Douglas Anderson

Douglas Anderson is the founder of Club Vita, a company that provides data and analytical tools to help evaluate longevity risk.

Anderson's interest in longevity is influenced by his background; both his father and grandfather were doctors with a strong interest in the life sciences. He went to university to study geography, but ended up with a degree in statistics, followed by a position in the Government Actuary's Department (GAD).

"GAD offered me a scholarship for a year to go back to university, and then provided a huge diversity of challenge" - he says. This 'diversity of challenge' included helping a number of Eastern European countries reform their pension systems, and projecting the UK's National Insurance Fund. After 10 years at GAD, Anderson moved to Hymans Robertson, where he spent a further 10 years before founding Club Vita. We meet with him at the IFoA's office in London, and start by asking what led to Club Vita's establishment just over 10 years ago.

"I was leading the practice at Hymans Robertson that advised local government pension schemes" - he begins. There was a dispute about the removal of some early retirement rights on the grounds that people were living longer, but with limited evidence to support that claim. We collected data on 50 such schemes and were able to demonstrate the increase in longevity. Extending the idea to the private sector was the next step, and it quickly expanded beyond Hymans Robertson's advisory clients to reach its present size.

Club Vita remains owned by Hymans Robertson, but is run as an autonomous, separate business. We are not positioning ourselves as a consulting business; the conflicts of interest are material and it's better for us to separate ourselves from the advisory function. Asked what has changed since Club Vita started, Anderson says: "Actuaries talked mortality rather than longevity and were regarded as being the people who set the assumptions for longevity". It was almost as if the trustees of the pension plan, or the finance director of the insurance company, would outsource that task to their actuary. It has now become more of an enterprise risk management (ERM) application, rather than just setting an assumption.

A catalyst for change and source of inspiration was Richard Willets' paper on the cohort effect. His identification of the 'golden cohort', and the succession of good things that manifested themselves across their lifetime, such as antibiotics and appreciation of the risks of smoking, was very influential.

Another development is that postal code information has become the most statistically significant covariate, more so than gender, in explaining the diversity in the model. The core issue that transcends most of the developed world is the substantial difference in life expectancy between different socio-economic groups.

Club Vita has operated in Canada for some years, a market with much similarity to the UK, and further expansion into other countries is anticipated. This includes the US, with Anderson noting: "People have long felt longevity is a less significant issue there because, typically, pension funds don't provide cost of living increases, but many companies have got post-retirement healthcare obligations."