Coworker #1: We should eat in the breakroom.
Coworker #2: I agree.
Coworker #3: We should eat in the conference room.
Coworker #2: That makes sense.
Coworker #1: Where are most people?
Coworker #3: The breakroom.
Coworker #2: No they aren’t.
Coworker #1: Then let’s go there.
Coworker #3: Ok.

Everyone wound up eating in an entirely separate meeting room. My coworker’s comment on this was “we aren’t stubborn, we will easily listen to a leader, but no one usually wants to be one.”

The CARe seminar is an annual event focused on property casualty reinsurance actuaries. Almost the entire work group was present from across three time zones and we had gotten permission to go canoeing.

We headed to the canoe rental place, changed, all received life preservers that made us look like idiots, and were taken a few miles up stream on the Brandywine river. I opted to canoe at the request of a coworker who had no watercraft experience and wanted me to pilot. I had no problem doing this until she screamed whenever we approached either the banks or an overhanging branch. This wasn’t the kind of gentle scream of surprise or a yell so much as the scream of someone being stabbed. I was relieved to find that she made the same scream while using a trampoline.

After a little under two hours, we left the Brandywine Creek, a remarkably domesticated body of water and went to one of my coworker’s houses for a bit of a barbecue.

We were all there. It sounds trite but my team very rarely gets together. The last time was 16 months ago and that was only for an global meeting of the analytical teams. Here we were, chatting and eating in a first order approximation of friendship. Everyone still had a certain amount of excess courtesy but we were by and large relaxed. We ate well, drank a little, and then had a camp fire. There was a guitar that two people played acceptably but sadly no one knew how to play any songs that everyone knew. A Québécois coworker played what seemed like the Tracy Chapman version of “What’s Up?” by Four Non-Blondes and we filed out when we were done.

I have trouble calling most of my coworkers friends. There are two notable exceptions, one being a coworker with whom at first I clung too for mutual self-defense and another whom I helped get hired. They both felt a little more distant here. My two previous workplaces spoiled me. One was a summer camp and the other was medical device design. The former involved one living with ones coworkers and the other had project arcs that were long enough that one often worked long hours for an extended stretch with a group. No one would be able to do all aspects of a medical project so you got used to relying on people. At my current workplace, many projects are parallelized more than anything with no one having unique abilities in the group. The distance could be born to the stereotypical introversion of actuaries or maybe I’m too noisy. In the mean time, I will keep giving them baked goods.

Accredited actuaries must complete continuing education hours each year and conferences are held to meet these needs. My boss is active in one of the regional education bodies and invited a coworker and I to go. The first session was on a piece of legislation affecting insurance companies which requires a certain type of financial report each year. The discussion was a round table and I quickly realized that no two people there had the same experience. Some people were reserving actuaries, others pricing, others do everything. Each in different lines, each in different size firms, and across a spread of states that may choose to interpret the requirements differently. This was a gathering of actuaries specifically in the property casualty field and a presentation specifically for companies that’d be affected and still there was enough diversity among 35 people that no one really had anyone else they could specifically ask.

The next session was a presentation by the president of a risk retention group, a special type of insurer, in this case for schools. The presenter made a few interesting notes:

1) The firm expects more people to be going through schools but for less time.
2) Schools offering credit for work and life experience are popping up.
3) The IT dream for insurers hasn’t come. I think the phrase was “IT was a promise that turned out to be a black hole that sucks in money.”
4) Schools being liable for sexual assault is leading towards universal requirements that students take online defense and anti-assault training. Huge drop in claims for schools that do.
5) Top tier schools are stuck for innovation. Regional colleges are mostly doing the innovative stuff.
6) For Profit schools haven’t really taken off.

Some of the other sessions were either above me or boring, but one later in the day focused on actuaries on Capital Hill. The presenter talked about how he realized the actuarial world needed to get better at messaging when a leading Republican senator said “I like actuaries, they’re truth tellers. But I don’t know what you’re saying half the time.” The presenter also made mention of another law maker who had said “I didn’t really buy climate change when the scientists talked to me about forecasts or hippy dippy types kept talking to me, but when actuaries started giving presentations about the effects, I knew something was happening”. This last part made me a little proud. The presenter also noted that it was hard to get actuaries to go to DC. “People who can talk to a lawmaker and have that kind of numerical skill are usually bought up by someone”. Interesting.

The day was long. I knew two people there from outside of my firm out of 200 but I imagine that’ll change over time. It felt good to be part of a larger actuarial community but I was alarmed at how few people there were under the age of 40. Many of the students present weren’t necessarily going into the actuarial field. I hope it’s not the case that I’ll be forever part of the younger attendees.

“Looks good, put a disclaimer on it and send it out.”
“Really? You don’t want to change anything?”
“Nah, it looks great. Didn’t find any errors.”
“…..ok.”

And with that, my first solo pricing was out in the world. The work wasn’t particularly complicated but it required a bit of leg work and I had taken steps to explain my assumptions so a 3rd party could follow. The recipient received the work, said thank you, and any errors or insights were now part of some vaguely defined “record””. Hooray, I suppose.

I’ve been doing solo pricing for about a year. I’m to the point where I can figure out when I need to raise my hand and ask for an adult and when I can just kind of run with something and add a footnote pointing out what I did. I consider it the actuarial equivalent of being able to ride your bike in a straight line but having trouble turning. Luckily, many destinations are a straight line from where I currently am. The critical question seems to be “why shouldn’t I do this” vs. “why should I do this other thing”. Often there’s a collection of acceptable methods and it’s more a process of removing the wrong ones and picking rather than simply drawing the correct tool from the rack. Maybe this changes over time (I imagine it does) but hopefully it doesn’t represent hubris or laziness.

For now, I’ll go in long straight lines and at minimum try to pedal faster.

The floor below went silent about two weeks ago. No more odd hour doorbell rings, no more smells of foreign spices, and no more late night I’m-not-sure-what parties. It was nice. Mail started piling up for my downstairs neighbors and an “APARTMENT FOR RENT” sign went up. Were they evicted or maybe left for the season? On my way up to my apartment, I saw no light under their door and out of curiosity turned the knob. The door opened and the apartment was full of stuff. I recognized a few items from the one or two times I’d interacted with them. I shuffled around their floor stealing glances at the artifacts of habitation which suggested way more than two people lived there. My eyes wandered over how their book cases were arranged, what furniture was used, how the TV was the focal point, and the spareness of their kitchen compared to mine. After a minute or so, I walked out and went to my unit.

I prepared dinner and then asked my housemate if he wanted to have a look. He said yes and we wandered down. The door was now locked. So I knocked as a check. No response.

Had someone come home? Was someone there when I visited the first time? I’m not sure. But I contacted the landlord who said their lease was continuing through August.

Interesting.

As homeownership becomes a serious consideration I find myself chewing on living arrangements. My space is shared with my housemate which works out by and large well. I by and large control the layout of things as I simply have more stuff and take up more space with it. My housemate does most of his activities outside the apartment while I don’t. At summer camp I shared my bedroom with two others through the age of 26. My downstairs neighbors seem to have something similar to that (or simply have a radically different arrangement where notional bedrooms aren’t used as such). I watched an action movie with an action scene that took place in a kitchen and I couldn’t help but stare at the counter tops. So many things to consider.

A recent hire asked me to her desk to help figure out why a data table in Excel wasn’t working properly. Data tables can be somewhat testy and when we got this one to work my coworker did a little dance and ran to tell another coworker we had figured it out.

I laughed, illuminated by her delight and said “Work is a lot more fun with you guys [the cohort of new hires] around”. She looked at me and said in her slight accent “That’s because you were jaded”. I’ve been at my current firm for less than three years and I’m “jaded”. Two weeks ago a coworker said I wasn’t spontaneous. I’m boring and jaded… I have some work to do.

The charge of being unspontaneous took me back. I’m been caught yelling things like “DR. SPACEMAN” and doing things like challenging people to foot races to settle disputes. Have I changed? Do I not have the spare 10% for the ridiculous or has some spontaneous part of me died? Is the office place just a bad environment to express it or am I just busy? Was it that I tend to send out meeting invites for training and tend to bake things on the same day of the week?

The paradox is that to prove her wrong, I can’t plan anything. I mentioned it to a coworker and his immediate response was “this calls for a glitter bomb”. Great, but the planning of such undoes spontaneous. And I feel like spontaneous and random are different, so bringing in the glitter bomb but not placing it until the mood moved me seems to somehow cheat.

Grrrr.

Me: Hi, I have a few questions about the pricing for the account you passed me.
Broker: (in a strong Dutch accent) Yes yes, what is it that you need?
Me: I’ve not priced many life and health accounts before, is there much development on these losses?
Broker: Development?
Me: Yes. Usually due to reporting lag losses for some period of time I higher a year after the close of the accounting period vs. a few months.
Broker: All payments must be requested within 90 days of billing.
Me: So claims don’t pop up later?
Broker: No. It’d be billed to successive years. Most people with chronic conditions go to the Netherlands but there is one little boy who is fighting a bone marrow infection and has been for two years. Everyone hopes he gets better.
Me: Me too.
Broker: Curacao has less than 200,000 people on it, Mr. Robinson.

In a very basic way, the goal of a reinsurance broker is to know his customer. This fellow seems to.

At the end of the call, he mentioned that he may try to arrange a call between me, him, and the chief actuary of one of the largest insurers on the island. I sounded a bit flummoxed at this, having never really talked directly to a client, and he added “don’t worry, he hasn’t been an actuary for that long”.

I mentioned the call to my boss “I’m terrified.” Her response was “me too”.

I took an actuarial exam yesterday and am happy with how I did. I left one blank, had four that I consider near guesses (could only rule out one or two answer choices) plus the probably background noise of me just misreading questions or fatfingering a key on my calculator. I will be glad if I pass but if I didn’t, I think I’ll have been close.

I ran a training session with the new hires and caught up on work I had put off. The day was frantic and I had only barely regained my abilities to interact with no calculators when I got a message from a coworker.

Him: Best loss listing ever.
Me: Howso?
Him: The entire description for this loss is “cleaning tools, testicles”.

Messages like this are why I fear an open laugh as my entire company would be able to hear us laugh. “Cleaning tools, testicles” means that at some point, some person in a claims department somewhere decided that the only additional information required to move forward on a workers’ compensation claim was “cleaning tools, testicles”. Someone thought that, in its entirety, described what had happened to the listed injured person. There was no additional information as to the line of work, the time of day, the type of person (presumably male?), or environment that solicited “cleaning tools, testicles” nor the chain of events that lead up to or followed “cleaning tools, testicles”. A simple mystery. One that will probably solved by a urologist and someone somewhere in an HR department.

Each exam gets a little easier to prepare for. It takes no less time but it takes less of a toll on me. My last exam had me using my treadmill at 3am to burn off nervous energy and the one before that had me reconsidering my career choice. I think I’ve gained a pound or two, less than a percent of my body weight and this may be due to the fact that I’ve eaten 3 lbs of peanut butter in one week. Two days ago, I decided to be classy and purchased almost two pounds of artisan cheese. That cheese is now gone. If this be the price of victory, I pay it gladly.

My memory for normal facts has deserted me and I’ve forgotten how cardinal directions work in addition to the finer points of arithmetic (such as 1+1 not equaling one) have taken holidays from my memory. I ask for no pity as I bring this entirely on myself. Most actuaries are less melodramatic with the toll exams can take on ones life. A Quebecois coworker who is also an actuary once said “I do not know why you complain. You either pass the exams and become an actuary, or you fail and you do not.” She’s like a statistical Hemmingway.

Recently I’ve also started noting some benefits. I have a certain confidence to being able to do large, difficult things if I want them. In the equivalent time of my last two exams, I probably could have become reasonably good at a foreign language or written a short novel or collection of stories. I could have mastered southern cooking or gotten back up to running 10Ks. I could have Again, this isn’t regret so much as a note to myself that when this is over, I will have little excuse not to do something of my time. On the more productive side, I could have watched every episode of the Simpsons or Law & Order.

I plan to. In the meantime, I have some practice problems to do/peanut butter to finish.

The man in question pulled his folding metal basket cart on the subway and looked around. He was dressed in a thawb and what looked like a Jinnah hat. He smiled at the car and looked around before pulling his cart up behind himself in car exit opposite where he entered. He seemed neat but not clean with probably tobacco stains on his fingers. We exchanged nods and I went back to my whatever. He fingered some piece of paper with multicolor writing on it the entire time he was in the car but not in a nervous way so much as in a manner to keep his hands busy while his mind wandered. The paper equivalent of twirling a pen. He and I left at the same shop, but I let him go first. Before exiting, he dropped the paper he was manipulating into a metal pamphlet container mounted by the entrance to the car. I waited a beat and let him completely exit before grabbing the paper.

This is what it said:
Front

Back

The paper itself smelt strongly of spices or oils that were alien to me. Probably the vanilla or lilac of generic “nice smell” of a culture more used to things more potent. I scanned the paper and returned it to the metal pamphlet holder the next time I took the subway.

My apartment is a large single-level dwelling. The kitchen is divided into a sink/range and a prep area, bisected by the egress and ingress to the pantry and from the living room, respectively. When I prepare bacon I use the George Foreman grill and repeated batches can generate a good bit of smoke. If I don’t close the door to the pantry the smoke alarm aka bacon siren will be activated regardless of how much ventilation I have in the kitchen. So I close the door, open the windows, and turn on the range exhaust fan for good measure. I set an alarm on my watch to go off after four or five minutes whereby I rotate the bacon or put a new raster on the grill. Normally I prepare about a lb of bacon in two or three batches but today I was going through a full three pounds in an effort to increase the amount of on-hand bacon in my kitchen. After about the fifth or sixth batch I glanced into the kitchen and saw a thick haze near the ceiling that would have made the fire alarm shit itself. This cloud was about two feet thick and made a nice band going from the grill to the exhaust. It flowed continuously and had periodic breaks when I rotated batches and for a moment there was no bacon to sizzle, punctuating its continuous stream. My mouth watered looking at realizing it was a cloud of bacon. If I could have bottled it I would to infuse other dishes but sadly, I don’t yet have this technology. My kitchen now had food-based weather and today a new phenomenon was witnessed, bacon haze.