Driving towards her North Star: Actuary Nkenge Blue

Senior Product Actuary Nkenge Blue shared a cup of coffee with me over Zoom recently to chat about how her team is infusing traditional actuarial science with clinical research, technology and data science to help make Assured Allies’ Successful Aging mission possible. 

Nkenge Blue at apple farm
Nkenge at a company apple-picking event.

Why did you choose to join Assured Allies?

The mission is really what moved me.

Before I joined Assured Allies, I spent my entire career as an actuary at life insurance companies. I learned a lot about the fundamentals of the insurance business and actuarial principles, but was looking for an opportunity to innovate and make a real difference in people’s lives. Assured Allies’ mission to help people age successfully inspired me, and I was excited by the idea of pairing an evidence-based wellness program with life and long-term care (LTC) insurance.

What does Successful Aging mean to you?

I think about the elders in my community and how my grandparents didn’t want to lose or to leave their house; how they wanted to be able to do things on their own. That had a big impact on me. So for me it’s about aging in place and maintaining agency over your life as you age.

What is your role at Assured Allies?

I head up the actuarial team. We do a lot of different things. We work really closely with carriers to develop, design, and price innovative go-to-market life, annuity, and LTC insurance products. Since life insurance is a heavily regulated industry, we also help support preparing the filing materials that must be submitted to regulators. 

We also manage risk internally for Assured Allies, particularly with respect to our wellness program. Policyholders who participate in the wellness program can earn additional LTC insurance coverage that Assured Allies backs. We believe so strongly that our program will improve participants’ aging trajectory and health status that we take on the risk of the additional coverage for the carrier. So my team does a lot of analysis on this. What’s the impact to Assured Allies bottom line if we overestimate the impact of our wellness program? What if we underestimate it? Things like that. 

What’s one of the most misunderstood aspects of actuarial work?

Most people think that all we do is just calculate when people are going to die. But that is such a small part of the work we do. We are in the business of assessing and managing risk – any risk. Sure, mortality is one risk, but there’s also morbidity and aging risk, interest rate risk, regulatory risk, even corporate reputational risk. So it’s a lot more diverse than people think.

What’s unique about the actuarial work being done at Assured Allies?

Two things. Traditionally actuaries look at a snapshot of a prospective policyholder’s health – their BMI, A1C level, blood pressure, etc. – and compare it to historical data to calculate risk. But my team works with Assured Allies’ clinical and R&D teams to try and quantify how we can step in, intervene with a cutting-edge wellness program, and change the aging trajectory. So number one that’s a very cool, different way of approaching this. Number two, we are also a technology company and my team gets to use all of the data science tools and technology that the Israeli team is building to facilitate and deepen our actuarial work. That’s pretty unique too. We are merging the clinical side and the technical side to create something that actuaries haven’t really done yet.

What is most challenging and rewarding about your work?

Working in uncharted territory. Building something from scratch is really exciting. If we deliver on our promise to help people age in place and stay healthy for longer, it will feel really great. It’s like the North Star that we’re all working towards. It’s also the biggest challenge because there’s nothing else out there that matches what we are doing; there are no maps. We are leveraging data sets when we can find them and building new bridges between clinical research and traditional actuarial practice at insurance companies. We also have to be able to sit down with a client and translate what we’re doing in a way that inspires them to come on board with us, which can be challenging! 

How would you describe the company culture?

The culture here is more open and interdisciplinary than other companies I’ve worked for. People jump in and add value wherever they can. There are great development opportunities for staff and I feel like we’re creating the culture as a group and growing with it together.

How do you manage life-work balance?

I like to step away from my desk to take a break and reset, and working from home gives me that flexibility. Cooking lunch for example – instead of dashing out from the office to grab a bite (I used to work in New York City), I take the time to make myself a nice hot meal. Today was sauteed spinach and feta!  And I have a basketball hoop here so I can shoot around and take a break when I need to.

Interviewing Nkenge on Zoom (with basketball hoop)
Katharine de Baun
Katharine has managed online content since 1994, when she founded one of the first parenting communities online. She is passionate about continually learning and promoting Successful Aging in her job as content manager at Assured Allies.