Do Actuaries Actually Buy Insurance?



A reader asked me the following:

What can past market crashes teach us about the current one?

The markets have largely recovered since the March selloff, but most would agree we're not out of the woods yet. The COVID-19 pandemic isn't close to being over, so it seems that volatility is here to stay, at least until the pandemic becomes less severe. Q2 2020 hedge fund letters, conferences and more At the Read More

 When I know that you are trained as an actuary it got me curious. They say that actuary assess the risks of insurance products to find value for consumers, at the same time evaluate the probable risks of the product.

 What kind of insurance does an actuary actually buy for his and his family? Insurance are often sold with economic bias so what better way to know then find out from people that use actual data and determined it through quantifiable methods.

 I heard that actuaries often buy only term life insurance only and that investment linked and limited whole life policies do not make sense. At the same time, it would seem that the way you can claim critical illness is such that most of the time you can claim it, you are almost very disabled or near death. In such a scenario wouldnt [sic] a pure death and tpd [sic] term life be suffice?

This is my opinion, given my dealings among actuaries.  I could be wrong.  Actuaries avoid complexity in insurance products.  Why?  In general, complex products hide high profit margins.  Products that are easy to analyze, like term life insurance, are competitive, and profit margins are low.

The same is true for savings products, like deferred annuities.  Actuaries tend to buy simple products that cover basic needs.

Also, they tend to use insurance as catastrophe cover, because they know that having insurance companies pay on a lot of small claims is expensive on average.

There is an exception to all of this.  If you are so rich as to need to stiff the taxman, buying cash value insurance policies can make a lot of sense.  In that case, wealthy actuaries with clever tax advisors buy cash value life insurance.  Death benefits do not pass through the estate.

Actuaries are generally conservative, and avoid insurance products that are not easily analyzed.  That should be true of most insurance buyers.

By David Merkel, CFA of Aleph Blog

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David J. Merkel, CFA, FSA — 2010-present, I am working on setting up my own equity asset management shop, tentatively called Aleph Investments. It is possible that I might do a joint venture with someone else if we can do more together than separately. From 2008-2010, I was the Chief Economist and Director of Research of Finacorp Securities. I did a many things for Finacorp, mainly research and analysis on a wide variety of fixed income and equity securities, and trading strategies. Until 2007, I was a senior investment analyst at Hovde Capital, responsible for analysis and valuation of investment opportunities for the FIP funds, particularly of companies in the insurance industry. I also managed the internal profit sharing and charitable endowment monies of the firm. From 2003-2007, I was a leading commentator at the investment website Back in 2003, after several years of correspondence, James Cramer invited me to write for the site, and I wrote for RealMoney on equity and bond portfolio management, macroeconomics, derivatives, quantitative strategies, insurance issues, corporate governance, etc. My specialty is looking at the interlinkages in the markets in order to understand individual markets better. I no longer contribute to RealMoney; I scaled it back because my work duties have gotten larger, and I began this blog to develop a distinct voice with a wider distribution. After three-plus year of operation, I believe I have achieved that. Prior to joining Hovde in 2003, I managed corporate bonds for Dwight Asset Management. In 1998, I joined the Mount Washington Investment Group as the Mortgage Bond and Asset Liability manager after working with Provident Mutual, AIG and Pacific Standard Life. My background as a life actuary has given me a different perspective on investing. How do you earn money without taking undue risk? How do you convey ideas about investing while showing a proper level of uncertainty on the likelihood of success? How do the various markets fit together, telling us us a broader story than any single piece? These are the themes that I will deal with in this blog. I hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University. In my spare time, I take care of our eight children with my wonderful wife Ruth.