Strategic Research Programs

Q&A with Sara W. Goldberg and R. Dale Hall

In support of the Society of Actuaries (SOA) 2017–2021 Strategic Plan, the organization developed the Strategic Research Program Initiative to determine key themes of strategic research for the future. Sara W. Goldberg, FSA, MAAA, chair of the initiative’s task force, and R. Dale Hall, FSA, CERA, MAAA, SOA managing director of Research, share details about this new endeavor.

How did the Strategic Research Program Initiative come about?

Goldberg: In 2017, the SOA established a task force on this Strategic Research Program Initiative to help lead this process. Both Dale and I worked on this task force, which consisted of a group of SOA members completing a comprehensive review of potential research themes. We looked at research program themes to focus on for the next three to five years. The task force focused on research areas that emphasize actuaries’ skill sets and thought leadership on important societal issues. These programs are intended to bring together existing projects, resources and materials, and combine them with new research studies and papers to be developed over the next few years. The task force presented its recommendations to the SOA Board of Directors on the key research themes. During the SOA Board’s 2017 October meeting, the Board approved five strategic research programs as part of this initiative.

What are the key themes identified?

Hall: The five Strategic Research Programs are on aging and retirement, actuarial innovation and technology, mortality and longevity, health care cost trends, and catastrophe and climate. These programs purposely cover a variety of practice areas, international applicability, research methods and key audiences for the SOA.

What is the focus of each of the programs?

Goldberg: There’s a lot of planning to do as we form research steering committees for each program. But we already know the core focus areas and related subject matter to cover in our research efforts. The first two programs are on retirement and innovation.

The Aging and Retirement Research Program will look at the societal and financial impact of aging populations. That means examining the different solutions to help mitigate the various retirement risks. This research will provide insights on individual risks faced in retirement, and topics include retirement planning decisions and retirement income, pensions and retirement systems, and long-term care insurance. We also want to examine the implications of the population living to older ages on average.

For the Actuarial Innovation and Technology Research Program, we will explore the impact of new technologies on actuarial work and on traditional employers of actuaries. It will include studying accelerated underwriting, machine learning, telematics and other innovations relevant to the actuarial field and the insurance industry.

Research Reads

Actuarial Review of Insurer Insolvencies
The Society of Actuaries (SOA), Canadian Institute of Actuaries (CIA) and Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) jointly released research on the causes of insolvency and decisions made by management, regulators and policyholders over the life cycle of the insolvency. It looks at historical insurer impairments and insolvencies and possible future prevention indicators.

Health Provider Networks
and Exchanges

A report from the Health Section Research Committee looks at health provider network performance with a focus on experiences with health exchanges.

Multiemployer Pension Plan Research
The SOA released reports on metrics for measuring U.S. multiemployer pension plans on contributions paid down unfunded liabilities and on the impact of employer withdrawals.

Hall: The other three projects (to be worked on in 2019 and 2020) will cover mortality, health care and climate topics.

The Mortality and Longevity Research Program will involve the development of experience studies and the analyses of mortality and longevity trends. We’ll also examine factors affecting models and mortality predictions, so we plan on studying mortality improvement, population mortality and the socioeconomic drivers of longevity.

The Health Care Cost Trends Research Program will focus on health care utilization and cost drivers, including demographics, social factors and both medical and pharmaceutical utilization. It is important to learn more about public health and population health, along with health intervention and preventive medicine.

The Catastrophe and Climate Research Program aims to better understand climate trends and the impact of extreme events. That means more research on the shifting climate patterns, the impact on mortality and health from climate events, the use of public insurance and disaster response efforts.

What are the next steps?

Goldberg: We’re working on the Aging and Retirement Research Program. The current steps include the development of a steering committee, which will help refine the types of research projects for the program. The group will also form a landing page that will include our existing body of research on the topic. By the end of this year, we will start work on the Actuarial Innovation and Technology Research Program. Stay tuned for more details on the development and progress of these programs. Visit the strategic research page for updates and to find volunteer opportunities to participate.

Visit for the latest updates on new research opportunities, data requests, experience studies and completed research projects.

Get an overview of the SOA Strategic Research Programs and download the infographic on the key themes.

Sara W. Goldberg, FSA, MAAA, is chair of the SOA Strategic Research Program Initiative Task Force.
R. Dale Hall, FSA, CERA, MAAA, is SOA managing director of Research.