Actuarial opportunities and lessons learned in a post-COVID-19 world

Data collected and lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic will help improve the ability of governments and organisations to face future crises. The pandemic has emphasised the importance of translating complex data for diverse audiences with clear communication. Innovation is vital to benefit from the world’s new operating rhythm and this presents great opportunities for actuaries.

Traditional practice areas

Insurance

Some insurance policies contain pandemic related exclusions on the grounds that pandemic risk is “uninsurable” due to the potential for large losses. Actuarial thinking to establish pandemic-related exclusions, as well as considering relief from some of these exclusions mid-pandemic (for example by some health insurers), has demonstrated clear value. Where pandemic-related claims are not excluded, re-pricing can help insurers recover from higher than expected claim costs.

Reserving has been another important area. Some lines of insurance have experienced a disruption to normal claiming patterns because of COVID-19. Changing claiming behaviour means that historical data becomes less relevant.

Actuaries need to be resourceful to collect meaningful data, both qualitative and quantitative, from a wide range of sources to make informed reserving decisions.

The deferral of private health insurance claims and how to account for the significant shift in the timing of claims presents a unique challenge for actuaries. The work of health actuaries has contributed to improving healthcare outcomes as reserving for deferred claims will ensure that private health insurers are equipped to fund future procedures at increased capacity once COVID-19 eases.

Superannuation and Investments

Liquidity has become a focus for the industry with the government’s early release superannuation scheme and lost superannuation guarantee contributions as a result of increased unemployment. It remains prudent for all funds to review portfolio liquidity.

Economic disruption presents investment opportunities where assets may be mispriced. Riskiness of investments can be evaluated through economic modelling and stress and scenario testing. The quantitative nature of such an exercise is particularly suited to actuaries.

Banking

Any change to the operating environment, including current low interest rates and changes to consumer credit profiles during economic uncertainty, calls for careful measurement, quantification, and risk management.

Common questions asked by actuaries working in insurance or superannuation also apply to credit risk modelling, including analysis of historical data to predict future outcomes, calibration of models to predict future experience, and the impact of government assistance supporting economic sustainability.

In relation to Treasury functions, COVID-19 has resulted in an increased focus on liquidity, driven by equity market volatility and an increase in contingency funding, tightening credit markets and increased customer payment deferrals. Actuaries are well versed with predicting unknown future outcomes, both on a best estimate basis as well as adverse event projections.

 

Broader applications

Risk management

Actuaries are involved in risk management on a holistic level and use their expertise to tackle individual risks as a sub-set of a broader risk management framework.

COVID-19 resulted in disruption to working practices and a shift to remote working. A well-prepared business continuity plan should have resulted in smoother transitions as the pandemic unfolded.

COVID-19 may have revealed weaknesses in business continuity planning for some organisations and learnings can be used to refine planning in anticipation of a future crisis.

Uncertainty caused by COVID-19 may have resulted in a breach of risk tolerance or the activation of trigger points across various areas. A strongly embedded risk management framework with established risk tolerances, trigger points and plans for corrective action would help guide organisations through the COVID-19 crisis and restore key metrics back within the acceptable range.

Regulation

The economic contraction following COVID-19 necessitated a swift change for Australia’s financial regulators, APRA and ASIC. Actuaries, in collaboration with other financial professionals, helped safeguard the health and stability of Australia’s financial system, protecting the interests of Australian consumers, investors and creditors.

Workforce planning

Insights gained from workforce modelling can help human resource teams secure contingent resources or identify opportunities to redeploy excess resources where required. Workforce planning presents an opportunity for human resource teams to lean on the analytical expertise of actuaries to translate qualitative statements and workplace data to create meaningful and practical workforce models.

 

Learnings and implications for the future

Additional data

COVID-19 represents a rare opportunity to collect data specific to Australia, which will help calibration and improve the predictive power of many actuarial models.

Other than quantitative data, the actions of governments, regulators, organisations and the courts during COVID-19 establishes a precedent to guide how society may react to future crises.

Communication is key

COVID-19 has brought about many opportunities for actuaries to showcase their technical ability which must be accompanied by clear communication as the technical jargon used by actuaries may be confusing for a broader audience.

A brilliant model lost in translation fails to reach its full potential.

New challenges

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way the world operates. This presents opportunities for actuaries to drive innovation to hasten economic recovery.

As digital platforms become the leading means to transact, the need for cybersecurity will increase. Actuarial thinking can assist machine learning and artificial intelligence to identify anomalies and fraudulent behaviour.

Telehealth

A consequence of government mandated stay-at-home orders is the challenge to access healthcare, which has led to the widespread introduction of “telehealth” online consultations.

The cost and value of telehealth services will need to be managed by both government and insurers. Actuaries can help facilitate the provision of this service by analysing costs to prevent unreasonable inflation and apply actuarial thinking more broadly to other health programs including at home palliative care and rehabilitation.

Conclusion

Statistical skill and quantitative aptitude underpinning the actuarial profession have proven valuable during the COVID-19 pandemic in traditional practice areas and more broadly in risk management, regulation, and workforce planning.

The challenge for actuaries is to build on their analytical reputation as the focus shifts from protecting downside to maximising returns. Innovation and changing consumer behaviours will bring about new problems to tackle and actuarial thinking will be fundamental to further the profession’s practice in new areas.

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