Contingency

Written by Brian Rihner:

Contingency – a future event or circumstance that is possible but cannot be predicted with certainty. This is why actuaries plan, model, and calculate – to deal with contingencies and to minimize the risk of loss. Brian Rihner

As a Product Development Life and Annuity actuary, I enjoyed using empirically tested models and distribution theories to help both policyholders and our company deal with those future events that we can never be certain of. Being an actuary taught me how to think better – to use reason (and sometimes wisdom) to discern the best course of action given the evidence (data) that was presented to me.

One contingency I did not foresee in my first 10 years of being an actuary was changing careers. I had the best career in America as many job measurement and forecast magazine articles announced. But contingencies can be very hard to predict sometimes.

I did decide to change careers, but I still use empirically tested models and even an occasional distribution theory. I always use the way being an actuary helped me think – to use reason to discern the best course of action given the evidence presented.

My main daily work now is based on “a reasoned trust”. The main difference is that as an actuary I trusted the numbers, mathematical theories, and time-tested models. I trusted things that had clearly shown they were trustworthy. But now, instead of only trusting in these very useful abstract objects, now I trust a person, because the evidence presented illustrated that he was trustworthy.

A reasoned trust – faith. The person – Jesus of Nazareth who said he was God, then gave evidence for it. The Bible never teaches that faith is just wishing or a blind leap. If it did I wouldn’t stand in front of a congregation each week and teach about his life, death, and resurrection. Being an actuary taught me that it is not reasonable to trust someone (or something) that has not given sufficient evidence to be deemed trustworthy.

Jesus himself taught often about contingencies (e.g. John 16:33). As actuaries we know that there is one event that can be predicted with certainty. Every mortality table, no matter what population it is derived from, ends at 1. But then again, that’s why he came – not so much to change our mortality tables, but to give assurance to the contingency of what happens after mortality – John 5:24.

Looking at his evidence convinced me that he was trustworthy. So I follow him. And although it certainly wasn’t necessary to change careers to follow him – most can and should continue following him in their current career – I did decide to make the change. Not because I didn’t like being an actuary, but at least partly because of what the experience of being an actuary taught me and because of how actuaries are wired — we look at the evidence and reasonably trust where it leads.

The “actuary” in a person really never completely goes away, nor should it. I guess in some ways I’m still an actuary. I still deal with contingencies and in a somewhat different form of life insurance.