Using Actuarial Science for Social Good

One thing that often comes up is: How can we use our knowledge of actuarial science for social good? Honestly there are a ton of ways. Many of the challenging issues in our society now requires going beyond the obvious and digging deep into underlying issues. The issue of homelessness is one such example.

Are the homeless lazy? Should we just arrest them all? Should we pity them? All honest questions, but there is a saying that we need to walk a mile in someones shoes before judging them. There are reasons why many organizations are established to help the homeless for instance, to distribute food. Honestly though the food is just bribery, we want them to learn to trust us. Once they trust us we can get down to the real work: talking to them and understanding them. Once we have understanding we can help them get jobs, get off of drugs, get back home, get medical attention or get into an old age home.

You might ask: why are actuaries well suited to understanding homelessness? Good question, look at our key strengths though:

  • Risk management – putting practices in place to ensure society does not fall into homelessness in the future
  • Problem solving – interview a homeless person, you would be surprised how complex the underlying issue is!
  • Financial planning – no one knows the value of insurance products and the need for protection (private or social schemes) better than us!
  • Number crunching – we are very comfortable making inferences from imperfect data. The problem: The cost of living is rising, the economy is expected to be difficult, and Facebook is filled with examples of how it is getting harder for executives to survive, never mind non-executives. If homelessness gets worse and people get desperate crime could rise, which would hurt our quality of life.

There are some negative comments from public figures on this matter:

  1. Most homeless are foreigners
  2. The homeless are lazy
  3. If the organisations stopped feeding them then they will go get jobs.

Based on data obtained from a specific organisation, most of the homeless experience bad situation that makes them run away from their home and become homeless. They have been hurt by society which make it hard for them to trust people.

What can we do about this? One is financial education. Many of the younger homeless came to KL looking for work but without even enough money to survive enough time to get work and get their first paycheck. We teach kids calculus and history but not risk management and financial planning. As actuaries we should be at the forefront of pushing for these subjects. Beyond just risk management is simply being aware of their rights and how to get what belongs to them.

There is a need for foreign workers, this is clear. However, when they take jobs away from locals when locals are willing to do the work for a fair pay (this is a big IF) then this is bringing social problems at the expense of businesses making more profit. Deciding what to do here is a complex analysis that an actuary can assist with.

Most importantly we need to focus on relationships and family. If the family structure is very strong there will be virtually no homelessness. Other solutions include microinsurance as the lowest level of society have medical needs like anyone else and although medical costs are heavily subsidized they are still out of reach for some. We need work programs to teach kids marketable skills, seriously. We also need to offer free re-training to older people wanting to go into a new field. Long term this is a win win for everyone.

By volunteering, in addition to using our actuarial skills we can also learn soft skills:

  • Looks can be deceiving. We can’t judge until we really know all the facts.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of on-the-ground knowledge / experience.
  • The key to many things is being persistent.
  • It doesn’t matter what you think, what matters is what the client thinks.
  • We must see things through the clients eyes.
  • To give proper advice we need to understand what the client’s priorities are.

Life lessons from volunteering:

  • By allowing people into our lives we gain perspective on our own lives.
  • Beauty comes in many forms. It is the little things, seriously!
  • If you find true love, hold onto it tightly.

So, to conclude, we can use our actuarial brains to tackle so many social causes, irrespective of how much time we have in our lives to spend on it. When actuaries get a reputation for impartial, logical and well thought out thinking and solutions in the community we will open up the profession to so much more and grow personally as well.

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