Seniors need and trust their personal physicians. In the same way, seniors should need and trust their personal actuaries. Both professionals are on the senior’s side. Both, in fact, are “primary care providers.”

What is the personal actuary movement all about?

Actuaries have been around for 200 years; they have designed all those insurance and retirement plans. For the most part, actuaries have advised insurance companies and pension plan sponsors.

But in 1992, a breakthrough occurred. Some actuaries reasoned that, since the coin has two sides, why can’t actuaries advise retirement plan recipients as well as the plan providers? That’s when the personal actuary movement began.

As of July 2006, some 5,000 personal actuaries were providing services in North America, according to estimates by my firm.

This is an amazingly broad field. A senior could ask his or her personal actuary: Which of these prescription drug plans should I take? Upon my retirement, which of the complicated plan options should I take? Was my homeowner’s claim paid correctly? What about my daughter’s impending divorce; is she being treated right financially? Should I take that life settlement I am being offered (for my big policy)? Am I healthy enough to stay in my home?

Seniors, especially, can be helped by personal actuarial service. This service addresses many of the problems mentioned in Chart 1.

Here is one example: Marjorie, age 85, never married. The personal actuary was contacted when she started showing signs of dementia. The actuary discovered Marjorie had had some armed forces service during World War II, so he led her through the approval process for veteran’s benefits. He also helped her arrange assisted living from her limited assets.

Personal actuarial service applies to younger ages, too. The most interesting case I’ve seen involved an 11-year-old boy who had suffered severe internal injuries at a go-cart track. (The personal actuary estimated the future health care costs; the result was a million dollar settlement for the boy.)

In another case, a personal actuary had a visit to the office. It was a young woman with a new baby in her arms. Divorce was impending. Sure enough, her share of the pension fund had been wrongly calculated. A letter from the personal actuary (to the lawyers) fixed that problem instantaneously.

In still another case, a broker wanted to know: “Mathematically speaking, which of these proposed policies is best for my client?” The personal actuary’s calculations enabled the broker to make a sale.

In short, the personal actuary does “personal risk management” for the client. Such an actuary certainly needs intimate knowledge of all those complicated insurance and retirement plans.

Amazingly, in the course of their work, personal actuaries find themselves performing hard-core actuarial skills, which no one else can do. These include analyses of real life expectancy and real health expectancy. Chart 2 shows health expectancy information of the kind that a personal actuary might routinely provide.

It is important to know that personal actuaries are not in competition with financial advisors of any type (or with insurers).

Rather, they help those advisors (or insurers) when a client has questions needing actuarial expertise. In the same way that a personal physician can call in a specialist, a financial advisor can call in a personal actuary.

To maintain complete independence, the personal actuary’s compensation model is hourly pay or a flat fee.

Insurers are starting to have personal actuarial departments (by whatever name called). National brokerage networks are starting to hire personal actuaries; their duties are to assess product value from the consumer’s viewpoint.

Where senior clients are concerned, personal actuaries come into the picture when the senior’s case requires independent actuarial expertise.