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Data Science: Q&A with IFoA Member Patrick Lee

Patrick Lee has served both on the IFoA Council and IFoA Management Board, and is President of the Wessex Actuarial Society. Opinions expressed here are his own.

Patrick LeeYou’ve said that you believe there is much to do to ensure that IFoA members remain relevant in a world ever more dominated by data analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Could you briefly explain why actuaries would do well to increase their understanding of these technologies?

Estimates vary, but in 2018 around a trillion megabytes of data was produced every day.  Some of this data will be very valuable, and so businesses and organisations will compete to extract value from it. The actuary’s traditional toolkit, however, has not enabled understanding of how large-volume data of very different types (such as social media) can be processed for actuarial purposes. So at a bare minimum, actuaries need to know the key concepts of data science.

Actuaries also must understand – and add value in – the ongoing conversations that business leaders will have with data engineers and data scientists.

You recently completed Microsoft Professional Programs for Data Science and for Big Data. What impact on their professional schedule can actuaries who are interested in these certifications expect them to have on their professional schedules?

Well, it took me 468 hours of part-time study over two years to complete both programs. The Big Data course took less time – 146 hours as compared to 322 for Data Science – because some courses were shorter, and I’d already taken three out of 10 courses on the Data Science program. I expect to complete the AI programme in July 2019 after about 150 hours study (I’d already taken 2 out of 10 courses on the other programmes).

So, that is an average of just over five hours study per week: a lot more than the IFoA’s minimum CPD requirements, but probably less than most actuarial students are used to! My experience is with the Microsoft courses, but alternatives are available. Some providers offer shorter courses which may be less comprehensive. There are also very different courses – e.g., on Google’s technology, including its TensorFlow open source software library which is highly regarded.

Do actuaries typically face any particular challenges with regard to gaining certifications in data science, in your view?

Actually, I think actuaries should have somewhat of a head start because they will already be familiar with material in the early courses on mathematics and statistics. Most actuaries should find studying via MOOCs refreshing, compared to their previous studies for actuarial exams. The exams are open book and so are not a memory test.  They should note, though, that some exams are timed, and there is, of course, an honour code. If you have taken comprehensive notes and completed the exercises during the courses, then there should be no problem.

What opportunities for career progression do you see for actuaries who add a knowledge of data science to their professional competencies?

It’s very hard to predict future opportunities. Google and parent company Alphabet claim that the impact on society from AI will be even greater than previous waves of transformation – including the internet. I’m convinced that to prosper, actuaries need to embrace the new technologies. They will be able to add most value by synthesising: combining a good understanding of big data with their financial and business insights, and their communication skills to help multidisciplinary teams get maximum value from data.

As I said earlier, being able to talk credibly about Big Data with business leaders will become an essential skill to command influence at board level. Also, greater opportunities will arise for actuaries to work alongside data scientists and data engineers, as organisations set up data analytics departments to enhance competitive advantage. 

Your career experience includes the areas of pensions and investment practice. Are there specific areas of actuarial practice where data science will find greater application?

To prosper, businesses – and that includes industrial ones – will need to add significant software and analytics capabilities. The avalanche of data that will need to be analysed offers unprecedented opportunities for actuaries to move into wider range of fields. According to AI expert Bernard Marr, there are three key AI use-cases for businesses: first, change the way they understand and interact with customers; second, offer more intelligent products and services; and third, improve and automate business processes.

These use-cases require the efficient collection and analysis of data, along with problem solving, cost benefit analysis and deciding whether an effect is genuine or merely accidental or random. So, in short, opportunities galore for actuaries!

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  • Implications of 2019 IFRS 17 Exposure Draft

    Staple Inn Hall, High Holborn, London, WC1V 7QJ
    24 July 2019

    Fully booked.

    The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) recently published an Exposure Draft (ED) of limited changes to its insurance contracts standard IFRS 17, effective date 2022.

  • Insurance Investment Roundtable with the IFoA & PRA - 25 July 2019

    EY Offices 1 More London Place London, SE1 2AF
    25 July 2019

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    The IFoA hosts regular roundtable meetings with the PRA on best practice in insurance investment and the application of the Prudent Person Principle, which governs insurance investment under Solvency II.

  • SIAS Event: Climate Zero to Climate Hero

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    3 September 2019 - 4 September 2019

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  • KSS event – The Regulatory Perspective

    Deloitte Saltire Court 20 Castle Terrace Edinburgh EH1 2EG
    5 September 2019

    Spaces available

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    • FCA business plan priorities
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  • Sessional Research Event - Risk Margin Working Party

    Staple Inn Hall, High Holborn London, WC1V 7QJ
    9 September 2019

    Spaces available

    For life insurers in the UK, the risk margin is one of the most controversial aspects of the Solvency II regime. Following its implementation, the risk margin came under considerable criticism for being too large and too sensitive to interest rate movements. These criticisms are particularly valid for annuity business – such business is of great significance to the national system for retirement provision. This criticism has led to political interest, and the risk margin was a major element of the Treasury Committee inquiry into Solvency II.

  • GIRO Conference 2019

    EICC, The Exchange, 150 Morrison St, Edinburgh EH3 8EE
    24-26 September 2019
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    GIRO is attended annually by over 800 delegates and speakers who are keen to discuss key topics such as Pricing, Reserving, Modelling and the future of the insurance industry. GIRO 2018 was a huge success and we have opened bookings early for what we hope will be another brilliant conference at the EICC in Edinburgh this year. 


  • The Future of the Actuarial Profession

    Staple Inn Hall, High Holborn London WC1V 7QJ
    3 October 2019

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    Three actuaries – and CEOs – discuss their views on how the business world is changing and what that might mean for actuaries in the future.

  • Life Conference 2019

    The Convention Centre Dublin, Spencer Dock, North Wall Quay, Dublin 1
    20-22 November 2019
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    The Life Conference is the premier event for professionals interested in life insurance.  Offering a wide range of workshops and plenary sessions it’s the perfect opportunity to discover what’s hot and current in life insurance ensuring you get up to date on the latest thinking and innovation whilst meeting and exchanging ideas with a broad range of professionals.

  • Autumn Lecture 2019, London - Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP

    Lincoln's Inn The Treasury Office, London WC2A 3TL
    2 December 2019

    Fully booked.

    The IFoA is pleased to announce that this year’s Autumn Lecture will feature the Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP as its guest speaker.  Nicky has previously served as Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Minister for Women. She now chairs the Treasury Select Committee whose remit is to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of HM Treasury, along with all of its agencies and associated bodies.

  • Autumn Lecture 2019: Live Streaming

    2 December 2019

    Spaces available

    Watch the live stream of this year's Autumn Lecture with guest speaker Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP.