Trouble in Paradise

Welcome

Things were going amazingly well at Security Life of Denver (see “The world needs another blog” to read the preface to this post). Kathryn and I were both working there, and both of us loved our jobs. But there were several flies in the ointment.

The first one was internal to Security Life. Besides building, updating, and operating the financial projection system (which had been my primary task when I first started working at SLD), I began to write data collection and statistical analysis programs. Lots of them. People in the actuarial department came to depend on these reports. They provided useful information about the company’s business. But the marketing department hated the picture the data were painting. For instance, death claims on the policies written by the company’s largest agencies were running about 150% higher than the company was assuming they would be. And overall mortality was about 25% above expectations.

Eventually the guys in marketing came to hate me, personally. I insisted on using accurate mortality assumptions in the financial projections I prepared, and these showed us making substantially smaller profits than the company was targeting. The marketing people said we should assume that our mortality experience would eventually improve. I insisted on the accuracy of my analysis of actual claims data. An actuary can’t just pick assumptions willy-nilly. He must pick assumptions that reflect reality.

The second fly in the ointment was the Board of Directors at ING, a Dutch financial conglomerate. (25 years ago, Security Life was a wholly owned subsidiary of ING. That company’s US operations were subsequently renamed VOYA.) ING had allowed SLD to function as an autonomous entity for many years. But about 1990 a number of the old timers retired from the Board. The new appointees were eager to show how much they had learned at business school. They decided to shake things up by forcing Security Life to merge with Life of Georgia, another of their US subsidiaries. This led to a huge culture clash.

Kathryn took the first hit. Life of Georgia decided that Security Life would have to migrate away from the “Pacesetter” (aka ALIS) system that had been running on an IBM mainframe for 20+ years and move its automated systems to a network of PCs running a system that had not yet been developed. Soon Kathryn was traveling to Georgia on a regular basis to consult with the design team for this boondoggle (which ultimately came to nothing — the last I heard, SLD was still running Pacesetter on a S/390 box). By the spring of 1994 she had gotten her fill of the new management. After looking over our finances (our house was fully paid for), I concluded that we could get along just fine without her paycheck. So she quit her job in April of 1994, after 10 years with SLD.

At about the same time, the Dutch Board of Directors decided to put the executives from Life of Georgia in charge of the combined companies. That meant my boss, Bob Jenkins, had to report to Linda Emory, who was a real piece of work. Bob couldn’t take it for long — he transferred out of actuarial and took a job in the programming department. That left Dan Fritz, an affable fellow just a few years older than I, in charge of SLD’s actuarial department. Dan lasted about six months, just long enough to land on his feet at VALIC in Houston, Texas.

Having driven two dedicated and hard-working actuaries out of the company in just eight months, Mrs. Emory next turned her sights on me. Her proposition was simple. I could be promoted to Senior Vice President if I would take the reins for SLD’s actuarial department, provided that I would willingly sign off on the company’s annual statement for the year 1994. I told her that I would accept the appointment as SLD’s actuary with one proviso: the “surplus relief” reinsurance treaty with ING in Holland — which obligated Security Life to make annual payments of roughly $750,000, but which would never allow SLD to obtain any actual cash benefit — would henceforth be reported as a $15 million liability, and not as a $180 million asset. This was totally unacceptable to Mrs. Emory. In the end she assumed the title of Chief Actuary at SLD, and some young whippersnapper from Georgia who had absolutely no knowledge of Security Life’s book of business signed the annual statement that year.

In January of 1995 I was informed that my services would not be needed after the 31st of March. My job function was being phased out. If I agreed to stay the whole three months and train my replacement (say what?),  I would receive a very generous severance package amounting to roughly $75,000. So on April 1, 1995 I joined the ranks of the unemployed.

The world needs another blog

Welcome

like I need another hole in my head. But I’m plunging in anyway.

Hello there. My name is David Bryant. Currently I’m living in Canyon Lake, Texas, with my wife Kathryn, my pug Tudie, my papillon Justin, and two parrots named Spanky (she’s a little rascal) and Boom-Boom (don’t ask why). Here are some pictures. Sorry, I don’t have any pictures of the birds handy. Maybe another day.

David, Kathryn, and Justin

My lovely wife Kathryn, our papillon Justin, and yours truly (in disguise).

And here’s a picture of Tudie the pug. I’m curious — how can I get these to display alongside each other? Research into WordPress internals is necessary, I guess.

Tudie the pug

Our little pug Tudie. Isn’t she cute?

I don’t have time to tell my whole life story, and you’re probably not interested anyway. So I’ll sketch this out pretty swiftly. I was born in Palmer, Alaska in 1951. I attended all 12 years of public school in Palmer, and graduated (first in my class) in May, 1969. I attended the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, and received my Bachelor’s degree (BS(Ma)) in June, 1973. Since I was a math major and I was not interested in an academic career, I entered the actuarial profession, obtaining the professional designation Associate, Society of Actuaries (ASA) in November of 1974.

I worked for several insurance companies in Los Angeles while I was earning the ASA designation. I soon tired of the crowded freeways and the perpetual summer in southern California; in September of 1975 I started working for United American Life in Denver, Colorado. I liked the job at UAL, but good things never last long enough. UAL was acquired by Western Preferred Life in September of 1977. By March of 1978 I had had it with WPL’s dishonest — crooked as a dog’s hind leg is what I ought to say — management team and their fraudulent accounting practices. I resigned my position and took my concerns to the Colorado Insurance Department’s actuary, Anthony Fagiano. An investigation ensued, and in 1984 Western Preferred was  put into conservatorship; a couple of the executive officers even went to jail.

In September, 1978 I went to work for Western Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company (WFBLIC) as a computer programmer. I had already developed strong programming skills with IBM assembly language. Since WFBLIC was installing LIFE-COMM from Equimatics in Dallas, it was a good fit. While working at WFBLIC I fell in love with Kathryn, who was also an assembly language programmer. She left WFBLIC for Security Life of Denver in April of 1984. In July we got married, and in late August we bought the house at 520 South Corona Street, where we lived happily — if not always harmoniously — for almost 29 years.

520 South Corona, Denver, CO

Our old house in Denver’s Washington Park neighborhood: 520 South Corona Street.

While working for WFBLIC I eventually lost the sour taste that actuarial work at Western Preferred had left in my mouth. In mid 1983 I joined WFBLIC’s actuarial department. That got stale; in January of 1985 I went to work for ICH in the Denver Tech Center. That didn’t last long. ICH was almost as crooked as Western Preferred had been. Rather than hang around and get burned again, I joined the actuarial department at Security Life of Denver in March, 1985. At last I had found a really good actuarial job! Security Life was an A+ company with a distinguished history going back to 1935. And Dick Horn, the president, was an actuary with an excellent professional reputation.

My assignment at Security Life allowed me to combine my actuarial and programming skills: I was supposed to write a computer program to project the future cash flows and profits / losses expected to arise from the company’s existing block of business. At the time I started working there, Security Life was still running OS/MVT on a 360/50. After running a bunch of benchmark tests using both floating point and fixed point binary calculation routines, I decided to go with fixed point binary; the same calculations took 2½ times as long to execute when coded in floating point.

It took about a year of intense effort to build the new projection program. The old program had been written in COBOL and took 20 – 30 hours to project 30 years of future cash flows, profits, and losses. My new program got the job done in 5 – 6 minutes, a 99.5% reduction in run time. Of course, the fact that the old 360/50 had been replaced with a shiny new 4381 didn’t hurt the run time. But the main improvement I had made was to eliminate most of the I/O operations the old program performed. Instead of reading lots of rate files, I calculated cash values and reserves for individual policies on the fly. Disk I/O operations are about 1,000 to 10,000 times slower than the internal processing speed of a modern CPU; you can increase the CPU time quite a lot (say 400% to 500%) and, if you effect even a small reduction in total I/O operations, the program will run in much less elapsed time.

Coming next: Trouble in paradise, Libertarian politics, and the move to Texas.