From Many Models, One Decision

Insurance Information Institute chief actuary James Lynch previews one of the most important conferences in the catastrophe modeling world.

I will be attending Cat Risk Management 2017 in Orlando next week, and the reason is as close as the weather forecast I’m looking at early Wednesday.

By now, the weather models have more or less converged: my own sliver of New Jersey is forecast to get about 6 inches of snow. The key word in that last sentence is models.

The many organizations that forecast the weather – the Weather Channel, Accuweather, Weather Underground, the National Weather Service – even the hearty jokester on your local station – use multiple models to predict sun, rain or snow.

The similarity to actuarial work is striking. Like an actuary, the weatherman hasn’t built the models but has to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each. And she has to make a single, certain prediction, yet couch that certainty within a pocket of doubt. The National Weather Service predicts 6.7 inches for my hometown: as much as 7 but as little as 3 (Editor’s Note: total snowfall 6.3 inches by Thursday evening).

Actuaries do that with your insurance policy – many uncertainties but one price. Of the many risks with which they must contend is how their portfolio of policies will perform under a catastrophe. Years ago this risk was estimated crudely – the old Casualty Actuarial Society exams included a section on the ISO Excess Wind calculation. Now catastrophe models do the job. And insurers need a lot of catastrophe models, which is what will be taking me to Orlando.

Next week’s conference is a cornucopia of cat models – hurricane models and wildfire models, earthquake and flood models. There is even discussion of how to coordinate the many models insurers must juggle. The conference, presented by the Reinsurance Association of America, is sold out; about 500 will attend.

I will be live-tweeting and will post a report. I.I.I. wants to draw attention to the importance of resilience – helping people understand that the best way to rebound from cataclysm is to prepare for it. Explaining how insurers do their part – in this case using models so that a policy’s price reflects its risk – helps everyone understand how much risk they must prepare for.

And I suppose, yes, will be good to visit balmy Florida after digging out from a half-foot of snow.

I.I.I.’s Facts and Statistics on global catastrophes gives a good idea of the scope of disasters that insurers protect against.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *