Think back 15 years. You were probably racing to meetings with your new flip phone or if you were tech savvy enough, maybe even a Palm Pilot. E-mail was just gaining traction, and if someone said "there's an app for that", you thought mozzarella sticks came with your meal. Between then and now, it seems as though we've taken an express train to the future.
My point is 15 years is a long time for any industry but particularly long when it comes to the insurance industry which is ever evolving. So why do we still rely so heavily on the past to price future risks?
Certainly, claims history and loss development give us insight on what was happening at a specific point in time. But, if we rely only on development from the past, we are applying past actions and decisions to today's evolving world which puts us at a disadvantaged; especially in Casualty lines. That’s why predictive modeling is getting so much attention, and why I was excited to join my industry peers at Advisen’s Predictive Modeling Insights Conference, where I took part in a panel discussion titled “Why Analytics?”
The conference was held at the St. John's University School of Risk Management in New York City, where the next generation of actuaries is being trained to respond to tomorrow’s risk modeling—which, by the way, looks far different than risk modeling most of us have come to know as the standard.
New iterations of risk models – like predictive modeling and Swiss Re's forward-looking modeling (FLM), are critical to success in our evolving and fast-paced world. I believe we have to wean ourselves from a reliance on retrospective modeling because it doesn’t reflect societal and economic changes that influence the "cause –effect" chain of loss development. The commonly used retrospective modeling relies heavily on historical information, which by the time it develops, tends to be countercyclical when applied; the insight it yields isn’t evolving as rapidly as the market.
Typically we have to wait up to 7 – 10+ years for the development of casualty losses, depending on the tail of a particular industry class, to understand its impact on our company and the industry. Imagine the game-changing nature of forward-looking modeling if we can become more nimble in grasping a trend and reacting, even anticipating it!
There are great opportunities in both directions, to identify more profitable business earlier and move away from things that are becoming less profitable. What’s more, FLM can help deliver better claims management and sharper broker segmentation, even more effective marketing and fraud detection.
The predictive model draws on data to isolate and examine a number of predictors, or variables that are indicative of future behavior or results. It’s nothing new in other industries; lenders use it in credit scoring and retailers use it to predict customer behavior. The big differentiator of FLM is that it acknowledges a structured cause-effect chain, identify a variety of factors / drivers that influence the outcome of a specific event; its frequency and severity providing a better understanding of the role the factor / driver is playing.
Personal lines carriers have used predictive modeling with great success; early adopters of FLM have gained a dramatic advantage over competitors. While FLM is more accepted in personal lines than in commercial, we can envision a day when it gains the same level of acceptance. It can’t be ignored.
Reform, regulation and legislation have a significant impact on commerce and collectively yield a wealth of data to be brought to bear on risk selection and pricing. Rigorous analysis of this type of data helps us discover relationships and patterns that are otherwise hidden and counterintuitive. The true art of underwriting will lie in our ability to evolve our analytical process; blending a view of the future with the retrospective analytical process.
Like anything transformational, it won’t always be easy. Resource-strapped companies will resist the investment and stick with what they already know. To invest in the evolution of actuarial science means one is investing in R&D and innovation,which is often likened to working in the unknown. Anxiety must be replaced by courage. It's going to take a major market influencer (or two or three) to make predictive and forward-looking modeling an accepted, even imperative, practice.
The adoption of FLM doesn’t minimize the importance of good underwriting, whose practitioners need to understand that the tools are here to supplement what they do; not take away the need for their expertise. As in other industries, insurers are coming to realize the importance of blending this type of science with good business judgment.
To be relevant in the future, we have to look beyond what we're doing today. As an industry we need to be investing in the development of the science and the talent behind it. Perhaps there were some St. John’s students in the audience who share my enthusiasm.
Location: St. John's University School of Risk Management, New York City