Rein4ce Co-Founder and Partner Stephen Breen is intrigued by how the industry will conduct the renewals season with the Monte Carlo Rendez-Vous cancelled, and hopes it will not signal the death knell for the event.
In normal times, today would be the most frantic day of the year. Cross-eyed at the keyboard having sent probably thousands of emails booking media meetings for clients, creating and printing multiple media packs, and triple checking that I really did book that flight to Nice – the final Friday before the Monte Carlo Rendez-Vous reaches a crazy crescendo every year.
As a guy, its relatively straightforward packing my clothes, although I do need to make sure I have the mandatory chinos and a selection of more colourful shirts than I normally wear, but it’s a lot more complicated for the female members of the team who would be on whirlwind last minute trips the hairdressers and beauty salons. CEO Mairi Mallon @reinsurancegirl would be on BA.com increasing the baggage allowance to make room for her glitzy dresses and handbags; Director Sarah Hills @ILSdiva would be cramming another killer pair of heels into her suitcase despite promising herself she’d wear flats this year; and Account Executive Caitlin Jennings @rein4cecaitlin would be applying her final coat of fake tan.
Polished, stressed, excited and exhausted, tens of thousands global reinsurance executives, advisors, investors and media descend on the glamourous Mediterranean principality of Monaco every September to begin the meetings, parties and wining and dining that mark the beginning of the discussions that will eventually determine what price businesses around the world will have to pay when they renew their reinsurance contracts in January.
With the world turned upside down by the coronavirus crisis, this season’s reinsurance renewals will be the most important in living memory. In previous years, the industry has had to respond to seismic events such as 9/11 and hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, but the global Covid-19 puts all of these events in the shade. With global uncertainty, there has never been a more important time for the industry to come together to find the reinsurance solutions that are needed to keep the global economy moving.
The foundation of the reinsurance industry is trust – face-to-face meetings, personal chemistry and business relationships that are built over years and even decades. Yet in this most crucial year with rates finally hardening, the entire renewals season is being conducted remotely. No back-to-back meetings in the Café de Paris or the Hermitage, no exhausting dashes up from the Fairmont to Casino Square a dozen times a day, and no champagne-fuelled late-night parties. Crucially, there will be none of the chance meetings in hotel lobbies or the balcony of the Hermitage that can eventually lead to business deals.
The market has had to undergo a fundamental re-think about how it operates in the middle of the crisis. As Lloyd’s CEO John Neal has stated: “Let’s re-envisage how the market collaborates in the run up to the most crucial renewal season in a generation.”
The move from face-to-face meetings to mass working from home since March has been remarkably smooth. Many have been sceptical about the merits of letting staff work flexibly and from home, but as we have all learned, thanks to video platforms such as Zoom, Skype and Teams, you really can continue to function effectively and efficiently from the comfort of your bedroom or kitchen table.
The trade media are doing a commendable job of trying to create events to fill the gap of the Rendez-Vous, with online panel discussions and virtual networking opportunities. But is not the same as five days of hectic meetings in the sun and the buzz of overlooking the Med from the roof of the Fairmont while dressed in your very best suit and sipping champagne.
One of the hardy perennials of the reinsurance industry is to question why we even have the Rendez-Vous. Can we really justify shelling out 15 euros for a coffee and 20 euros for a small glass of wine as well as an eye-watering bill for every meal? Could that half hour meeting between an underwriter and broker not be done just as efficiently by Zoom? Was the – I’m guessing – several hundred thousand euros some companies spent on a cocktail party worth the money? Without doubt, the arm and a leg we spend on Monte Carlo every year is our biggest single travel expense of the year. It is, of course, hugely over-priced and it could be replicated elsewhere for a much lower cost, but those happenchance meetings in an elevator or at a bar are normally the ones that lead to new deals and new partnerships.
As our strange virtual renewals season moves into gear, it will be for the carriers and brokers to decide whether they can complete the exercise successfully by remote means and whether they ever need to meet again in Monaco. Personally, I’m missing Monte Carlo and fervently hope that 2019 was the not the last time I will ever get to experience the magic of the Rendez-Vous in the sun.
And if any of you will miss the chaotic buzz of Monte Carlo – you can enjoy a virtual trip to the principality by clicking here.