It's been four years since the Risk and Insurance Management Society Inc. held its annual convention in San Diego and returning there for this year's meeting April 27 to May 1 could not have come a moment too soon.
The last couple of years, following the stellar attendance in Philadelphia in 2005, have been a little tough on the convention. Hawaii in 2006 was judged too far and too expensive for some, particularly attendees coming from the East Coast.
Last year's convention in New Orleans was eventually judged a success, but not before organizers agonized for months about whether to keep their date with the Big Easy, which was still struggling to recover from the devastating 2005 hurricane season.
Mary Roth, RIMS executive director, says RIMS officials are looking forward to this year's fiesta with special anticipation.
"This year's event boasts more than 130 sessions, 400-plus exhibitors and networking events galore," she said. "The conference will bring together the industry's brightest stars and next generation of leaders, and provides a platform for shared learning and peer networking--a necessary ingredient for successful business practices."
In the past two years, RIMS has made big strides by marketing itself more aggressively and making its service more accessible. It has appointed a new executive director, and its revamped Web site has proven a big draw in terms of page views and revenue, according to RIMS officials.
RIMS is expecting more than 10,000 attendees to the San Diego Convention Center. The West Coast venue typically attracts more than its fair share of risk managers from the Western half of the continental U.S. and from Pacific rim nations.
Janice Ochenkowski, president of RIMS, will kick off the general session on opening day, Monday, April 28, by surveying the state of the risk management industry and RIMS. She is also expected to share her tips on how to help risk managers move from being simply "good" to being "great."
RIMS executives will then bestow the organization's highest honor--the Goodell Award--for outstanding lifetime achievement in the field of risk management, followed by the inspirational journey of Christopher Gardner, author of the rags-to-riches story "The Pursuit of Happyness," and a poster boy for breaking the cycle of poverty and despair.
On Tuesday, April 30, keynote luncheon speaker Lauralee Martin, CFO and COO of the global real estate and investment management firm Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., will explore managing risk as it pertains to profitability and operational cost, and examine the implications of Standard & Poor's risk-based standards on public entities.
She will also discuss risk management from the C-suite perspective. Her address is expected to have a particular resonance given the big changes in the insurance marketplace over the past four years.
FOUR YEARS AGO ...
Four years ago, the market was hard, prices were high and buyers were faced with stiff premium increases. Today the market is soft and prices have dropped.
Four years ago, the industry was posting big underwriting losses and struggling to find ways to properly price the risk it was underwriting. In 2008, insurance executives are representing property/casualty carriers flush with two years of underwriting gains.
Four years ago, ERM was the talk of the industry. Today if it's not the industry's main focus, at least it's become a major concern of the ratings agencies who are taking into account ERM programs when reviewing the debt ratings of the property/casualty industry.
Four years ago, no one had ever heard of the letters KRW for hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, and never had one natural catastrophe, Hurricane Katrina, caused as much in insured losses. The $66 billion in insured losses eclipsed all previous natural catastrophe records. Today, there's not a carrier that hasn't reassessed the potential insured losses from a natural catastrophe.
Four years ago, with lenders liberally dispensing mortgage loans to whomever walked through the door, property prices were climbing at a healthy clip fueling still more borrowing and more lending.
But this year, following the collapse of the mortgage market and home buyers' equity in their homes dropping below 50 percent for the first time, professional liability carriers are bracing themselves for a raft of plaintiffs' suits gunning for the C-suite.
Those lawsuits, related to losses estimated at more than $100 billion, are expected to be so expensive and complex that some experts fear the professional liability market could harden after softening for the past four or five years.
Thus, much has changed in the four years since insurance buyers and sellers last met in a city by the sea known as San Diego. San Diego itself last fall was exposed to the dangers of searing heat from huge wildfires stoked by the Santa Ana winds whipping across bone-dry Southern California brush.
More than 1,000 homes in San Diego County were destroyed and the county-run San Pasqual Academy in Escondido suffered damage. Susan Eldridge, a senior risk and insurance analyst with San Diego County in November estimated losses as high as $10 million from the fires which charred more than 200,000 acres of land.
No surprise then that RIMS officials have selected the California wildfires among the several "hot" topics that they hope will attract special attention from attendees. Other hot topics include "Green by Design: Insurance Coverage for Building Green," "Building Resiliency Through ERM: Responding to the Call for Private Sector Preparedness," and "2009 Medicare Legislation."
In all, more than 400 expert speakers are expected to lead more than 130 educational sessions in the areas of claims management, employment risks, ERM, finance, insurance, legal legislation, loss control and risk management.
Some sessions are customized for various industries by risk management functions and responsibilities, and some even cover international risk management. Complete program and session descriptions are available online at www.RIMS.org/RIMS2008.
RIMS officials also note that attendees will have the opportunity to attend two sessions away from the convention center. RIMS is hosting behind-the-scenes tours of Sea World and PETCO Park, wildly popular and innovative San Diego destinations.
Given San Diego's natural attractions and the variety of outdoor activities available to out-of-town guests, RIMS officials have been most considerate in inviting author Gert Cruywagen for what RIMS officials promise will be a "fascinating and amusing address" on risk management strategies used by animals in the African jungle.
Cruywagen, according to RIMS officials, will keep attendees entertained with anecdotes, stories and images of how animals in the African bush manage their risks to avoid becoming prey. Surely animal behavior will yield a lesson or two for risk managers.
Come find out.
CYRIL TUOHY is managing editor of Risk & Insurance®.
April 1, 2008
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