Mining Data from Media, Behavior and Wearables: Dorothy Andrews, ASA, MAAA
Actuaries use data to tell stories—stories of risks, trends and strategies yet to unfold. Sometimes, the data can guide the story of the actuary herself. For life insurance veteran Dorothy Andrews, the big career plot twist came when she questioned the age-old way insurance policies were created—and then carved a path to change it.
Surprisingly, it was a series of typical actuarial roles at John Hancock, Wachovia and Harleysville Insurance company that started her down this path. During each of these experiences, she detected a reoccurring theme: organizations using linear models that she saw as limited in scope and leading to one-size-fits-all policies.
Dorothy made a brief departure from the insurance world into the United States Department of Agriculture. Here, she helped build a predictive analytics engine that monitored and protected the nation’s food supply—and this is where she really began to build her own big data mindset.
Together, these experiences led Dorothy to a different train of thought: insurance is becoming more mediated through technology. This mediation is becoming important in product design and actuaries will need to understand this new data to identify behavior patterns to assess insurance risk and personalize insurance policies. It was this thought that prompted her to pursue a Ph.D. in media psychology, a field she sees as a huge opportunity for the Society of Actuaries and the actuarial profession in general.
Media psychology, she says, helps us understand and improve insurance behavior throught the mediation of technology.
“Unless you’re watching someone’s body language or listening to the tone of their voice, it’s hard to gauge their feelings,” Dorothy explains. “Even a text message can be difficult to interpret. Media psychology can help actuaries use wearable-generated data to build personas and use numbers to predict behavior.”
Dorothy’s optimistic brand of skepticism—an always-questioning nature and desire to forge new perspectives—led her to transition from a traditional actuarial career path to a concentration on media psychology for insurance applications.
Dorothy focuses on the reservoir of data that wearables can provide to life insurance companies. She is helping craft policy around tracker data—which can detect heart rate, periods of inactivity, stress levels and and chronic diseases such as diabetes and coronary heart conditions—in a way that motivates people to eat healthy and exercise more. Dorothy is also urging industry leaders to consider customizing their app designs and product incentives to engage with their customers using media psychology.
In addition to advising life insurance companies on how to best use their data reserves, Dorothy is also working with various state regualtors to develop a governing code around consumer information. She provides advanced modeling training for regulators and just completed a 16-hour advanced modeling, regulator only workshop at the Global Insurance Symposium in Iowa. She is also the Chair of the Data Science and Analytics Committee of the American Academy of Actuaries, where she is working to address professionalism issues posed by data science techniques.
She credits the SOA’s education for instilling a moral compass in her. One that has directed her work with regulators to consider laws that protect against breaches of privacy or data abuse.
A strong framework of professional standards will be increasingly important as wearable technologies increase in use, Dorothy says. They present a big opportunity for actuaries in life insurance to improve health outcomes of insureds and insurers. The industry has always used statistical models to evaluate risks, but now it needs professionals with a new skill set: experts who understand more complex data sets and can use them to innovate underwriting, pricing and app design to improve the engagement between insurers and insured.
Dorothy believes that her actuarial industry knowledge and business expertise primed her for a career that leverages data analytics to help reshape the life insurance industry.