The Mid-Atlantic Insurance Underwriters Conference has a reliable history of being a very plain, straightforward affair. Mostly it is a convenient backdrop for an esteemed functionary of the insurance community to catch up with other esteemed functionaries of the insurance community within a particular region. It is a weekend of talking shop, eating passable cuisine, and ending with a toast for a more stable and less liable world, all within the sacred confines of the all-purpose room at the Ramada Inn off Route 10. Seldom is it ever a time to make bold innovative proposals or to divine the next frontier in insurance coverage.
The atmosphere could not have been more different at the 2018 conference held at the Holiday Inn in or around Atlantic City. Very little seemed out of place for much of that weekend, until the main cocktail hour and banquet on Saturday night when the master of ceremonies, associate vice president of insurance at CINCO Simon Hartman, announced a surprise speaker. Neither he nor the speaker specifically identified himself beyond his status as a “high-ranking” official at Old Glory Mutual. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it, ladies and gentlemen,” he is reported as saying, “the insurance world is in danger of freefall. We have lost all sense of purpose and respect. We seem driven only by panic and response to immediate problems. Is that why we got into this business?” “NO,” the audience was reported to have responded. “That’s what I thought. So you’ll agree that we need a dymanic [sic] new path to revitalize our industry and to restore it to its rightful place in America’s productive life.” “YES,” the audience allegedly cried. “Great! Without further ado, I introduce Steve insurance.”
Over plates of fish or chicken, the audience was rapt by this man’s presentation. It turns out that the insurance market has deprived itself of a significant source of business: people named Steve. He did not go into any exact detail as to how he came to this conclusion, nor did he clarify that people named Steve were objects to be insured or potential liabilities in currently existing policies. In short, he left it to us, the insurance community of the mid-Atlantic United States, to determine the proper course, a responsibility that was accepted with considerable vigor and enthusiasm.
I apologize for the secondhand nature of this account. As an actuary, it is not customary to be invited to such gatherings, nor do we actuaries crave such trappings. But it does fall upon us to assess potential avenues of business. It did not take long for the mid-Atlantic insurance community to marshal our resources and acquire the necessary data. This required going out into the wider world and finding people named Steve for whom we could examine quantitatively and qualitatively.
We actuaries are not known for, nor are we encouraged to have, strong feelings, but I would be remiss to deny that the Steve insurance project was one of the more interesting, if not fulfilling, endeavors of my career. Though the following cases of examined Steves cannot be seen as comprehensive, and no hard determination of their role in insurance has yet been assessed, it is generally agreed among my colleagues that they are illustrative.
Case no. 01
The first Steve* was one of exemplary character and comportment. He was a public school administrator with two college-aged children. He described himself as a “lapsed but respectful” Rotarian, who preferred lacrosse to football and A Million Little Things to This is Us. Before his work tasks became too time-consuming, he tutored recently immigrated students in English for free and adults for a small fee. He only ever admitted to voting for John Edwards “at one time or other.” He described his taste in pornography as “normal.” After the questionnaire, we offered him coffee and what we determined was a conservative dose of bath salts. From that moment his demeanor changed markedly. He stopped talking with us, preferring instead to bang his head against the two-way mirror at a rhythmic interval.
Case no. 02
This Steve was very much the opposite of the first. He had no educational credentials beyond the “school of hard knocks,” his career was listed as “freelance,” he owes alimony to two-going-on-three former spouses, and generally has poor relations with his immediate and possibly extended community. He claimed to have no interest in pornography and said that much of his leisure time was derived from old episodes of The Dating Game, which he viewed through his own extensive library of VHS recordings. We administered the same dosage of bath salts to Steve on the speculation that it would have the opposite effect of the previous Steve. This was proven incorrect gauging by the further damage to the two-way mirror, provided this time by the head of one of our Unpaid Associates.
Case no. 03
This Steve was neither notably bad nor notably good. He was a median Steve. His presentation was a strange combination of casual and careful. If he had a flaw, it was presented in a very expectant and ideal way, such as a near-perfectly curved, almost moon-shaped, scar on his right cheek. His hair was outgrown, but held in an upward position to resemble a sort of bun, which made some of us hungry. He wore sleek glasses frames that bore no immediate evidence of having lenses. He listed his career as “session bassist” but was dressed in a shirt, tie, and a nametag for TD Bank. He did not have car insurance but had a policy for his longboard that somehow had a $450 monthly premium. Beyond this we don’t really know much about median Steve. He tended to answer any of our questions with “Yeah,” “Okay, sweet,” “Sick,” “So righteous, dude,” “Badass,” and the like. In the end he offered us some of his own supply of bath salts with the assurances that they were “very tight butthole.” We appreciated the gesture, but demurred. We assessed median Steve’s demeanor as “relaxed,” which might constitute a kind of euphemism, but ethical considerations prevent me from either confirming or denying that this is so.
Case no. 04
For the sake of having a control case, we decided we needed to examine a compulsory Steve. This subject was brought to us by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous. There was some confusion in the arrangement, it seems, as this Steve arrived to our facility post-mortem. As a result, no useable data could be acquired.
Case no. 05
This subject proved to be the most contentious of the Steves. He introduced himself to us as a sociologist from an unnamed but assuredly “prominent and prestigious” university. From the get-go things did not go as usual. Instead of answering our questions he merely repeated them with different emphasis. For instance, when we asked him what he most valued in a mating partner he said, “What do you most value in a mating partner?” It was soon apparent that he thought he was here to examine us. I clarified the matter in firm but respectful terms, to which he snickered a little and took notes. Everything that happened thereafter I very much regret. “Listen, Steve,” I said, “I do not appreciate being made a guinea pig for your ‘social science.’ And, quite frankly, Steve, I look upon your profession with pity. What are sociologists but armchair actuaries?” Steve removed his very real glasses. “I’m sorry you feel that way,” he began. “But using your framing device, it can just as easily be argued that actuaries are economists who have never touched a woman.” This was too far, I thought. I could think of no other response than to call in Estelle, a female Unpaid Associate, and stand her next to me where I held my index finger to her shoulder with as respectful a delicacy as I could manage. “Fuck you, Steve,” I added. I offered to tender my resignation but everyone agreed it was unnecessary. Our Unpaid Associates endure much.
Case no. 06
Of this Steve not much can be said. It’s very possible that we have even less useable data than we do from the post-mortem Steve. We don’t know his career, whether he is married or single or with a miscellaneous partner(s). Of his leisure activities, his fears and desires, his greater worldview, or where he lives, we have nothing. Steve spent most of his session in tears — sobbing profusely, to be more precise. His voice emitted no clear language beyond wails and warbles, like those heard on an old tape recording. Occasionally he did stop, but not to catch his breath or wipe his nose. He was just still, staring blankly for five or six seconds before resuming as normal. This went on for up to 90 minutes before I was able to interject. “Just to be clear, Steve, this is not a therapeutic inquiry.” To which he stopped sobbing and replied, “Who is Steve?” He was sobbing again once we escorted him off the premises to the point where his sobbing was no longer our technical responsibility. His file his mostly blank, but under pornography habits we came to the consensus that it was “likely and indeterminate.”
* The names of the subjects have been changed to protect their privacy.