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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Mortality: Joined-up thinking

Faced with strong international interest in mortality developments, the International Actuarial Association (IAA) set up a Mortality Task Force in 2008, chaired by Martin Stevenson from Australia. Its terms of reference include the study of existing data collection efforts, surveying current international research in mortality, determining future needs and facilitating the profession’s worldwide ability to initiate and coordinate research. There are 13 members and a good number of observers. I am the UK representative.

We recognise that there is a wide variety of information available from many countries, but it is not easy to access. Indeed, it is difficult for a non-specialist to be sure that they are in touch with all the work available in the UK alone. The Task Force has, therefore, given itself the responsibility of building a resource library to include a selection of the most valuable reports, tables and papers to serve the international actuarial community.

This will only be of real use if it is easy to access, structured by subject, and kept up to date. The point of entry to the library will be online, but where there are well-established resources — such as the Human Mortality Database or the CMI pages on the UK actuarial website — the library will merely point to these in their original locations. Published work from the UK will be immensely valuable to the library, as the UK is a leader in this field.

Subjects under study at the moment include:
>> The collection of global mortality tables
>> Understanding improvements in mortality
>> Pandemics and risk management
>> Uncertainty
>> Analysis of mortality by cause of death and social and demographic stratification
>> Graduation techniques
>> Projection techniques
>> Data availability
>> Mortality-related financial products.

From the breadth of this list, you will see that there will be considerable work in bringing together the most valuable contributions worldwide, and in synthesising the work for the general reader. Further research will be undertaken or commissioned as the need arises.

Collect, pool and analyse
There has been particular interest in mortality studies and projections for developing countries and regions where there is little information available. The Society of Actuaries (SOA) is running a project to collect, pool and analyse mortality data from companies in countries where this has not been done before. Also, in a separate project, the SOA Table Manager is being used to collect and present population, life and pensioner mortality tables from participating countries in a standard form.

Part of my job has been to establish contact with the main actuarial research organisations in the UK, to ensure there is an ongoing awareness of new research and publications that may be of interest to the IAA Mortality Task Force.

Where will this data collection, synthesis and research lead? Hopefully the IAA will end up with a resource that will help actuaries who are not specialists in mortality, to see what is going on in a variety of areas of interest, and access data and research papers from elsewhere in the world. The IAA should also benefit from a basis of common thinking that can be used for actuarial education, training, and professional development. The work should identify areas where further actuarial research could be useful, and save unnecessary overlap where research has already been done.

Finally, I like to think that much of the excellent work already accomplished and in progress in the UK, will be more accessible and of use to actuaries across the rest of the world.

The IAA Mortality Task Force welcomes contributions. If you have published a paper in the last few years and would like to get involved, please contact Brians Risdale through the Profession’s website.

Brian Ridsdale is immediate past chairman of the CMI