Disseminating New Ideas to the Actuarial ProfessionQ&A with Dr. Montserrat Guillen Estany on the NAAJ May 2023
The North American Actuarial Journal (NAAJ) is the SOA’s peer-reviewed scientific publication for actuaries and academics. The NAAJ publishes well-researched papers on cutting-edge issues affecting the actuarial profession. On Jan. 1, 2023, Montserrat Guillen Estany, Ph.D., M.A., M.Sc., began her three-year term as the editor-in-chief of the NAAJ, bringing extensive scholarly and actuarial knowledge to inform her new role. Dr. Guillen Estany joined the NAAJ Editorial Board in 2015 as a co-editor, and she offers significant experience as an editor and associate editor with other major journals as well.
We caught up with Dr. Guillen Estany to discuss her new role, future content in the NAAJ and her views on the future of the actuarial profession.
What brings you the most satisfaction in serving as an editor of the NAAJ?
I love supporting the dissemination of knowledge. Someone has an idea that they are expressing through a scholarly paper, but to enable people to understand and benefit from that idea, the paper needs to be clearly communicated. This is where the role of the editor comes in, to advise authors on how to clearly express their ideas and help them apply sound and scientifically proven methods.
From your vantage point as an educator and researcher, how do you see the actuarial profession developing in terms of opportunities and the need for actuaries in an increasingly risky world?
Actuaries are quantitative people, and they have adapted to the availability of vast amounts of data. They’re able to address models for big data and predict phenomena, especially extreme phenomena. I appreciate how they provide information helpful for not only insuring against risk but also to prevent risk. I strongly believe insurance is a form of solidarity between people, and actuarial practitioners are applying math for a good purpose. For example, practical applications of theories I learned in school help ordinary people, businesses and government when catastrophes occur. Additionally, actuaries have been providing information and analysis that contribute to preventing extreme phenomena and avoid having to compensate for them. This is where actuaries are making a big difference now and into the future: risk mitigation in addition to compensation.
What role does the NAAJ play in the actuarial profession?
Sometimes this role is not well understood, but scientific journals push the advancement of knowledge and make it available to everyone. The NAAJ is doing this as well, helping prepare new generations of actuaries. This is academia’s role: to make advances in the science and profession and, at the same time, teach new actuaries.
You’ve been on the NAAJ editorial board since 2015, and you’ve worked as an editor on other actuarial journals as well. What are some of the changes and exciting topics you’ve seen arise over the past few years?
In the scientific world, new, exciting topics are continually developing. One such topic is cybersecurity and cyber insurance. Together with an explosion of methods inspired by the evolution of machine learning (ML), there have been developments in computer and data science and the first steps of artificial intelligence (AI). All this has become popular in the actuarial field. It has generated discussions about the risk of discrimination in AI models—by ethnicity, race, gender and other factors—and how we can address that when we design an insurance policy.
What’s important for academics isn’t always the same as what’s important for the profession. Sometimes solutions are developed, but the industry isn’t ready to implement them, so they need bridges urgently. Journals can be that bridge and serve as a way to disseminate knowledge. In this way, ideas spread across the globe much more quickly than decades ago. Consultants do that all the time. They read the NAAJ and extract the information that can be used in business.
What do you want SOA members and others to know about NAAJ content?
They should know they have a diamond here, one of the most distinguished journals in actuarial science. Being published in the NAAJ is being accepted by the scientific community. Also, the editorial board is open-minded about topics in the NAAJ; the editors have always been receptive to new ideas. The NAAJ editorial board often is willing to publish the first paper on a topic and not wait until the topic shows up in other journals. So, readers can go online before the NAAJ is even printed, and they will see papers on interesting areas.
Additionally, people may not realize the NAAJ is international, not just about North America. As a result, it has gained a lot of attention from European universities. Because of its international breadth, there are sometimes challenges because papers might be from regions where insurance works differently than in other parts of the world. For example, regulations and priorities can be different from place to place. So, the editorial board ensures authors explain local idiosyncrasies when papers speak about a specific region’s situation.
In your opinion, how can regularly reading the NAAJ help an actuary’s knowledge and career?
NAAJ readers will not see an immediate application of the ideas expressed in the journal. Sometimes the gap between invention and its application can be as long as 10 years because people must understand the idea first and overcome limitations. On the other hand, readers of the NAAJ can learn about technology trends before they become everyday realities. For instance, when we were told about mobile phones that would serve not only as telephones but as sources of information, it seemed impossible. It’s the same way with technology trends affecting insurance.
Additionally, the SOA Research Institute often hosts a call for papers that highlight the practical applications of research published in the NAAJ. This is another way we are working together to harness the information from these articles for practical uses.
How does being published in the NAAJ potentially help one’s career?
Getting published helps careers in academia; a big part of one’s academic CV is the quality of publications produced. Getting published in the NAAJ is a guarantee the authors can contribute to the actuarial profession—that they will have an impact. For practitioners, reading the papers in the NAAJ will give them a preview of the latest trends and developments.
What are some of the qualities or characteristics that the NAAJ editorial board looks for in articles submitted for publication?
The NAAJ editorial board expects quality—that the paper is topical and that the authors have applied the scientific standard. The scientific standard is particularly important, and we on the editorial board follow the FAIR guiding principles that were published in Scientific Data in 2016 for scientific data management and stewardship.
The editorial board is also looking for papers that have an explicit practical application, and co-authorship is often the best way to achieve this. Each contributor provides parts that are essential to advance the main idea. The NAAJ wants to attract authors who can clearly communicate their ideas, work ethically, produce quality work and have the desire to spread their findings and disseminate knowledge. We on the editorial board are gatekeepers who ensure the integrity of the content, and we’re eager to collaborate with authors to help ensure their papers meet our standards.
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Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries or the respective authors’ employers.
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