April 2017

Society of Actuaries Research

By Sara Teppema and Dale Hall

The Society of Actuaries (SOA) develops and funds research for a wide array of audiences, from actuaries and the insurance industry to employers and the general public. Through this wide variety of research projects, the SOA works to advance the actuarial profession by providing new insights on current practice areas as well as highlighting new areas where actuarial work is evolving. A comprehensive set of research resources is produced annually, which includes experience studies, essay collections, webcasts, research papers, survey reports, and original research on topics impacting society. The SOA aspires to be a trusted source of objective, data-driven research and analysis for our members, the insurance industry, policymakers, and the public. This distinct perspective comes from the SOA as an association of actuaries who have a rigorous formal education and direct experience as practitioners who create applied research.

Practice Research Structure

Practice research at the SOA is overseen by a group of committees that plan, discuss and fund research projects each year. The Research Executive Committee (REC) provides strategic guidance over practice research at the SOA. This committee includes a representative from the Board of Directors, and representatives from many different backgrounds and actuarial practice areas. In 2017, the board partner for research is Sara Goldberg and Sara Teppema is the chair of the REC. The committee meets monthly to plan activities, set strategic direction for future research, and review the operations of the research area with SOA staff.

The REC also oversees the largest pool of dollars used for annual research funding, the Research Expanding Boundaries Pool (REX Pool). Projects that are funded by the REX Pool commonly either cross over multiple practices areas, require funding that is beyond the resources of sections or practice research committees, are driven to highlight emerging practice areas within the SOA, or focus on socially relevant topics that can benefit from actuarial analysis. Monthly REX Pool calls are held to not only discuss formally submitted proposals, but also to give guidance to interested parties on projects that might be contemplating a REX Pool submission. For 2017, the REX Pool allocation is set at $630,000 in order to promote and fund these larger projects. More details on the REX Pool can be found at /research/opportunities/soa-rex-pool-faq-researcher/.

Currently, the REC is again gearing up to release its 2017 Request for Proposals on Practice Expansion and Socially Relevant research. The committee meets each spring to discuss potential topics, and reviews proposals to recommend projects to be funded. We expect this RFP to be released in April 2017 with project recommendations occurring in late summer.

In addition, many practice research committees also are awarded annual funding by the SOA in order to focus on projects specific to topics in practice areas. Practice research committees cover areas such as life insurance, health insurance, risk management, finance/investments, pension, aging/retirement, general insurance, and climate and environmental sustainability. For 2017, each practice research committee is allocated $50,000 to use towards funding practice area projects. The Committee on Knowledge Extension and Research (CKER) also sponsors projects with an academic focus across practice areas. In 2017, CKER has been allocated $70,000 to fund this academic-oriented research.

Practice research committees commonly meet monthly to discuss funding for new projects, receive status reports on in-flight projects, and discuss new and growing ways to disseminate the research work created on recently completed projects. These committees also look to partner their resources with SOA sections in order to jointly sponsor research projects.

Practice research benefits greatly from the dedication and effort of numerous volunteers who serve on committees, participate on project oversight groups and provide insights on how to best communicate and disseminate project output. If you’re interested in participating as a research volunteer, please feel free to contact the SOA at research@soa.org.

Experience Studies and In-House Research

Practice research is just one part of the overall SOA research work. Experience studies have been an integral part of the SOA for decades and were one of the main reasons for the formation of the organization. At any given time there are approximately 20–30 experience studies projects in various stages of discussion and analysis, and many of these projects become the cornerstone for actuaries to build assumptions in their work and for regulators to use to promote development of valuation tables.

Over the past years, the SOA has additionally added in-house research staff in key practice areas. Through the SOA’s access to industry data sets, and working with strategic partners, the SOA releases internally generated research on U.S. Healthcare, U.S. Retirement and Canadian Retirement to members and stakeholders. Many of these projects are used as ways to show how the actuarial profession can provide valuable insights to regulators and policymakers.

New Tools and Dissemination

Over time, SOA research has additionally moved to provide more than just written research reports. Calls for essays are released to discuss new issues and gather diverse perspectives on topics. Online calculators and software tools have been created so that members can see the results of research work, view calculations using user-input parameters, and better understand the models that have been developed. Other resources that help spread the word about SOA research include videos on the SOA’s YouTube site, Research At-A-Glance informational pages, webcasts, and infographics to visualize data.

The SOA aspires to the highest quality standards in all of its research and analysis. The research process is overseen by many different volunteers from a range of industry sectors and organizations. Our rigorous peer-review process ensures the quality and integrity of our work. We leverage diverse skill sets of actuaries to provide research and findings that are driven by the best available data and methods. Take a moment to explore the research section of SOA.org and view a wide variety of SOA research projects by topic.

Sara Teppema, FSA, MAAA, is DVP & actuary at Health Care Service Corporation. She can be reached at sara_c_teppema@bcbsil.com.

Dall Hall, FSA, MAAA, CERA, is managing director of research at the Society of Actuaries. He can be reached at dhall@soa.org.