Erik Wenzel Senior Product Actuary at Assured Allies, recently lowered his 6’9” frame into a chair to munch on his favorite snack, popcorn, and to chat about how his team’s innovative work is foundational for exciting new products like NeverStop.
Actuarial science isn’t one of the better-known fields. In your own words, what do actuaries do? Why are they important?
Without actuaries, there would be no insurance! Traditionally, actuaries use math to determine how much money insurance companies should charge for policies and keep in reserve to pay for future claims. At Assured Allies, our actuaries perform this work, sure, but we also do so much more. We work with software developers, data scientists, and clinical experts to develop the innovative modeling capabilities and underwriting algorithms behind new products like NeverStop, which will really help to address our country’s retirement crisis.
What is innovative about NeverStop? How does it help fill unmet needs in the long-term care insurance and retirement financial product marketplace today?
NeverStop is a wellness program for adults 55+, offered in partnership with financial companies, that helps people to extend their healthy life years, prevent dementia and other diseases, and improve their financial security. It’s innovative on several fronts. First, our Assured Digital Underwriting shrinks a process that used to take several weeks into less than 30 minutes. Second, our members earn increased long-term care insurance (LTC) coverage by taking simple, evidence-based healthy actions on a personalized Aging Map. Third, our unique combination of actuarial and data science, technology, clinical expertise, member engagement, and wellness enables us to design new products that not only provide financial protection, but also enable people to extend their healthy years. Last but not least, our products are priced using super-fast and flexible actuarial software (we use the programming language Rust).
In sum, NeverStop is a product that goes far beyond its individual pieces to optimize value and reduce risk for the insurance company, the insurance agent, and the customer. It’s a win-win.
The actuarial team seems very tight, hard-working and also fun. What’s unique about the NeverStop actuary team? What is your role and that of others on the team?
Our actuarial team is entirely remote, but we remain a tight group largely due to the warmth, inclusiveness and passion of our team members. We’ve had team offsites in Boston, Tel-Aviv, Raleigh, and Chicago where we often talk late into the evening about the nuances of underwriting, actuarial modeling, and product innovation. We also have fun! Our team outings have included cooking classes, escape rooms, apple picking, bowling, touring Jerusalem, and sporting events.
As a Senior Product Actuary, my role on the team is to evaluate new product designs. Taya Hnateyko, our Pricing Actuary, determines pricing and works with Paddy Horan, our Tech & Tools Actuary, to build actuarial models. Bob Yee is our resident actuarial and long-term care expert. Nkenge Blue is our leader and coordinates our work with other teams at Assured Allies.
Do actuaries have a reputation, and if so what is it? Is it well-deserved?
Actuaries have a reputation for being math geeks. This is at least partially true since you have to pass over seven grueling math-based exams that take over four years to complete. Every actuary loves math, but they are also well-rounded professionals who drive key business decisions and innovation at their companies. This is definitely the case at Assured Allies. Our team is integrated deeply into the new product innovation pipeline.
What do you like best about working at Assured Allies?
I’m a big fan of the company’s mission to enable all older adults to age successfully. I also love the company culture, which is very employee-centric, inclusive, and engaging. I enjoy going beyond traditional actuarial work, which typically involves repeating the same processes each quarter. I joined Assured Allies in April 2020 at the start of the pandemic, knowing it was a risk to leave a corporate job for a startup. That risk has paid off immensely. It’s very rewarding to do meaningful work that makes a real difference in the lives of older adults.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
My favorite way to unwind after work or on the weekend is by making a delicious and healthy meal for our family. I recharge my batteries by playing pick-up basketball at 5 am twice a week at a local rec center. I spend a lot of time with our five kids and enjoy weekly date nights with my wife. I also enjoy actively participating as a teacher and activity leader for children at my church.
How has your view of aging changed since working at Assured Allies? What do you hope for your own aging?
Diving into the science of aging at Assured Allies has opened my eyes as to how society’s views on aging are often false and limiting. I’ve watched each of my four grandparents experience different aging paths, from Parkinson’s, cognitive decline caused by a stroke, neurological disease, and cancer. Watching their struggles, I am motivated to learn about these diseases and do everything I can to prevent them, primarily through sleep, exercise, and healthy eating. I am excited about aging and plan to continue skiing, cooking, and playing basketball until I’m in my 90s, while taking full advantage of future medical advances.
What’s something about you that no one would ever guess is true?
On my first day at Assured Allies, I accepted the company’s challenge to do an impromptu freestyle rap over Zoom, a challenge that no one else has ever accepted (luckily we were a small team back then and the meeting was not recorded).