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Reinsurance industry can function without Monte Carlo, but wants it back

The global reinsurance market will not be hindered by the absence of its usual schedule of conferences in the run-up to its most important renewal date, say market participants, although they add that there is no real replacement for the interaction these conferences allow as the industry heads toward Jan. 1.

The best-known pre-Jan. 1 conference is the Rendez-vous de septembre, which has taken place in Monte Carlo for the past 63 years. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, what would have been the 64th Rendez-vous, scheduled for Sept. 12-17, has been canceled. The other staple of the pre-renewals conference season — the more understated event in Baden-Baden, Germany — has also fallen victim to the pandemic.

At these events, the typical conference trappings of keynote speakers and a hall full of corporate stands are, where present at all, a sideshow to the flurry of back-to-back half-hour meetings in hotel lobbies and cafés, where reinsurers, brokers and insurers try to size up the market, and each other. When finished with meetings, they head to cocktail parties and private dinners where discussions continue into the night.

Breaking with tradition

In the absence of the usual events, and restrictions on travel and socializing more generally, the industry is having to turn to online conferencing applications such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams to stay in touch. There is much to discuss this year, with reinsurance rates hardening, interest rates falling and the potential for an active tropical cyclone season to add to a large and mounting coronavirus claims bill.

Despite its reputation for conservatism and the importance it places on face-to-face meetings, the industry seems to have taken the change in its stride. Marc Beckers, head of Europe, the Middle East and Africa at broking group TigerRisk Partners LLC, said in an interview that remote meetings made some things more difficult, such as brainstorming or being able to have more relaxed meetings over dinner with clients.

But he added: "Overall, from the perspective of our industry, we feel that we have done quite well in terms of staying in contact with our clients." He said TigerRisk has replaced Monte Carlo meetings with a week of virtual meetings in September and that "it all continues very much in line with what happened before."

Rupert Swallow, CEO of Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.-owned Capsicum Reinsurance Brokers LLP, which will be renamed Gallagher Re on Oct. 1, said that during September the company was doing "what we would do if a conference never really existed" and spending time "talking strategically with our clients and our markets about the upcoming renewal season."

One of Monte Carlo's main functions is to allow participants to take the pulse of the market — something that might prove more difficult without the opportunity for chance meetings and informal chatter between scheduled appointments. Even so, Beckers said, "I'm quite positive that we can get all of the industry intelligence through the internet and through emails and through Zoom calls as well as client interactions."

Back to normal?

However, market participants acknowledge something will be missing without their annual trip to Monte Carlo.

"It would be extremely foolish to say that not being in Monte Carlo is a blessing or ... a good thing," Swallow said. Monte Carlo and the other reinsurance conferences "have a huge role to play in how that web of relationships and the fabric of those relationships is formed," he said, adding that although the absence of this element in 2020 was "not catastrophic," it would be "sorely missed."

As a result, Swallow said there was "no doubt that not being all together in that frenzied three days of activity will mean that the information flow will not be as great as it would have been," although he added that the insurance press was doing a "fantastic job" in allowing market participants to get their views across.

Market participants are therefore keen to have the Monte Carlo conference back in their diaries as soon as possible. Scott McIntosh, group reinsurance director at insurer Aviva Plc, said in an interview that Monte Carlo is "a really important conference for our industry" where "a lot of stuff gets done and a lot of ideas get generated." He added that its utility was not confined to buying reinsurance, and that "you see M&A activity start, you see recruiting start and you see ideas around products ... evolve."

Even so, the industry may not return entirely to past behavior. Beckers said: "It is very unlikely that we will go back to the old days without taking any benefit from what we have learned over these last five to six months."

But Swallow suggested that if the coronavirus pandemic shifts emphasis away from traditional office working practices and business travel is less frequent, "these conferences perhaps will take on more importance rather than being diminished."