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Flu vaccination? Does it work?

August 25, 2014
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At this time of year, towards the end of winter, there always seem to be more people around who are sick. There are a lot of people struggling on with the “flu” and a few people who actually have the flu, who depending on politeness, often tell those people with the “flu” that they have no idea what flu actually is if they are anywhere other than in bed. Apparently this year, the flu has come later than normal, and many people have the famous H1N1 swine flu from the 2009 epidemic. In any office I’ve ever worked in (perhaps driven by the preponderance of actuaries) there is always a lively debate as to whether the flu vaccine actually works. My employer, like many big white-collar employers, provides a free flu vaccination every year. I got into the habit of seeking it out after my doctor suggested it was wise  the…

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Ebola – some current facts and sources

August 17, 2014
Ebola disease

Get a bunch of actuaries together (particularly life insurance actuaries) and sooner or later we will start talking about pandemics. Fortunately, our experiences are almost entirely theoretical. We’ve lived through AIDS (for the life insurance actuary, a very slow-moving pandemic, where the challenge was more about underwriting than claims and capital) and SARS (which, from Australia, was more economic than insurance related) and the 2009 Swine Flu, which was (from an insurance industry perspective) almost entirely about PR. But one day, our industry will be called upon to deal with a real pandemic, something like the “Spanish Flu” pandemic of 1918 which…

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How can a team of actuaries help the community? Any ideas?

August 10, 2014
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My employer, NAB, gives us two volunteer days of leave a year - days in which we can volunteer in the community. One day is supposed to be used by teams together; to find something that is both team building and useful to the community. The other day can be used this way, but can also be used to do something individual. Last year, my team went to a school for disabled children, and painted some of the walls, and did some gardening. And while this was a great cause, I really don’t think it was the best use of our…

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Financial System Inquiry – the Interim report

July 20, 2014
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The Financial System Inquiry, headed by David Murray (former Chairman of the Future Fund and CEO of Commonwealth Bank) has released its Interim Report  (all 460 pages of it). For those who haven’t been following this, this inquiry (which is already known as the Murray inquiry) is the natural successor to the Wallis (1997) and Campbell (1981) inquiries, which recommended big changes to the Australian Financial system of regulation at the time (APRA and ASIC were one result…

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Book Review: #Girlboss

July 13, 2014
girlboss

#GIRLBOSS, by Sophia Amoruso, is part memoir, part business advice, part self-help book, written by the founder of Nasty Gal, an online fashion retailer which is,  after seven years of life, making $100m in annual sales - all online, with bricks and mortar stores coming soon. It is a light breezy read of life lessons from someone who dropped out, found her passion and worked harder than she could possibly have imagined to make the successful business she…

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Book Review: The Trusted Advisor

June 28, 2014
Much easier for a real person to be a trusted advisor than a robot

The Trusted Advisor, by Maister, Green and Galford Last week I ran a workshop as part of the Young Actuaries Program at the Actuaries Institute on building relationships for both external and internal clients. In preparing for it, and talking to colleagues (especially Darren Robinson, who reminded me I had lent him the book years ago), I re-read the best book on this topic, from the professional services guru, David Maister (and two coauthors, Charles Green and Robert Galford). I liberally borrowed from…

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The Role of the Appointed Actuary

June 11, 2014
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Concerns about the appointed actuary role In a recent Insight publication (pdf), APRA made a few points about the role of Appointed Actuaries, particularly where it involves Pricing, which seem to express some concern as to whether appointed actuaries have been effective: A tender for group insurance involves input from a number of professional parties, including product managers, underwriters and reinsurers, to formulate a competitive tender. APRA’s view is that Appointed Actuaries are central gatekeepers in the…

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Book Review: Asia’s Cauldron, by Robert Kaplan

June 9, 2014
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Today’s book review is Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific, by Robert Kaplan. Robert Kaplan is an American journalist and foreign policy adviser. Although this book is about Asia, he writes this book not so much an Asian expert (although he clearly is), as an American foreign policy expert, and so this book is as much about the implications of what is happening in Asia on US Foreign Policy…

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Big data and actuaries – are we part of the solution?

May 11, 2014
Investigating Big Data

The Actuaries Institute had a financial services forum last week, which I managed to get to some of. My first report is of the Big data plenary session which closed the conference. I’ll start with some background reading: Cheerleaders for big data have made four exciting claims, each one reflected in the success of Google Flu Trends: that data analysis produces uncannily accurate results; that every single data point can be captured, making old statistical sampling…

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Women’s only carriages: balancing harassment and crowds

April 20, 2014
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The Eye family is on holiday in Japan at the moment. Our family of four (three male, one female) accidentally jumped into a women’s only carriage on the Osaka metro the other day. It took us one stop to run the gamut of emotions from surprised, to embarrassed, to indignation (that such a carriage was necessary, or at such special treatment for women, take your pick) and we got out and switched carriages at the next…

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Weekend Links

April 6, 2014
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I’m not going to make a habit of this, but there have been some great articles for interested actuaries this week that I wanted to point to. Tim Harford in the FT wondered whether in our enthusiasm for Big Data, we have forgotten some statistical principles: Four years after the original Nature paper was published, Nature News had sad tidings to convey: the latest flu outbreak had claimed an unexpected victim: Google Flu Trends. After reliably…

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How many ships disappear each year?

March 30, 2014
Oil tanker in Greenwich, Sydney

When I read The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean, one statistic that astonished me was that “two large ships sink every week on average [worldwide] ” according to Dr Wolfgang Rosenthal. The author, Susan Carson, suggests that the numbers are high, but that “every year, on average, more than two dozen large ships sink, or otherwise go missing, taking their crews along with them.” In a prescient comment,…

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About me

My name is Jennifer Lang, and I am an actuary working in financial services in Sydney. This site consists of my own personal views, and does not necessarily reflect the views of my employers - past, present or future.

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