By ROGER CROMBIE, a Bermuda-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®
Dateline: the fabulous Tucker's Point resort at Bermuda's east end.
Holy CEOs, Batman! Day One of the World Insurance Forum 2010 was knee deep in senior industry figures. You could barely walk three feet without tripping over some industry titan from around the globe.
This is a report of Day One of the two-day Forum. If I don't get fired for what follows, there'll be a report on Day Two tomorrow. Because the WIF, as aficionados call it, was held just minutes from my home, Risk & Insurance® asked me to attend and report. They may have wanted a common-sense accounting of the event, but if they had, they wouldn't have sent me, would they?
Here's how this is going to go. I'll give you the facts first, as any good reporter would, and then do the gonzo stuff nearer the end. If I did it the other way round, you'd be on another site by now.
But stick around, and you'll meet one of America's greatest TV talk show hosts, as I did, and also the man who has vaulted from nowhere into consideration as the second-greatest TV host in the history of the medium, after Oprah. That would be me.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
This year's WIF, the ninth biennial event, features a new structure: four "CEO panels," two on each day. Before the first panel, Patrick Liedtke, secretary general and managing director of the Geneva Association, delivered a keynote address, in which he said: "The current economic performance of the West is a reaction to an economy on liquidity steroids."
Coming off the steroids, he suggested, is going to be a problem for all of us.
Monday morning's panel focused on industry leadership in the next 10 years. Moderated by RenaissanceRe's president and CEO, Neil Currie, the panel consisted of Brian Duperreault, president and CEO of Marsh & McLennan; Lord Levene, chairman of Lloyd's; Stefan Lippe, CEO of Swiss Re; and Edmund Kelly, chairman, president and CEO of Liberty Mutual.
The comment most worth mentioning from this star-studded group came from Kelly. During a conference with reporters, he was asked a question on the Neal tax bill. As a member of the Berkley Coalition, he offered his support for the proposed U.S. tax on liability insurance business ceded to affiliates. He then went on to say: "I worry about unintended consequences of the tax. We all need global capital and access to reinsurance. There could be collateral damage, and it might be great. We are concerned and are not lobbying greatly on the tax proposal."
This confirmed almost everyone else in the world's view that the tax proposal is a Bad Idea.
In the afternoon session, Stephen Catlin, CEO and deputy chairman of the Catlin Group, moderated a surprisingly lively debate on the subject of enterprise risk management. The panel consisted of John Charman, president and CEO of AXIS Capital Holdings; Jeremy Cox, CEO of the Bermuda Monetary Authority; Dr. Monica Machler, vice chairwoman of the board at the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority; and John M. Molbeck, Jr., president and CEO at HCC Insurance Holdings.
To tell you the truth, shockingly remiss in my duties, I missed the panel completely. I did, however, spot Lippe and Ajit Jain, president of Berkshire Hathaway's reinsurance division, strolling together in the hotel's grounds, no doubt planning to buy the United States for 8 cents on the dollar.
In the evening, two stellar events were held, to neither of which was I invited. The first was a dinner given by some magazine I've never heard of, and industry leaders filed in by the dozen for a free dinner. The other was a more intimate affair led by a local CEO, who was, I suspect, planning with his guests to buy the United States for 7 cents on the dollar.
Along with my responsibilities as this magazine's official nut job, I had taken a side gig working for the WIF itself, in the capacity of TV host. The brief was to interview 15 to 20 of the top players for 20 minutes or so apiece. The interviews are being streamed by the WIF on their Web site, www.worldinsuranceforum.com. I explained that I usually fly solo in a darkened room late at night and rarely venture out, but the organizers felt I was the man for the job because I know all the industry brass and so might be able to do the Letterman thing with a degree of facility.
Play the hand you're dealt, I always say, so I agreed to this ridiculous bargain. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I made my way to the Library, which was to be my studio for the conference, and ran into Montel Williams. Yup, that Montel Williams, the famous TV host. What greater possible good omen for my new career as a TV superstar could there possibly have been?
I introduced myself, and we chatted briefly. He was absurdly nice and expressed confidence in my TV career, even though it hadn't started yet and he'd never met me before. Then, because he was on vacation, I let him go and went to start my new life.
Guess what? Despite being a certified lunatic, I can do TV. You just make it up as you go along and let the guests do the talking. The interviews with the CEOs, the regulator, a retired CEO and a big-deal climate scientist all went well. The scientist said we are all doomed--"stuffed" was the word he used--but then recanted somewhat and said it would be 50 years before my house would be swamped by the Atlantic Ocean.
There can be no doubt that, before long, Jay Leno will force me to retire, but until then I'm on TV, baby, and the great and the good of the world's insurance industry are dancing to my tune. Oh, the power!
I cannot close without passing on to you two depressing grace notes.
First, it appears from my on-screen appearance, that I do not even remotely resemble Pierce Brosnan, as I had long thought. This was a bitter pill to swallow, especially since I seem to look much more like Father Christmas: grey-haired and tubby, but jovial withal.
And secondly, being a TV star, even a closed-circuit TV star, definitely improves your love life--or so I thought. At the evening cocktail party, I made what I was convinced was a connection with a beautiful and intelligent woman. Research I later carried out into this unlikely development led me to conclude that I may have grossly misunderestimated the entire encounter. Bummer.
Whatever. I had a good time, as you can probably tell. I'm not sure that anyone is allowed to have that much fun at an insurance conference. This many industry greats may never again gather in one place at one time, and I'm proud to say I was there. Now, so are you.
Tune in tomorrow, on the Risk & Insurance® Web site, for more (or possibly somewhat less) on Day Two of this extraordinary event.
(The wonders of technology! Read Roger's "review" of Day 2 at the World Insurance Forum here.)
March 16, 2010
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