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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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Events calendar

  • KSS event – The Future of the Actuarial Profession with Alan Watson

    Willis Towers Watson 2 Lochrin Square, 96 Fountainbridge, Edinburgh EH3 9QA
    23 September 2019

    Spaces available

    This KSS talk will explore how the Actuarial Profession is changing by looking at the past, the current and the future; considering what will be the key issues impacting the Profession over the next 20 years and why this will be different from today. Why will areas like data science be important?  What does the future hold for reserved roles? What impact will the Profession have on other professionals?  And much more!

  • GIRO Conference 2019

    EICC, The Exchange, 150 Morrison St, Edinburgh EH3 8EE
    24-26 September 2019
    Spaces available

    GRIO 2019

  • Career Event - Count Me In, Edinburgh

    Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, EH14 4AS
    2 October 2019

    Spaces available

    Join us and leading actuarial employers at our free Count Me In STEM careers event in Edinburgh organised by the IFoA.

    Find out more about a range of rewarding careers in actuarial science and how we are supporting and promoting diversity in the profession. 

  • The Future of the Actuarial Profession

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

    Fully booked.

     

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

  • Spaces available

    Have you ever thought about working in wider fields? Would you like to play a role in the fight against climate change to make the planet better? 

    It can be difficult to do this - but seeing an example you can follow can make it more realistic. In this ‘green’ case study a template is outlined to show how actuaries can apply their skills more broadly - and in doing so, to make a difference.

  • RSS/IFoA Data Science Ethics: the role of practitioners

    Royal Statistical Society, 12 Errol St, London EC1Y 8LX
    7 October 2019

    Spaces available

    The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries and the Royal Statistical Society have worked together to develop joint ethics guidance on data science. This is the culmination of an 18 month programme of practitioner led work. 
     
    Join us for the launch of this new guidance, with a high-level panel discussion which will explore the role of data science practitioners and professional bodies in data ethics. 

  • SIAS Event: AGM and talk on a Monetary Approach to Economics

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

    Spaces available

    The SIAS Annual General Meeting will commence at 5.45pm and be followed by a talk given by the well known economist and author, Steve Keen, at 6pm. A live webinar will be available. 

  • Career Event - Count Me In

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

    Spaces available

    Join us and leading actuarial employers at our free Count Me In STEM careers event in London organised by the IFoA.

    Find out more about a range of rewarding careers in actuarial science and how we are supporting and promoting diversity in the profession. 

  • KSS Event – GAD: the 100 year life (Edinburgh)

    KPMG  Saltire Court 20 Castle Terrace Edinburgh EH1 2EG
    22 October 2019

    Spaces available

    The Government Actuary’s Department (GAD) marks its centenary this year. George Russell, formerly Deputy Government Actuary, who currently heads up GAD’s Edinburgh office, leading on GAD support to the devolved administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland, will outline GAD’s development over that period and its range of work today. Having just “celebrated” his 25th anniversary of joining GAD, George will also reflect on some of the challenges and opportunities of advising at the interface of the actuarial and the political worlds.

  • KSS Event – Equity Release Mortgages: The Irish Experience

    Room CM S.01 (Second floor, Colin Maclaurin Building, building 22 on the campus map.) Campus maps can be found at https://www.hw.ac.uk/uk/edinburgh/map.htm
    23 October 2019

    Spaces available

    This is a co-branded KSS/Heriot-Watt University event.  Equity release mortgages (ERMs), also called lifetime mortgages, have played an increasing role in generating income for retired home-owners.  As new liquidity rules have reduced the supply of bank lending, so insurers have stepped in, encouraged by generous regulatory treatment for annuity writers.

  • KSS event – GAD: the 100 year life (Glasgow)

    Barnett Waddingham 163 West George Street, Glasgow, G2 2JJ
    24 October 2019

    Spaces available

    The Government Actuary’s Department (GAD) marks its centenary this year. George Russell, formerly Deputy Government Actuary, who currently heads up GAD’s Edinburgh office, leading on GAD support to the devolved administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland, will outline GAD’s development over that period and its range of work today. Having just “celebrated” his 25th anniversary of joining GAD, George will also reflect on some of the challenges and opportunities of advising at the interface of the actuarial and the political worlds.

  • Sessional Meeting - Autonomous Vehicles and impacts on the wider insurance industry

    Staple Inn, High Holborn, London WC1V 7QJ         
    28 October 2019

    Spaces available

    The Sessional Meeting is now fully booked.

    Please click here to register on the waiting list.

     

    The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries is running a sessional meeting on autonomous vehicles on 28th October.  The session will showcase the work of the IFoA “Autonomous Vehicles” working party alongside a number of expert external presenters. 

  • ARC Event: Beyond Proportional Hazards

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

    Spaces available

    ARC Event: Beyond Proportional Hazards: Statistical methods for assessment of the impact of medical advances and health interventions on longevity and population projections.

    This workshop is being delivered by the Actuarial Research Centre’s (ARC) ‘Big Health and Actuarial Data’ Research Programme.

  • Hot Topics in Health and Care: Networking and Drinks

    Staple Inn, 4 High Holborn, London WC1V 6DR
    4 November 2019

    Spaces available

    This evening will feature two new cases studies that highlight the implications for insurers of issues impacting on health and mortality for life, pensions, and health and care products; Impactability modelling: a worked example in Type II diabetes presented by Josephine Robertson, and Seasonal Mortality in England and Wales 1993-2016 presented by Mary Hall, Dublin City University.

  • SIAS Event: Introduction to the Mortality Research Steering Committee (MRSC)

    Staple Inn Hall, High Holborn, London, WC1V 7QJ
    5 November 2019

    Spaces available

    The MRSC is responsible for guiding the profession’s research in the areas of longevity, mortality and morbidity such that it is recognised as a thought leader in this area. It has recently been reviewing what the priorities and have identified 6 areas that we believe are the most important areas of research that should be the current focus and these are:

  • IFoA CPD Co-ordinators' Briefing

    Staple Inn Hall, High Holborn London WC1V 7QJ
    7 November 2019

    Spaces available

    The theme of this year’s annual briefing is: Lifelong Learning – providing continuous development for our members.

    This event is primarily for volunteer CPD Co-ordinators, who attend to represent their organisation. CPD Co-ordinators play a key role in effective engagement between organisations who employ our members and the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFOA).

  • The challenges for AI in Autonomous driving – Professor Andrew Blake

    Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, 11 Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1JQ
    11 November 2019

    Spaces available

    In conjunction with the Scottish Board and supporting the IFoA’s focus on data science.

    The IFoA’s Scottish Board have arranged for UK pioneer in Computer Vision and Machine Intelligence, Professor Andrew Blake to speak to delegates on the subject of AI in Autonomous driving. This lecture will focus on safety-critical operation and the computation of risk.  

  • Autumn Pension Seminar

    Grand Connaught Rooms, 61-65 Great Queen St, Holborn, London WC2B 5DA
    13 November 2019

    Spaces available

    Join us for this brand new seminar that brings together our Current Issues in Pensions, Pensions and the Law, and Investment for Pension Actuaries events. The seminar builds on the IFoA’s Annual Pension Conference with sessions covering CDC, TPR’s code of practice, investments, legal updates and Professional Skills Training with a focus on interactive discussion throughout.

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

    Barnett Waddingham, 163 West George Street, Glasgow, G2 2JJ
    14 November 2019

    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:

    • population statistics
    • life expectancy
    • changes in age structure
    • birth and death rates, including causes of death statistics.
  • Life Conference 2019

    The Convention Centre Dublin, Spencer Dock, North Wall Quay, Dublin 1
    20-22 November 2019
    Spaces available

    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.

  • ARC Workshop: Modelling Socio-Economic Differences in English Mortality

    Staple Inn Hall, High Holborn, London, WC1V 7QJ
    2 December 2019

    Spaces available

    Purpose
    The workshop will give participants detailed insights into how a large and detailed dataset can be used to assess levels of mortality inequality in England, using a number of novel statistical methods. We will also address the question: are regional variations in mortality real or imaginary?

  • 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

    Webinar 
    2 December 2019

    Spaces available

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

  • SIAS Event: Discount Rates are Flawed

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

    Spaces available

    This talk will be given by Jon Spain who, as far back as 1983, has been working independently, trying to bring “long-term” back to UK actuarial thinking. His current focus is on discount rates (see discrate.com).

  • SIAS Event: My Journey to Data Science, Big Data and AI

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

    Spaces available

    Patrick Lee is an actuary who has made the transition to working in software architecture and artificial intelligence (AI). He holds Microsoft Professional qualifications in Data Science, Big Data and AI and is currently working towards a DevOps (the automation of software testing and deployment) qualification. He is a member of the IFoA Council and is also President of the Wessex Actuarial Society. He is also a member of the IFoA and the RSS's joint Data Science Focus Group and will talk on the ethical use of AI. 

  • Behavioural Finance Research Launch- 14 January 2020

    Staple Inn, 4 High Holborn, Holborn, London WC1V 6DR
    14 January 2020

    Fully booked.

    We are delighted to announce the launch of the findings from our ARC funded Behavioural Finance research with a special evening event at Staple Inn on Tuesday 14th January 2020. Entitled Behavioural Aspects of Institutional Investment Decision-Making, this research programme is being delivered by City, University of London, Leeds University Business School and Ipsos.

    This event is now full. Please register for the waiting list.

  • 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.