The IAA’s Mortality Working Group provides a valuable forum for sharing information on mortality research around the world, says Brian Ridsdale
The International Actuarial Association’s (IAA) Mortality Working Group (MWG) was formed in 2008 to address the difficulty in tracking global mortality research, both within countries and internationally. I was an inaugural MWG member as the representative of the IFoA. In our first meeting, we outlined our vision: The Mortality Working Group will be the preeminent international actuarial body to provide insights and knowledge with respect to mortality and trends in mortality (ie encouraging research, but also making sure that people know what is going on internationally).
Members shared information from their own countries, and I was able to report on progress in the IFoA’s Mortality Research Steering Committee and highlight the work done by the CMI and the ONS. The IFoA had just finished a mortality research scoping study in the UK, and was starting on a multidisciplinary approach for future research which it was going to sponsor. What was missing was the international dimension.
Opening up access
From the start, the MWG aimed to publish all our papers, presentations and discussions widely, putting them up for open access on the IAA website and publicising their existence. We started producing Country Reports to give an overview of country demographics relating to mortality and longevity, products, research, and the governmental and actuarial organisations involved. By agreement with the IAA, all our materials were open access on www.actuaries.org/mortality
In response to interest in research and developments in the UK, I produced the first of a series of UK Updates. If you are in any doubt as to how many organisations there are involved in high-quality mortality research in the UK, just have a look at the most recent Update at bit.ly/3aN247Q.
We were able to shine a light on the substantial longevity improvements throughout most of the world during the first decade of the 21st century – and then on the slackening of improvements, again in large parts of the world, during the second decade.
Early on it became apparent that while UK pensions and annuity providers were taking account of the early 2000s’ improved longevity trend, many countries were not. In some countries long-outdated life tables were in use, and no attention was given to projecting future improvements. Supported by the IFoA, we sponsored research on international longevity trends and reserving, and publicised the results to IAA Member Associations through our members.
Sharing information on developments
News is transitory: a paper published this month becomes more difficult to find later. We felt there was an unsatisfied need for easier access to research and presentations, and in 2010 we decided to introduce a web-based Information Base on 13 topics, with a selection of papers on each topic. The Information Base provides
a title or brief introduction, and a hyperlink to the paper on its original web page. Updating the Information Base has proved difficult, although I believe it still has value.
Of course, academic papers are not always the first place practitioners turn to for new ideas and techniques. Conference papers, reports and presentations from governmental and non-governmental sources, consultancies and reassurers are useful, as are magazine articles. We aimed to make these equally accessible through half-yearly Updates and our Information Base.
Our meetings were held half-yearly alongside IAA council and committee meetings, which meant our members could participate in a variety of groups covering different areas of interest. It also provided a briefing opportunity for actuaries in other areas to catch up with progress in our field. We would invite a few local mortality and longevity specialists to join us, and soon realised there was scope for a seminar in the countries that we visited – for both local actuaries and our IAA group to be updated on progress in that country. In 2015 we ran our first country seminar in Zurich, Switzerland. By our November 2019 meeting in Tokyo, there was a fascinating seminar with nearly 100 attendees, run on a self-funding basis.
Building the team
From an initial attendance of nine members in Quebec, the MWG has grown under successive chairmen to involve 45 members and 55 Interested Persons. The half-yearly MWG Mortality Updates now reach across the world, in 13 languages. Figure 1: The impact of the Mortality Working Group.
The MWG’s work, too, has grown to meet new needs. It aims to recognise work being done in member countries, do its own research, maintain an Information Base of research and papers, and to disseminate its output to Member Associations and through them to practising actuaries worldwide. None of this could have been done without the small but enthusiastic and multitalented team in the IAA Secretariat. One of the benefits to MWG members themselves has been the fellowship that has built up, and this has contributed to the effectiveness of the group. Figure 2: How the MWG operates. Supporting the development of the actuarial profession worldwide. This diagram summarises the inputs (left) the outputs (right) and the benefits of membership of the Working Group (centre).
Looking back over the years since the MWG was founded, is the concept still relevant? We’ve seen a further explosion in mortality and longevity research: in the way actuaries contribute to developments in the field, and in public awareness of this role. The IFoA’s Actuarial Research Centre, aimed at doing excellent research, has come into being, as have the IFoA’s Longevity Bulletins and a continuation of international conferences, seminars and courses. However, these still don’t reach a number of people – particularly in countries outside the mainstream research centres – and there is a need for an online resource aimed at communicating new research to Member Associations and practising actuaries, and at making existing research more accessible nationally and internationally.
I completed my term as chair of the MWG at the end of 2019. It was a great experience and I made a lot of new friends. I am pleased that Dan Ryan, a member of the IFoA’s Mortality Research Steering Committee, will take on the IFoA representative role, and also the production of the half-yearly UK Mortality and Longevity Update.
His first meeting in May 2020 will be interesting as the IAA is undergoing a thorough reorganisation, with three key objectives:
- Influence supranational relationships
- Assure the promotion of the profession
- Advance the development of competence.
The MWG is focused on the latter two, and I hope the work we have done during the past few years, opening up international access to research and development in mortality and longevity, will continue to thrive and grow in the new structure.
Finally, I believe that opening up access to important actuarial research and developments is intrinsically valuable for the profession and our customers. It deserves consideration in other fields, and I recommend this for discussion by actuarial professional bodies in the UK and internationally.
Brian Ridsdale was chair of the IAA Mortality Working Group from 2017–2019