David Mackay includes an interesting Bayesian exercise in one of his books . It’s introduced as a situation where a Bayesian approach is much easier and more natural than equivalent frequentist methods. After mulling it over for a while, I thought it was interesting that Mackay only gives a passing reference to what I would consider the obvious ‘actuarial’ approach to this problem, which doesn’t really fit into either category – curve fitting via maximum likelihood estimation.
On reflection, I think the Bayesian method is still superior to the actuarial method, but it’s interesting that we can still get a decent answer out of the curve fitting approach.
The book is available free online (link at the end of the post), so I’m just going to paste the full text of the question below rather than rehashing Mackay’s writing:
I received an email from a reader recently asking the following (which for the sake of brevity and anonymity I’ve paraphrased quite liberally)
I’ve been reading about the Poisson Distribution recently and I understand that it is often used to model claims frequency, I’ve also read that the Poisson Distribution assumes that events occur independently. However, isn’t this a bit of a contradiction given the policyholders within a given risk profile are clearly dependent on each other?
It’s a good question; our intrepid reader is definitely on to something here. Let’s talk through the issue and see if we can gain some clarity.
I work as an actuary and underwriter at a global reinsurer in London.