Dec 31, 2011

Sylvester: ABP, Cut Pensions?

At the end of 2011, let's take a short view on the madness around cutting pensions.

As a leading example, I'll discuss ABP, a Dutch 240 billion pension fund and one of the largest pension funds in the world.

Being fanatic blog readers and actuaries, you're probably 'in' for a teasing joke on Sylvester or 'New Years Eve'.

As you all know communication is key in the pension business. However, as pension investment results get more volatile and complex (in  time) to explain, communication about pension issues becomes more and more Chinese for ordinary pension members.

The latest threat, cutting pension benefits, urges board members to develop themselves to a kind of  'five-legged sheep' ....  The new 'normal' pension board member is undoubtedly the ideal combination of an actuary, accountant, investment specialist, communication expert, ICT specialist and - on top of - a keen psychologist.

Communication is a Profession
I'll give a short slightly exaggerated demonstration to all pension board members and actuaries of how difficult reading and understanding a well meant pension board message is, to an average pension member.

In order to 'save what can be saved' ABP's Vice-Chair Joop van Lunteren pleads for political help in ABP's 2011 Q3 Press Release.
Besides the question if a press release is indeed the right place for such a call, most pension members will have a hard time to understand what Mr. Van Lunteren wants so rightfully to express. For these pension members Mr. van Lunteren's message is more like Chinese...

ABP's Q3 Results: Cutting Pensions?
Now to more serious business...  Altough ABP's Q3 results are indeed not splendid,

the call for a more long term sustainable valuation system that makes pension funds less dependent upon volatile interest rates makes sense!

Also, there no need for panic (direct cutting measures), as from the 2010 annual report we can find that the annual benefits payments summed up to around € 7.5 billion on a total of assets of around € 240 Billion. If ABP would be allowed to wait for the effects of taken measures en developing markets for another five years, a 10% cutting of benefits would only have an impact of around € 4 to 6 billion on the total assets of around € 240 mln.
More info about Cutting Pension rights on Actuary Info....

Happy Silvester and good luck ABP!

- ABP Q3 Press Release
- ABP Annual Report 2010 
- Ming Imperial Fonts

Dec 12, 2011

Forecast Period Principle

As actuaries we mostly try to shape the data for our models (ALM, Stress Tests, Assessments, Etc.)  on basis of economic scenarios.

Recently we have experienced (Sub prime crisis, Bank crisis, Country crisis, Currency crisis, Debt crisis, etc) that our economy isn't that stable as we might perhaps have estimated or hoped (what's the difference nowadays?) .............

In other words:

Our Economy is chaotic by nature

Therefore, to learn how to shape our data, models and equations in a more chaotic or fuzzy way, let's take a look at the more chaotic processes of nature self.

Sea Level Rising
As an example let's pick out a major discussion: Sea level rising!
The discussion around this topic resembles the fuzzy way we discuss our economic and financial system. Some say sea level is rising and our (grand)children will surely drown. Others tell us not to worry. Who's right?

As the above graph - based on data of the University of Colorado - clearly shows, sea level is rising (Trend: ~3.1mm/year).

But just like in risk management models, the devil is in the details and (on the other hand) God's wisdom rules in time......

Actuarial devil watchers will have noticed a strange 'hockey schtick' in the above graph: Sea level is actually declining since 2007. 

This leads to the key question: 

What is a reliable Sea Level long term forecast?

How to answer this question...

Forecast Period Principle
To draw sensible forecast conclusions, the period of the measured and analyzed historical facts and their (explaining) context, has to be of  the same order of magnitude as the period we use to (context-dependable) project our data in the future.

So if we want to say something about for instance the next 14000 years, we should (also) look back 14000 years:

From the above chart it's clear that forecasts about sea level forecast on basis of 4, 10 or even  50 years are madman's exercises and useless.

On the long term (10-100 years) sea level will most likely keep rising at an average 3-4mm/year rate. So you don't need to calculate if your home will turn into an houseboat, unless....

Pension Funds and 'Forecast Period Principle'
Now let's apply the 'Forecast Period Principle' on pension funds...
  • Pension funds have a life span of more than hundred years, pension fund members have a life span of about 70-80 years.
  • Therefore projections and valuation of pension funds should also take place on basis of periods and (long) term discount rates of the same order of magnitude (10-50-100 years) as their life span. 
  • This implies that calculating coverage ratio's on a daily basis is perhaps a nice way to make a living as actuary, but practical completely inadequate. As it serves no goal, leads to unnecessary worries  and misleads pension board members. 
  • Lesson: calculate coverage ratios on 1,5 and 10 year basis and take action if all these coverage ratios start pointing in the same direction....

Unless.... : Langton Warning Principle

Yet, if you calculated your forecast on basis of the 'Forecast Period Principle', do not go to sleep peacefully!

Even if your models and visual inspection indicate a steady development, there's always the risk of a sudden 'Langton's Event' (loss).

In other words:

  1. Sea levels could suddenly Rise..
  2. Study Suddenly Rise Scenarios to prevent false alarm

    So take the 'Langton Warning Principle' serious and try to stay alert as risk manager in every possible circumstance.

    Do you want to learn more about Langton's principle? Read: Langton's Actuarial Ant

    'Crisis' will become business as usual for actuaries. Coming years, our short term 'Langton Warning Principle models' will be just as important as our steady forecasts on basis of  the 'Forecast Period Principle'. Don't mix them up!!

    Keep in mind the warning of NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco:

    We have good reason to believe that what happened this year is not an anomaly, but instead is a harbinger of what is to come.
                                      NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco (2011)

    Key Question
    Finally, the crisis key question will be:
    Are we Sinking or Thinking?

    Answer: It's all a matter of communication!

    Related links/Sources
    - Langton's Actuarial Ant
    - Colorado University: Sea level 
    - Some Actuarial Formula of Life Insurance for Fuzzy Markets
    - Google books: Actuaries' survival guide: how to succeed
    - Fractals & Actuaries (1997)
    - What about my town, when sea level rises X meter?
    - actual and historical sea levels: sea levels online
    - Sea levels Online
    - NOAA Report
    - Sea level Spredsheet of this Blog 
    - Original Picture: Climate Change Science Compendium 2009

    Dec 5, 2011

    River Deep Mountain High Actuary

    As actuaries we execute Risk management by the book. We dive deep into the tails of our risk sea and try to catch every small risk until we reach the value of the Planck constant.

    This approach was a proven method to success during the last decades. Our current financial crisis shows us that no asset class is free of risk. This crisis forces us not only to dive deep but also to look at the high mountains of economic risks and emotional winds.....

    In other words, to survive the next decades, we have to practice risk management

    River Deep, Mountain High

    In an excellent presentation Chris Martenson shows us that the constant doubling of debt is about tot collapse and that our economy has to make a turn.

    If you got some time left in your busy actuarial life, enjoy the full presentation of Chris and define for yourself which asset classes will be strong enough to survive this mother of all crises. Determine how you're going to embed these conclusions in your actuarial models...

    Chris Martenson’s presentation at the Gold & Silver Meeting in Madrid

    Here's the PPT presentation of Chris.

    Martenson Gold Silver Meeting Madrid 20111

    Rethink your Asset Mix
    If one thing becomes clear in this presentation, it's that your 'In crisis Asset Mix' will differ substantially from your 'Before Crisis Asset Mix'. By means of economic scenarios and combining financial facts with common sense, you and your board are challenged to find the right asset combination that de-risks your portfolio......

    After studying Chris' presentation I'm sure you'll be a qualified 'River Deep, Mountain High Actuary' !

    Sources/related Links:
    - Homepage Chris Martenson
    - Picture Rochat

    'Trying'  is hard: Youtube

    Nov 25, 2011

    Humor: Past Performance is...

    To protect (!) the customer more and more, investment funds feel the need  - or are obligated - to communicate about the expectation of their funds' future return.

    One of the most used non- or disinformation statements funds use, is the line:

    Past performance is no guarantee of future results

    A general lesson is that all prefab communication lines and static communication tools are doomed tot fail, as communication is context and time dependent.

    Just as Communication, your Actuarial, Investment or Financial Models are also context (economic, fiscal, ethics) and time dependent.

    Change them upfront, as 'performance of yesterday's models is no guarantee for the future.....'  ;-)

    - Free Flash Animations - Smilies by Adrian Wilman

    - Disinformation: Everything You Know Is Wrong

    Nov 21, 2011

    A Better Life

    The new (June 2011) 'OECD Health Data 2011' report shows the latest insights in health spending costs. Here are some results for the main OECD countries:

    Health Costs

    Total health spending accounted on average for 9.5% of the GDP for all OECD countries (main countries: 9.8%).

    Public health is  a substantial  part  of  health  funding  in  all  OECD  countries.

    Control Health Costs
    Key question is: will relative 'big rising spenders' like The Netherlands and the U.S., be able to control their health costs in the near future?

    Besides the fact that health costs undoubtedly rise sharply with age, the bulk of 'annual health spending growth' depends mainly on overall population growth, increases in the health prices and the introduction of new high-cost medical products and treatments used by all age groups. 

    In controlling health costs, the most difficult an challenging question is in fact:

    What are we trying to maximize
    with the help of health investment costs?

    Our first answer could be : Maximize Health.

    In practice we (countries in the world) haven't explicitly defined what we try to maximize... Unfortunately discussing health costs without a clear goal, is an endless road, leading nowhere.... A Health Mission Impossible.....

    On top of, 'Health'  is - at its best - a non defined subjective perception.....
    Let's dive deeper on this theme of perception. Can we grasp it?

    Health Perception
    As in every corner of (your) life

    Perception = Reality

    Therefore let's take a look at how health is perceived by people in different countries. For a global 'health perception picture' we have to fall back on self-reported health status  figures of around 2006-2007:

    As is clear Canada and the U.S. are clear 'feeling healthy' champions, with Japan as poorest performer.

    Quality and Quantity of Life
    To examine whether the self-reported health status indicator  (representing the quality of life) also indicates a 'longer life expectancy' (representing the quantity of life),  here is the 'life expectancy indicator'.

    Surprisingly the results are - at first sight - counter intuitive:
    • Japan, with the poorest health perception, scores best in longevity
    • The U.S.,  with the almost best health perception, scores worst in longevity

    'Good health' and  'life expectancy' 
    It is known that elderly people report a less than average good healthy condition.

    Unfortunately, as the next diagram indicates, there's no convincing direct relationship between 'perceived good health' and  'life expectancy' or 'median age' (as explaining variables) :

    Reference: Japan Explained?
    To find  out 'what drives a health perception', we may examine one of the rare underpinned studies : "The Surveys on the Japanese National Character".

    First of all there's a relationship between Economy and Health:

    Though declining, more than 50% of all respondents in this survey say that "people's health will get worse".

    What's even of more concern, is that younger people are experiencing an increasing feeling of nervousness during the last decades.

    This survey supports the idea that perceptions of 'health' and 'happiness' are more or less embedded in a nations' culture and not related to the investments in health.

    Find out more on what's going on in Japan beneath the surface on:
    Assessment of the Japanese Economy

    It's all about Happiness

    What remains is that it's all about happiness in life....
    And of course happiness and good health are 'somewhat' and 'somehow' related

    Maximizing or optimizing Health in on basis of 'health investments' (health costs) is tricky business. Although Happiness and Health Perception are related, they both don't relate to health investments.

    The maximum price for 'good health' is subjective. Governments will have to border the maximum public financed costs of health on basis of objective goals of health condition (eg. max % obesity, BMI, etc) in relation to what's "bearable" in terms of costs in relation to the strength of their national economy.

    Let's conclude with some positive news...

    Your Better Life Index
    I would like to invite you to take part in the Your Better Life Index.

    'Your Better Life Index' was designed as s an interactive tool that allows you to see how countries perform according to the importance you give to each of 11 topics – like education, housing, environment, and so on – that contribute to well-being in OECD countries. Your Better Life Index allows you to put different weights on each of the topics, and thus to decide for yourself what contributes most to well-being.

    It is a pioneering, interactive tool combining OECD substance with modern
    technology in order to educate, promote dialogue and encourage consensus on the balance between societal and economic well-being. Your Better Life Index will be maintained on an ongoing basis.

    Here's MY Better life index as an eample.

    Live a healthy and - above all - happy life..... A Better life!

    - OECD Health Data 2011 How Does the Netherlands Compare?
    - OECD Health Data 2011 
    - Health Self-Reported Health Status 
    - Assessment of the Japanese Economy: A Continuing Downward Trend
    - Why Does U.S. Health Care Cost So Much? ( An Aging Population Isn’t the Reason)
    - The Surveys on the Japanese National Character

    - Does Medicare Work Better Than Private Insurance?
    - Balancing Affordability and Value: The Universal Challenge in Health Care Delivery

    - Spreadsheet with all health data of this blog

    Nov 12, 2011

    Humor: Peanuts: Risk Free

    Risk free rates are an illusion. Risk free is an illusion. Everything in life is 'Free Risk'.... . Don't think about Risk as 'Peanuts'... It's not, as Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Woodstock show...

    Nov 10, 2011

    How to catch Risk?

    Desperate attempts to catch Risk in new regulatory standards like Basel (II/III) for banks and Solvency (II) for insurers seem a dead end street....

    What is happening?

    That's the question we're about to answer in this blog!

    Here are some observations:
    • Risk Weighting
      All new risk valuating standards are based on Risk Weighting. Some assets (or liabilities) are assumed to be more risky than others. In practice, every asset class that has been identified as more or less 'safe', has turned out to be risky after all. E.G., government bonds  where - until the 2011 crisis  in Greece - assumed to be risk free. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth...

      Nothing in life is risk free
    • Tier Ratio's
      Instead of simple 'Equity to Asset Ratios', Tier 1 & 2 ratios where developed. These Tier ratios only take a fraction of the total assets into account. This leads to 'Equity to Risk-Weighted Assets Ratios' that insinuate adequate, substantial and reassuring 10-15% Capital ratios, while - in fact - they're not! These kind of ratios are misleading and create a false sense of safety....

      Tier Ratios lead people up the garden path

    • Tail Hide and Seek
      As more and more risks are valued, regulated and urge for extra capital requirements, financial institutions will try to create extra return on risks that are formally not or only 'light weighted' measured. This way substantial risks are 'pushed' into the tail, fat risk tails are created and the sight on the real risks in the company becomes misty.

      Overregulation decreases the effect of good risk management

    Illustration: Comparison 'Deutsche Bank' - 'Bank of America'
    To illustrate what is happening, let's compare a giant like "Deutsche Bank" (DB) with the number one on the banking list, the "Bank of America" (BOA).

    Financial RatiosDeutsche BankBank of America
    (x 1 bn $)              Year:2010200920102009
    Assets (A)1906150122652230
    Liabilities (L)1855146320371999
    Shareholder Equity (SE)4937228231
    SE / A - Ratio2.6%2.4%10.1%10.4%
    Risk-Weighted Assets (RWA)34627314561543
    Assets (A)1906150122652230
    RWA / A - Ratio18%18%64%69%
    Regulatory Capital (RC)4938230226
    Risk-Weighted Assets (RWA)34627314561543
    Total Capital Ratio 14.1%13.9%15.8%14.7%
    Tier 1 capital4334164160
    Risk-Weighted Assets (RWA)34627314561543
    Tier 1 Capital Ratio12.3%12.6%11.2%10.4%

    Although both banks have more or less the same 'Tier 1' and 'Total Capital Ratio', their individual risk profile is completely different. 

    In the case of DB only 18% of the assets are assumed (marked) risky, while in the case of BOA around 64% is assumed risky and taken into account for a risk weighted solvency approach.

    Notice that the simple gross 'Equity to Asset' Ratio (E/A-Ratio, or in short 'EAR')  of DB is only 2.6%, while the similar ratio of BOA is around 10.1%. If DB would be hit by an 5% impact loss, it would be in deep trouble.

    Our risk models have become too sophisticated and don't cover the area of 'Unkown Risk' enough. Unintentionally rand controversially, risk regulations and models make us implicitly sweep our real risks under the carpet. In principle Risks can be categorized as:

    1. Known Risk Measured
    2. Known Risk Unmeasured
    3. Unknown Risk
    4. Hidden Risk (knowingly or unknowingly)

    It's time to admit that no asset or liability is completely free of risk and there's an overall substantial probability that risk - by definition - will hit eventually from an unexpected corner. To put things in perspective: In the 19th century, banks funded their assets with around 40-50% equity.

    Including 'Unkown Risk', a simple gross E/A-Ratio (EAR) of a magnitude of 15-25% (across the total assets) would probably be the best kind of guarantee to accomplish a more sustainable financial system in the world. The new EAR could be best defined as the sum of an actuarial underpinned percentage on basis of the underlaying calculable covered risks and a TBD overall 10% 'add up' for unknown risks:

    E/A-Ratio = EAR =  EAR[ calculable risk ] + EAR[ unknown risk ]

    Until we've included Unkown Risk fully in our risk models, we'll stay in deep trouble.

    Aftermath: 'Avatar Ratios'
    To rate a company (bank), often it's not enough to look at just the traditional financial ratios. An interesting way to additionally rate a company in a more sophisticated way, is with the help of so - by me - called 'Avatar Ratios'.

    Additional to financial ratios, 'Avatar Ratios' tell you more about what the intentions, (real) important issues and the 'drive' of a company and its employees are.

    An 'Avatar Ratio Analysis' gives you more or less 'the embodiment' of all what drives a company. It can be constructed by making a word analysis of a crucial document or annual report of a company. In short: You simply download the annual report (or any other company characteristic document) and analyze it with a  'Word Frequency Counter' like WriteWords.

    IAA Demo
    As a demo, let's analyze the IAA's Strategic Plan


    With the help of WriteWords we first create (on line) a frequency table. Next we cut out irrelevant words like 'and', 'the', etc. 

    Here are the results:
    (1) a  scrollable frequency table of all relevant words
    (2) a 'Top 22 words' frequency table

    In most cases - like this one - the result of simply putting the first 10 to 15 words in the top of the frequency table behind each other, is astonishing: It creates a kind of 'Identity Statement'. Here's the result for IAA's strategic plan, where even more than 20 words give a beautiful comprised identity statement:

    IAA's Strategic Plan (Identity Statement comprised with WriteWords)
    Actuarial strategic develop associations. Standards, priorities plans objective action. Promote profession member international. IAA association practice maintain key. Global encourage education worldwide.

    Avatar Analysis: Comparison 'Deutsche Bank' - 'Bank of America' 
    Let's now go back to our banking case and compare 'Deutsche Bank' (DB) and the 'Bank of America' (BOA) with the help of a simple Avatar Ratio Analysis.

    The Avatar Ratio Analys presents the word frequency (absolute numbers) and their relative frequency (= word frequency / total number of word in document). Here is the result:

    Avatar RatiosDeutsche BankBank of America
    Total G+R+C18401.00%10330.64%
    Profit, Income10010.54%8350.52%
    Tot. nr. of words161579100%184048100%

    Although I'll leave the final conclusions up to you, here are some remarkable observations:
    • Total number of words
      Both companies (DB and BOA) need an enormous amount of words to explain their environment (clients, shareholders, rating agencies, etc) the essentials about what's going on in their company in a modest calendar year.

      To read an annual report of about 170,000 words, it would take an average reader (reading speed 200 to 250 words per minute) about 10-12 hours.

      Perhaps you, as an actuary, can read faster ( test it!: speed reading test ), but even at a speed of 500 wpm it would be an enormous task (5-6 hours) to fulfill.

    • Governance, Risk & Control
      It's clear that DB puts much more energy (+60%) in communicating about themes as Governance Risk and Control than BOA. Also is clear that DB is far more transparent in its communication than BOA. This does (of course) not imply that BOA's risk and control frame is inferior to DB's. It could even be the opposite. It just shows that (and how) BOA handles and communicates differently (less open) from DB.

    • Profit, Income, Shareholders + Clients and Employees
      DB and BOA weight Profit, Income and shareholders on more or less the same level. Both rank client/customer above shareholders. DB gives 'clients/customers' as well as employees double the attention of BOA!

    At last
    Next time you report to your board, include an Avatar Analysis of your report in your presentation!

    Related Links, Sources:
    - The biggest weakness of Basel III (2010)
    - The Banker top 1000 list (2011) 
    - Word Frequency Counter : WriteWords
    - IAA's Strategic Plan  
    - Bank of America: Annual Report 2010
    - Deutsche Bank: Annual report 2010
    - On line speed reading test 
    - Spreadsheet containing this blog's DB and BOA analysis

    Nov 1, 2011

    Sustainable Discount Rates

    Steering pension funds on a 'one point' Coverage Ratio is like trying to proof global warming on a hot summer day...... It's useless.


    First of all the complete pension fund balance sheet is based on market value.

    As there is no substantial market for pension liabilities, this implies that pension liabilities have to be valued on basis of some kind of arbitrary (artificial) method.

    In the U.S. this has led to the (irresponsible) high discount rate of 8% for state pension funds based on the 'expected' long term return without a kind of correction (subtraction) for 'risk'.

    In de Dutch market, pension funds have to rate their liabilities on basis of a maturity dependable risk free interest rate, the ‘Nominal interest Rate Term Structure’ (RTS), as ordered by DNB (the Dutch Regulator).

    Here's the outcome of this risk free interest rate (RTS) over the past 10 years, including the 10-y average RTS...

    Ever since DNB ordered this 'artificial discounting method', pension fund board members didn't get a good night sleep. As the RTS juggles on a daily basis, every morning pension members wake up with the latest 'RTS news surprise of the day'.

    You can play the RTS juggle (worm) here:

    As coverage ratios are based on the RTS, they shuttle hither and thither as well and executing a long term pension fund strategy becomes more or less like riding the famous (market) bull in a rodeo show.

    On a Dutch IPE congress, Angelien Kemna - chief investment officer of the €270bn asset manager APG - warned that the current swap-curve discount criterion forces pension funds to take unwise "significant long-term measures".

    Kemna favors an average yield curve or a more straightened version of the current one for discounting liabilities.

    The new Dutch Pensions Agreement foresees that pension funds can choose their own discount rate, as pensions are no longer guaranteed!

    Indeed, it's time to stop this complex discount circus. But it's also time to stop 'one point estimate' Coverage Ratio steering.

    A new look
    Let's take a look at a characteristic discount rate dependence of a traditional pension fund like ABP.

    Valuing ABP at an (derived average) RTS of 2.69%  (September 2011), ABP's discounted assets fail to meet the discounted liabilities, leading to a coverage ratio of around 90%.

    However this kind of risk free valuing is - for sure - too conservative, as ABP's aims at an underpinned strategic expected return of 6,1% on the long term and has a convincing track record of  5 and 10-year moving average returns:

    Returns (%) Pension Fund ABP 2993-2010
    Yearly Return16.5-1.016.411.811.912.910.03.2-0.7-

    5Y MA Return

    10Y MA Return

    Or in Graphics:

    As long as a pension fund (like ABP) continues to perform (on 5 or 10-years moving average) rates that outperform the (derived average) risk free discount rate, it's seems ridiculous to force such a pension fund to discount at a 'risk free rate', as this obliges the fund to change his strategic asset mix to a less risky mix and an suboptimal return.
    In turn, these suboptimal returns will lead to an asset shortage. With a vicious cycle of decreasing risk as a fatal result in the end.

    Sustainable Discount Rates
    In an excellent discussion paper (2006) Jürg Tobler-Oswald proves that the optimal discount rate lies between the risk free rate (RFR) and the investment strategy’s expected return (ER) depending on how good the hedge against the fund’s cash  flow  provided by its investments  is:

    Discount Rate1 = RFR + FCash Flow(RFR-ER)

    Another - more simple and practible - discount rate could be defined as the average between the free discount rate and the X-year (e.g. X=5, or 10) Moving Average Return of the last X-Years (MAR(X)).

    Discount Rate2 = [ RFR + MAR(X) ] /2

    As long as MAR(10), MAR(5) and ER stay larger than the interest rate that matches a coverage ratio of 100%, discounting by means of one of the new sustainable discount methods seems sound and safe......

    Whats left is that the average (geometric) risk premiums during the last 10 years have turned out negative:

    Historical Equity Risk Premiums (ERP)
    ERP: Stocks minus T.BillsERP: Stocks minus T.Bonds
    PeriodArithmetic Geometric Arithmetic Geometric

    This implies (moreover) that it is important that the discounting rate of a pension fund should be based on a sustainable sound weighted mix of:
    (1) proven historical performance
    (2) a 'save' risk free rate
    (3) realistic future return assumptions

    Related Links/ Sources
    - Kemna IPE article (2011)
    - An investment based valuation approach for pension fund cash flows (2006)
    - Ignoring the risk in risk premium in State Pensions(2011)
    - DB: What went wrong? (2011)
    - Pension Fund Valuation and Market Values (2000)
    - Aswath Damodaran: Equity-risk-premiums-2011-edition
    - Dutch: ABP coverage ratio

    Oct 23, 2011

    What's a Greek Tragedy?

    As actuaries we do not believe in miracles, or do we?

    According to a 'strictly confidential' document from the Troika (= EC, IMF & ECB), Greek's Debt/GDP ratio suddenly raised from 149% to 186% in 2013!

    This new insight causes a 'potential need for additional official financing' ranging up to €440 billion!! (are you still with me?)

    Let's take a look at how Debt/GDP ratio developed in the past and the new optimistic Troika forecast (red line).

    Just to help the Troika, I've added a non-miracle 'Maggid' forecast based on simple and more realistic economic principles.

    Not a word in the Troika report about the drivers and cultural changes that are necessary to achieve a long term decrease of the Debt/GDP ratio. Everything is based on  suggestive mathematical art.

    Continue throwing good money after bad, is not the way forward. Greece will first have to show that it is not only willing, but also achieving debt reduction. Current measures are insufficient. Start for example to raise retirement age to 65 as a beginning...

    Let's pray European leaders give up Keynesian miracle thinking and take the right decision:

    Stop helping Greece to finance their debt, unless Greece shows strong progress in reducing debt itself every month .

    If not.., the line 'A Greek Tragedy' will get a new meaning....

    - Troika report
    - Zerohedge: Greece
    - Retirement around the globe blog

    Oct 14, 2011

    Humor: Actuary Scrooge

    Today's Brainer:What's the difference between a pension fund and an investment fund?

    Actuary $crooge shows...


    Oct 9, 2011

    On Line DIY European Stress Test

    Thomson Reuters' Breakingviews now presents an on line DIY stress test. Change the Tier 1 ratio and haircuts of the PIIGS countries and find out the capital shortfall of Europe and the shortfal of individual European banks.

    An explanation can be found here and there is also an Excel spreadsheet.

    Enjoy stress testing!

    Oct 8, 2011

    What's a world without Jobs?

    On Wednesday night 5th October, Apple co-founder, former CEO and chairman Steve Jobs, passed away..

    Steve Jobs' life is an example to all of us. In an excellent and catching speech, Steve urged graduates to pursue their dreams and pick up the opportunities in life's setbacks at the university's 114th Commencement on June 12, 2005.

    What - besides Steve's phenomenal contributions to computer technology and marketing - did Steve contribute to the profession of Risk Management?

    Steve Jobs' Risk Management Lessons
    Here are (derived from his 2005 Stanford speech) some inspiring lessons from Steve. Lessons we can apply 'one to one' on Risk Management (my comments in Italic):

    • Connect 'the dots' in life
      It's impossible to connect the dots looking forward,you can only connect them looking backwards, later in life.  Do so!

      To turn Risk Management into an opportunity, we can't look in a crystal ball. We'll have to explore and have to allow ourselves some experiments and non-conventional ideas to finally see the bigger picture that turns marginal new business developments into one new final integral success!

      Try to develop 'Risk Oversight' (connecting the dots) as Risk Oversight is negatively related to risk and positively related to shareholder value (Research Stanford University).

    • Trust
      You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.
      Believe in something and follow your heart, even if it leads you of the well-worn path..

      Make Risk management supportive and not dominant to what you want to achieve in life or business. It's positive when  companies Ideas and Vision sometimes conflict with inner and outer notions.

      To grow a plant (company)  in soil (society) is takes opposite 'nutrients' (and circumstances) like water and sun that feed your seed (idea).

      Accept that your heart, gut feeling and helicopter view are sometimes more leading than the rationale of your Risk management (what your brain thinks). The more and the longer you are able to manage this paradox, the more likely success will come your way eventually. 

      Keep all the above decision elements in ('a paradoxical') place. Remember  Shareholder Value and Sustainability are a function of Risk, so don't pull the plug too soon!

    • Love and Loss
      Making mistakes is an inherent part of life and doing business.

      If you (or something you started) fails, start over!

      The effect of less sureness by 'starting over', inspires for exploring new directions and becoming creative again.

      'Love what you do' is the most important leading statement to proceed in life and business.

      'Sometimes life hits you with a brick'. Don’t lose faith.Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.

      Risk Management exists by the grace of losses that occur. Accept that as a fact. Therefore, if no losses occur anymore, your Risk Management program is actually dead without a clue. It will certainly fail eventually.

      Getting knocked down by a 'brick' like in the current financial crisis, is a sign that we have to redesign our Risk Management programs instead of intensifying existing programs like Basel II /III and Solvency II. Get out!

      New Risk Management will have to focus on how to prevent and to DEAL with risk, instead of sophisticated capitalizing risk as Dead Risk Capital. Rather than focus on reducing risk, risk-transformation — that is, capitalizing risk in such a way that its value creation potential is maximized - seems the right way forward.

    • Death
      If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right. Remembering you'll die is the most important tool to help you make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

      Remembering that you are going to die is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.

      Risk Management is about making choices and giving up less important issues for more important.
      It's about generating focus on what really matters for sustainability or results, instead of trying to manage everything.

      Good Risk management therefore urges for CEO and Board rewards that reflect the downside risk of a company's default instead of just rewarding upward and short term profit.

      Company bonuses should therefore be positive as well as negative performance related.  

     Remember, just like Steve Jobs, Risk Management is about 'failing better than anyone else' .....

    - Steve Jobs: He Thinks Different (2004)
    - Was Steve Jobs Practicing Proactive Risk Management? (2010)
    - The Role of the Board in Corporate Risk Oversight (Stanford University 2010)
    - Dead Risk Capital