October 2018

Looking Back on ARC 2018

By Bruce Jones

It’s Sunday, and I’m home reflecting on this year’s Actuarial Research Conference (ARC), which wrapped up yesterday here in London, Ontario. This morning’s run was a little tougher than usual due to three days of questionable diet, poor hydration, insufficient sleep, and the stress of wanting things to go well.

As chair of the conference organizing committee, I heard about everything that went wrong. But I have to remind myself that a lot went right. And I really appreciated the positive feedback from many of the 170 ARC attendees.

The ARC kicked off on Wednesday evening with a reception at Museum London. What a great venue for this event! The museum is located on the edge of downtown London, at the forks of the Thames River. The reception room offered a spectacular view of London’s Jet’d’Eau fountain, which shoots seven streams of river water high into the air.

Conference sessions began on Thursday morning with a keynote presentation by Katrien Antonio from KU Leuven (Belgium) and the University of Amsterdam (the Netherlands). Katrien gave a fascinating talk on a data-driven automatic approach to variable selection and binning in developing predictive models for insurance pricing. The methods were illustrated using automobile claim frequency data with a number of continuous and categorical explanatory variables. The techniques Katrien presented are very appealing as they produce a model that achieves a nice balance between flexibility and simplicity.

Friday’s sessions featured two keynote speakers. The first was Greg Kopp from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Western University. Greg presented research on how to build houses to resist tornadoes. Using photographs and some very cool videos, Greg showed what happens when houses are subjected to high winds, what their vulnerabilities are, and some cheap and effective ways to make houses more resistant to wind damage. The latter include using 2.5-inch nails instead of 2-inch nails to hold down plywood roof sheeting and using hurricane straps to bind roof trusses to the tops of walls.

The second keynote presentation on Friday was given by Santiago Montenegro, the president of the Colombian Association of Administrators of Pension Funds (Asofondos). Santiago was recruited to speak at the ARC by the Society of Actuaries Latin America Committee. His presentation demonstrated the challenges associated with a pay-as-you-go public pension system when faced with labor informality, which changes the population pyramid from a “nice Christmas tree” to a “dying bush.” This results in a dramatically reduced ratio of active workers to elderly persons, making a pay-as-you-go pension system unviable. Santiago suggested that Colombians need to save money like Canadians do.

Western University legend Rick McGhie was the musical entertainer for the Friday night banquet. Rick is in his 49th year of playing venues at Western, elsewhere in London, and beyond. Rick’s acoustic guitar and voice provided pleasant background music throughout the evening. He won over ARC attendees, playing old favorites like “Sweet Caroline” and an awesome long rendition of “American Pie.”

The ARC closed on Saturday morning with a final plenary session. The keynote speaker was Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald, a graduate of Western’s actuarial science program, who later completed a Ph.D. at Heriot-Watt University and is now at the National Institute on Aging at Ryerson University. Her research is making an important impact on public policy as it relates to retirement. Bonnie-Jeanne’s exceptionally well-delivered talk illustrated the ineffectiveness of the replacement rate as a measure of retirement income adequacy, and she offered an alternative based on consumption rather than income.

Many other excellent presentations were given at this year’s ARC. Of course, I couldn’t attend them all, and I don’t have the space to discuss those I did attend. Suffice to say that the quality was high, and I was impressed by many of the young researchers in attendance.

As always, the informal discussions and networking opportunities were among the most beneficial aspects of the conference. It was great to see both familiar faces and new faces at this year’s ARC. I’m already looking forward to ARC 2019 in Indianapolis!

Bruce Jones, FSA, FCIA, is a professor at the University of Western Ontario and the 2018 chair of the ARC organizing committee. He can be reached at jones@states.uwo.ca.