Young Actuaries Program (Melbourne) – Data Analytics

After-work on a cold Thursday evening in Melbourne, the Young Actuaries Program (“YAP”) membership gathered for the latest instalment of the ‘Evening Speaker Series’ – Data Analytics. James Morris reports. 

The event’s audience heard four prestigious speakers’ thoughts on a range of topics including the importance of data analytics, emerging trends and the synergies between actuarial and data analytics skill-sets.

The panel of speakers consisted of both actuaries and non-actuaries with varying backgrounds, each working with big data sources in their specialised fields, which yielded a great dispersion of thoughts and discussion topics. The panel included:

  • Genevieve Hayes, the Analytics and Actuarial Manager at the Victorian Managed Insurance Authority (VMIA);
  • Peter Stuchbery, an owner of Nature, a Melbourne-based quantitative research agency;
  • Sheena Wong, a consultant at Quantium; and
  • Stacie Haber, who leads Mercer’s Insights & Analytics function in the Pacific.

Pearls of Wisdom

Two key themes which permeated the discussion were captured well by Stacie in her talk, who noted the increasing “democratisation and proliferation of data”. Throughout the evening, it was clear that the sheer volume and availability of data, combined with increasingly sophisticated tools and techniques for analysis and visualization, is opening up new and exciting avenues for exploration.

Not so long ago, simply having a data analytics function was a significant differentiating factor for businesses. Nowadays though, the use of data analytics is becoming much more main-stream as organisations are rapidly realising the value in retaining and analysing large quantities of data to help facilitate better informed decision making. As Sheena noted in her presentation, in data analytics today ”it’s becoming more about the speed of analysis and the ability to communicate effectively with the business”.

In a similar vein, most of the speakers also remarked that the landscape for data analysts is changing into one which is much more consultative. Capability in crunching the numbers is paramount (and a requirement for all analysts), but as Peter noted ”what sets a great analyst apart is their ability to work effectively with the business …understand the analysis and also communicate it clearly”. Data analytics teams therefore need a wide variety of skills including model building, data visualisation and communication.

Another clear theme for the evening was that this consultative approach is one of the areas where actuaries should be well positioned to add value.

With its focus on both consulting and analytical skills, the actuarial pathway is designed to help turn information into actionable insights.

Indeed, many of the skills actuarial students learn have great synergies with data analytics, particularly around cleaning of data and the approach to model building and consultation. To borrow a terrific turn of phrase from Genevieve, ”Analytics and actuarial: The best of both worlds. It’s a combination of a consistent contender for job of the year, with the sexiest job of the 21st century”.

Another key theme of the evening was around security & privacy, which is already very important and will only become more so, given people’s sensitivity to the usage of personalised data. There was a broad agreement that personalisation generally helps improve user experience up to a point, but can easily backfire if it goes too far and becomes overbearing. This is a fine line which data analytics professionals should be aware of.

Words of Advice for Young Actuaries

There were plenty of fantastic insights scattered throughout the evening for the YAP members in the audience, with some of the salient points including:

  • “Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success” – when preparing for a role it’s all about building a portfolio of marketable skills. When taken together in combination these groups of skills are more valuable than being above average in each area.
  • “Change before you have to” – the actuary of the future is going to enter the workforce with a stronger grasp of analytics than ever before, so get started with learning these skills now.
  • There is a shortage of people who can cross the divide between analysts and consultants – being able to talk about complex ideas in simple terms is an invaluable skill.
  • There are plenty of open source applications through which you can start learning and practicing data analytics for free, including online courses (e.g. MOOC’s & CodeAcademy), programming languages (e.g. R & Python) and datasets or competitions (e.g. Kaggle) – the skills you’ll learn will stand you in good stead, so go get started learning!
  • Look out for the regular Data Analytics column “Normal Deviance” in Actuaries Digital, read Part One “Getting started in analytics”, Part Two “In praise of the GLM” and Part Three “Burying the GLM” by Hugh Miller.

The Young Actuaries Program runs a number of events in Melbourne including evening speaker sessions and networking lunches. For more information please contact me via email and keep an eye on upcoming YAP events in our Events Calendar.

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