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What is data science: an actuarial viewpoint

Data science connectionThe impact of data science on enterprise operations is everywhere to be seen. Affordable, high-performance computer power brings data science applications within reach of the commercial mainstream. Digital disciplines once regarded as rarefied specialisms are bursting onto digital transformation agendas across all vertical sectors.

Actuaries, whose professional skills are predicated on the analysis of data to assess and manipulate outcomes, occupy a unique position. Their job roles in many ways anticipate the outcome-shaping capabilities data science provides and puts them in pole position to turn disruptive change to their ultimate advantage.

Similarities between actuaries and data scientists mean that there’s been growing consideration of how – and where – the two skillsets intersect and the effect that will have on actuaries’ career journeys.

The IFoA recognises this intersection. It has already acknowledged its importance to members in a series of events, institutional initiatives and published guidance. And it has identified a need to provide a point of focus for members and actuarial affiliates who realise that data science will – to some extent – shape our profession as we move into the 2020s.

This content is designed to meet members’ information requirement with respect to data science and its resonance for actuaries and actuarial practice.

Its aim is to bring together the IFoA’s multifarious work and activities in the data science disciplines and highlight the Institute’s understanding of the opportunities data science presents for actuaries to extend their professional status and societal responsibilities.

What is data science?

For such a transformative concept, data science is often not well defined or understood. This does not seem to inhibit its influence – IFoA President John Taylor has described it as necessarily a ‘dynamic and evolving term’.

However, a working definition for data science (rather than of data science) will prove helpful as a start point.

‘Data science’ describes a broad, multidisciplinary field that uses scientific methods, processes, algorithms and systems to extract knowledge and insights from structured and unstructured data. It employs techniques drawn from many fields within the context of mathematics, statistics, computer science, and information science.

The ‘data sciences’ include, or associate with, more focused disciplines: Big Data, Data Analytics, Data Analysis, Data Mining, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Robotics, Data Visualisation, Predictive Modelling, and Deep Learning.

Data science skills combine domain expertise, programming, software tools and knowledge of mathematics and statistics, to extract desired insights from data – insights that can be translated into tangible and quantifiable business value, such as market intelligence, risk assessment, and executive decision-support.

More on data science:

John Taylor“Data science is very empowering for actuaries: it gives them a platform to move into wider fields.” 

John Taylor, President, The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries 

In February 2018, the IFoA launched a virtual conference on the topic of data science. It was open to members globally to share knowledge and discuss developments and techniques within the discipline.

The conference demonstrated how actuaries can enhance their current knowledge, or move more fully into the world of data science. It offered a platform for members and students to learn more about the subject in sessions curated by leading experts.

Topics discussed included Big Data analytics, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, predictive modelling, data visualisation, neural networks, and coding.

President Taylor said: “What makes the contribution of the profession uniquely valuable to the emerging field of data science is our public interest mission, our grasp of the statistical underpinnings of data science, and our ability to interpret and construct value from data.”

President Taylor believes that the scope of the IFoA’s engagement with data science “demonstrates the way in which the actuarial profession is already taking the lead in addressing the issues that will shape our global society, while deploying our skills and knowledge to safeguard the public interest.”

These issues include ethical questions around how data science changes the way an individual’s risk profile is assessed, through to ensuring that ‘data science’ – in each of its applications* – is well used and understood wherever it’s practiced.

Data Science Q&As:

Where does data science and actuary meet?

Comparisons between actuarial science and data science often use the preposition ‘versus’, although the disciplines are not in necessarily in opposition to, or in contention with, each other.

Indeed, they have much in common, and practitioner skills are increasingly transferable between the two fields.

Usually annexed to the enterprise IT function, data science uses scientific methods, processes, algorithms, and other software tools, to derive insights and knowledge from structured and unstructured data sets.

It brings together established disciplines like statistics, data mining, and data analytics, with emergent tech like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning. Its capability to process a broad range of data sets, and not be constrained to specific types or formats, is generally acknowledged as a key strength.

Actuarial science is a more formalised discipline that categorises interrelated fields, such as computer science, economics, finance, mathematics, probability theory, and statistics.

It’s applied to defined mathematical and statistical methods to assess risk, primarily in the BFSI (banking, financial services, insurance) sectors. Actuarial science is, however, also applied in other industries and professions.

Experts in data science and actuarial science use many of the same techniques when analysing data to make informed forecasts about risk probabilities. These include data visualisation, pattern recognition, and statistics. Three examples of where the two disciplines align are in their approach to data, methodology, and software development.

The primary commonality between data science and actuarial science is their respective appetites for data. The more data they have, the better their analyses turn out.

The IFoA already provides data science collateral for members that ranges from:

“Immersed in business context, actuaries are well-placed to utilise the insights data scientists can generate.”

John Taylor, President, The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries

It’s sometimes asserted that actuarial science specialises in structured data, while data science is most adept working with unstructured data. However, the insurance sector has long recognised the importance of unstructured data.

DataSpace cites the importance of vehicle telematics for data scientists and actuaries alike. For example, telematics provides data that enables data science optimise performance of autonomous cars, while insurance providers have identified an opportunity to use telematics data to adjust premiums based on driver behaviour (‘usage-based insurance’).

Actuarial science’s problem-solving methodology is driven by the standardisation of its analyses, while data science focuses on getting the prediction correct through a variety of methods. Mastery of actuarial methods is largely based on qualified skills and certified learning. Data science practitioners may work without mandatory qualifications or certifications, although this anomaly is changing.

Actuarial science operates on pre-developed software development platforms, and generally uses standard commercial tools and applications. Data science differs in that it routinely develops new algorithms for specific use-cases. Data scientists are, perforce, likely more ‘programming savvy’ than the actuarial scientist.

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  • KSS event in Glasgow: Public Sector Pensions

    Hymans Robertson, Glasgow 20 Waterloo St, Glasgow
    30 January 2020

    Spaces available

    – the unappreciated key assumption, the resulting unsustainable promises, the unmanaged risk and the unrecognised debt? 

    Speaker: Allan Martin will present this talk on 30 January in Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh. If you wish to register for another location please return to the Events Calendar.

  • KSS event in Stirling: Public Sector Pensions

    M&G Prudential, Stirling Craigforth Campus, Stirling
    30 January 2020

    Spaces available

    – the unappreciated key assumption, the resulting unsustainable promises, the unmanaged risk and the unrecognised debt? 

    Speaker: Allan Martin will present this talk on 30 January in Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh. If you wish to register for another location please return to the Events Calendar.

  • KSS event in Edinburgh: Public Sector Pensions

    Hymans Robertson 1, Exchange Place, Semple St, Edinburgh
    30 January 2020

    Spaces available

    – the unappreciated key assumption, the resulting unsustainable promises, the unmanaged risk and the unrecognised debt? 

    Speaker: Allan Martin will present this talk on 30 January in Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh. If you wish to register for another location please return to the Events Calendar.

  • The Great Risk Transfer – Breakfast briefing and launch event

    Staple Inn Hall, High Holborn London WC1V 7QJ
    31 January 2020

    Fully booked.

     

    Launch of the IFoA’s 2020 thought leadership campaign The Great Risk Transfer. The campaign will examine the trend of the transfer of risk from institutions to individuals, and how people can be better equipped to manage the financial risks they now face. At this breakfast event the IFoA will launch a call for evidence on this topic.

  • Joint IFoA and SOAT Professional Skills Training event - Bangkok

    Thai Life Insurance PCL, 13th Floor, Meeting Room 13/2, 123 Ratchadaphisek Road, Din Daeng, Bangkok 10400, Thailand  
    7 February 2020

    Spaces available

    This session is jointly organised by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) and the Society of Actuaries of Thailand (SOAT).

    Video case studies will be selected from the IFoA’s 2019/2020 online content which covers a range of topics under an overarching theme of “A Trusted Profession”. This session is suitable for actuaries working in any area (i.e. it is not specifically aimed at Life, GI or any other technical discipline) and is interactive, so you should come along prepared to take part in the discussions.

     

  • Cyber Risk Event

    Staple Inn Hall, High Holborn, London, WC1V 7QJ
    10 February 2020

    Spaces available

    What do good cyber practices look like and, to what extent, can we as an industry implement these operationally and recognise these for underwriting?

  • KSS event: Where now for pensions?

    Royal London Group, 1 Thistle Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1DG
    18 February 2020

    Spaces available

    With a single party government at Westminster holding a comfortable majority, and with the first phase of Brexit complete, the potential for radical reforms of the pensions landscape is increased. 

    Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb discusses what changes we can expect to see in pensions including in state pensions, pension tax relief, automatic enrolment and the workplace pension landscape.

  • Sessional: Impact of E-cigarettes Working Party

    Royal College of Physicians, 9 Queen St, Edinburgh EH2 1JQ
    24 February 2020

    Spaces available

    This sessional meeting will be of direct interest to actuaries and others working in the in the Health and Care, Life or Pensions sectors or indeed actuaries with an interest in morbidity or mortality. Note: Registration is from 17.30 in time for the sessional to begin at 18.00.

  • Spaces available

    Investors globally are embracing ESG but what does this involve and can ESG be measured? Louise Dudley, Global Equity Portfolio Manager at Hermes Investment Management will outline the taxonomy often used when talking about ESG (exclusion, screening, engagement, sustainable, impact, responsible investing), talk about the importance of stewardship and engagement, and showcase evidence to the question as to whether ESG adds va

  • KSS event: How is Scotland’s population changing and what are the implications?

    New Register House, 3 West Register Street, Edinburgh
    5 March 2020

    Spaces available

    The National Records of Scotland (NRS) collects, preserves and produces information about Scotland's people and history to inform current and future generations - work that underpins the fabric of Scottish society and tells the story of our nation. This KSS talk will explore the following and other areas impacting Scotland’s changing population, and assess the potential implications of the changes:

  • Highlights of the Life Conference 2019 - London

    America Square Conference Centre, 17, One Crosswall, America Square, London EC3N 2LB  
    11 March 2020

    Spaces available

    This event will cover the highlights from last year's Life Conference 2019 held in Dublin. The Conference Committee has reviewed session feedback and has put together a high-quality technical programme featuring the best-reviewed sessions from the conference. Book now to ensure your place.

  • Board agenda: Why Responsible Investing, ESG, and Climate Change matters to Pension Funds, Companies

    Staple Inn, 4 High Holborn, Holborn, London. WC1V 6DR, UK
    19 March 2020

    Spaces available

    Recent years have seen ESG, Climate Change, and Responsible Investing thrust onto the corporate agenda in every boardroom. The same also be said for pension funds. Expectations of how companies should respond are high and NEDs on Boards are expected to adapt and adjust their guidance to companies accordingly. What does this mean for Actuaries serving as NEDs and Trustees?

  • KSS event: A Cashless Society- Benefits, Risks, Issues and Developments

    Deloitte, 4th Floor, Saltire Court, 20 Castle Terrace
    19 March 2020

    Spaces available

    Speaker: Iain Collier, Chair of the CSWP

    The talk will look to cover the following: Progression towards a Cashless Society • Developments home and overseas • Benefits, Risks and Issues • Crypto Currencies and Central Bank Digital Currencies.

    There will be an extended Q&A session at the end of the event.

  • Spring Lecture 2020, Edinburgh - Vicky Pryce

    Assembly Rooms, 54 George St, Edinburgh EH2 2LR
    25 March 2020

    Spaces available

    What next in Economic Policy? Please join us for our annual Spring Lecture presented by Vicky Pryce in Edinburgh. Vicky is Chief Economic Adviser and a board member at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).

  • Spring Lecture 2020: Live Streaming at Staple Inn - Vicky Pryce

    Staple Inn Hall, High Holborn, London, WC1 V 7QJ
    25 March 2020

    Spaces available

    This event will be live streamed from Edinburgh. 

    What next in Economic Policy? Please join us for our annual Spring Lecture presented by Vicky Pryce in Edinburgh. Vicky is Chief Economic Adviser and a board member at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).

  • Spring Lecture 2020: Live Streaming

    Webinar
    25 March 2020

    Spaces available

    What next in Economic Policy? Please join us on 25 March 2020 for the live stream of our annual Spring Lecture presented by Vicky Pryce in Edinburgh. Vicky is Chief Economic Adviser and a board member at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).

  • SIAS Event: CMI Update

    Staple Inn Hall, High Holborn, London, WC1V 7QJ
    1 April 2020

    Spaces available

    Following the release of the updated CMI Mortality Projection Model, CMI_2019, the CMI Mortality Projections Committee will lead a discussion on future mortality improvements.

  • Finance and Investment Conference 2020

    Royal College of Physicians, 11 St Andrews Pl, London NW1 4LE
    05-05 May 2020
    Spaces available

    Join us at this year’s Finance and Investment Conference in London that will focus on ESG. The environmental, social and governance (ESG) space is growing rapidly and increasingly moving centre stage. In many cases, it is now an essential part of policy and central to the way stakeholders make decisions for the long term to ensure retention of clients, manage risk better, and ensure more economically efficient and sustainable investment returns.

    ESG factors cover a wide range of areas reflecting how vital consideration of these factors are part of wider systemic risks.

  • IFoA Asia Conference 2020, Kuala Lumpur

    CCEC Nexus, 7, Jalan Kerinchi, Bangsar South, 59200 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
    24-25 June 2020
    Spaces available

    Join us at the IFoA Asia Conference 2020 at CCEC Nexus, Kuala Lumpur where intellectual thought leaders, senior industry players, opinion formers, academics, actuaries and non-actuaries from across Asia and beyond are expected to attend. This year's landmark conference promises to an exciting one as our first Asian President-elect, Tan Suee Chieh will, as newly appointed president of the IFoA, use his presidential address to highlight the two key pillars of the IFoA’s emerging strategy:

    • the reinvention of the profession in terms of its skillsets and mind-sets so that we can thrive in an increasing range of domains in a digital age;
    • the widening application of actuarial science in achieving social impact and sustainability goals.

    We are also delighted to announce that the Honourable Mr. Lim Guan Eng, Minister of Finance, Malaysia, will be the guest of honour at this year's conference.

    Early bird registration is now open until 1 March.  10% group discounts are offered to a minimum of six IFoA members booking in a single transaction.  Limited spaces are available, so please sign-up early to avoid disappointment.