100 years of actuarial science at HEC Lausanne!
Then known as École des HEC, the Faculty of Business and Economics at UNIL was the first institution in Switzerland to introduce a degree specifically dedicated to actuarial science, 100 years ago. The school’s Master in Actuarial Science now has over 70 students and is the only program in Switzerland available in English. We explore this rich and fascinating science and take a look back at the origins of the program at HEC Lausanne.
This year, actuarial science has pride of place at HEC Lausanne! Last month, over 150 people – students, PhD students, professors, graduates and friends of the discipline – met on campus at UNIL to celebrate the 100th anniversary of teaching actuarial science at HEC Lausanne.
But first of all, what is an actuary?
While the definition of the profession on Wikipedia might well scare off anyone who is uncomfortable with figures, probabilities and statistics, the application of actuarial science is increasingly central to our societies, in the role it plays in terms of welfare protection and insurance.
The fascinating discipline of actuarial science and the profession of actuary appeared as soon as people began to think about how to organise and fund a life insurance system, i.e. in the middle of the 18th century. It was essential, in order to guarantee the viability of the system, to have access to statistics, mortality tables and a method of calculation that could assign a “fair” financial contribution to each policyholder and assess the amount of money the institution would need to cover its financial commitments.
Today, there are over 50,000 actuaries in practice worldwide, and according to the World Bank, a further 25,000 are needed. An occupation of the future, which, at HEC Lausanne, now dates back over 100 years.
Following in the footsteps of Jules Chuard and Charlie Jéquier, two emblematic figures in actuarial science
The School of Business and Economics opened in 1911. Eight years later, it was the first institution in Switzerland to launch a degree dedicated to actuarial science: the Bachelor’s in Commercial and Actuarial Science.
Later, in the 1920s, came two leading figures, whose names would remain rooted in the soul of the discipline at HEC Lausanne. Jules Chuard (1891-1967) joined the institution as a part-time lecturer, in 1925. He taught probability calculation and financial mathematics. Charlie Jéquier (1891-1969), joined the School in 1926, to teach actuarial mathematics for life insurance. He would also deliver specialist courses on profits, their sources and their distribution to policyholders.
After spending almost 30 years of their careers at the university, both lecturers retired at the same time, in 1961. Both clearly left their mark in the field at the time, as outstanding teachers who were very popular with their students, and as the authors of various books and publications that would become leading references in the teaching of actuarial science in French.
From Degree to Master: actuarial science continued to grow within the university between the 1960s and 1980s, until it was time to create a separate structure for it. As a result, the Institute of Actuarial Science opened in 1981. It was followed by the launch of the Master in Actuarial Science in 2005. Since then, the program has continued to develop, with the arrival of new professors with complementary areas of expertise, and changes in technology.
What is the future of actuarial science in society and at HEC Lausanne?
“Actuaries face some interesting challenges, with new tools such as data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence, along with the upheaval the insurance industry will face with the development of InsurTechs,” comments Professor François Dufresne, director of the Master in Actuarial Science. While the present is already hugely engaging, the future looks very promising, in particular with the high demand for actuaries significantly outstripping supply. “The decision to become an actuary is a clear route to professional status and a successful career,” concludes Prof. Dufresne.
This 100th anniversary is a remarkable milestone, insofar as it highlights a discipline that has been recognized as essential by the university from the outset, and an area of expertise that has grown in confidence and established itself over time, as well as being indispensable for the future.
par HEC Communication