns for cats

In my ASSA convention presentation on systemic risk last week, I took pains to highlight the difference between real systemic risk and mere catastrophic claim risk or even concentration risk.

In this post I will cover these and other cats, the place of reinsurance including “feelings” and why this is hyper relevant for captives.

To demonstrate how even large general insurance catastrophes typically have no systemic implications for South Africa, I referenced the “2017 fire and storm claims”.

2017 Western and Southern Cape storm and fire claims

The media reported the following on these claims:

“Santam noted that the total insured damage has been estimated at around R3 billion, with economic losses (taking uninsured property into account) at significantly higher levels.

This was by far the worst catastrophe event in South African insurance history, with Santam client claims totalling around R800 million, of which R72 million related to the Cape Town property damage.”

So that all seems very intense. But then the story continues. Continue reading “Collective nouns for cats”

Credit Life Aside: banning sale of credit life alongside lending?

Some markets have banned sale of insurance alongside lending

Another way to deal with the problem of competition in credit life is to simply not permit the sale of insurance at the same time as the loan. This means that more providers will have an opportunity to make the sale since the lender doesn’t have the ability to slip the product in alongside the loan.

Some problems:

  • Overall this will increase acquisition costs as it is extremely cost efficient to distribute along with the loan granting process.
  • The lender is still in the best position to follow up with an outbound sales lead in the days or weeks after the loan has been granted (unless they are prohibited from selling at all, which is another option that can be considered)
  • Lenders may not be prepared to lend without the protection of credit life in place
  • The reality remains that for some lenders, for some loans and for some credit life policies, the product acts as a source of revenue rather than a risk mitigant. Without that extra revenue, the loan might not be viable due to risks and expenses of collecting the installments.

So this approach is not without its own troubles.

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