We focus on modelling categorical features and improving predictive power of neural networks with mixed categorical and numerical features in supervised learning tasks.
The goal of the paper is to challenge the current dominant approach in actuarial data science with a new architecture of a neural network and a new training algorithm. The key proposal is to use a joint embedding for all categorical features, instead of separate entity embeddings, to determine the numerical representation of the categorical features which is fed, together with all other numerical features, into hidden layers of a neural network with a target response.
In addition, we postulate that we should initialize the numerical representation of the categorical features and other parameters of the hidden layers of the neural network with parameters trained with (denoising) autoencoders in unsupervised learning tasks, instead of using random initialization of parameters. Since autoencoders for categorical data play an important role in this research, they are investigated in more depth in the paper. We illustrate our ideas with experiments on a real data set with claim numbers, and we demonstrate that we can achieve a higher predictive power of the network.