Setting your Borel Point

What is a Borel Risk Point you ask?  Emile Borel once said

“Events with a sufficiently small probability never occur”.

Your Borel Risk Point (BRP) is your definition of “sufficiently small probability” that causes you to ignore unlikely risks.

Chances are, your BRP is set at much too high of a level of likelihood.  You see, when Borel said that, he was thinking of a 1 in 1 million type of likelihood.  Human nature, that has survival instincts that help us to survive on a day to day basis, would have us ignoring things that are not likely to happen this week.

Even insurance professionals will often want to ignore risks that are as common as 1 in 100 year events.  Treating them as if they will never happen.

And in general, the markets allow us to get away with that.  If a serious adverse event happens, the unprepared generally are excused if it is something as unlikely as a 1 in 100 event.

That works until another factor comes into play.  That other factor is the number of potential 1 in 100 events that we are exposed to.  Because if you are exposed to fifty 1 in 100 events, you are still pretty unlikely to see any particular event, but very likely to see some such event.

Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York State reportedly told President Obama,

New York “has a 100-year flood every two years now.”
Solvency II has Europeans all focused on the 1 in 200 year loss.  RISKVIEWS would suggest that is still too high of a likelihood for a good Borel Risk Point for insurers. RISKVIEWS would argue that insurers need to have a higher BRP because of the business that they are in.  For example, Life Insurers primary product (which is life insurance, at least in some parts of the world) pays for individual risks (unexpected deaths) that occur at an average rate of less than 1 in 1000.  How does an insurance company look their customers in the eye and say that they need to buy protection against a 1 in 1000 event from a company that only has a BRP of 1 in 200?
So RISKVIEWS suggest that insurers have a BRP somewhere just above 1 in 1000.  That might sound aggressive but it is pretty close to the Secure Risk Capital standard.  With a Risk Capital Standard of 1 in 1000, you can also use the COR instead of a model to calculate your capital needed.
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One Comment on “Setting your Borel Point”

  1. Mickael Says:

    A more likely translation I have seen (not having seen/read the original) talks about “essentially impossible” rather than “never occur” which disturbs the dormant statistics teacher in me — contrast ‘negligible risk’ to ‘risk free’ or ‘to precision zero’ to ‘(exactly) zero’. Other than that, what I take away from this short piece is not ‘Setting my Borel point’ as much as being reminded of how I should align my actions to it.


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