The Return to Monte Carlo
The market is returning to the Mediterranean spot for the first time since 2019
The reinsurance industry is returning to Monte Carlo after a two-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. And if the world has been turned on its head during that time, delegates can expect a welcome return to the old routine when they arrive in the tiny principality on the Mediterranean.
It's back to business as usual, with the organisers keen to recreate the laidback atmosphere for which the Rendez-Vous is known, in which attendees essentially do their own thing, arranging meetings with contacts over drinks or a meal at the many hotels, bars and cafés around the Monaco quarter that has the world-famous casino at its centre.
The meeting heralds the start of the reinsurance renewal season, when insurers meet their brokers and reinsurers to begin renegotiations on their annual covers. Organisers see no need to tinker with the tried-and-tested formula that has seen the meeting grow from 500 delegates when it took place 75 years ago. “We don’t intend to replace the Rendez-Vous’s in-person format, with a virtual one, as it has existed since 1957,” says Tendil.
But despite the reinsurance industry’s smooth transition to remote working during the upheaval wrought by the coronavirus, the Rendez-Vous de Septembre’s (RVS) organisers are expecting a similar turnout this year to 2019’s meeting, when 3,000 people from 80 countries descended on Monte Carlo.
“We already have indications that lead us to believe the 2022 edition will be as good as the 2019 edition,” says Claude Tendil, President of the Rendez Vous de Septembre. Indeed, the organisers have significantly increased the number of tables at the Fairmont Hotel for delegates to have one-to-one meetings, he adds, in the expectation of a good turnout.
Does the industry need Monte Carlo?
The reinsurance industry coped well with the enforced transition to remote working prompted by the global lockdown, says Bertrand Romagne, CEO of International Reinsurance of AXA XL Reinsurance. It even gave a glimpse of how things could be done in a business whose way of working has changed remarkably little in decades.
Romagne says: “COVID-19 has demonstrated that we can do a lot of work remotely – which has brought about more flexibility and ultimately, for most of our colleagues, led to a better work / life balance and working environment. It also saves travel costs and miles. We’ve further broken down spatial barriers, which has brought expertise together and helped our colleagues globally collaborate even better than before.”
But the industry still thrives on personal contact, he argues. “First and foremost, we are a people business and it’s been great to see a return to in-person meetings. It’s not as it was before and unlikely to return to that, but there is still a need for people to meet, face to face.”
The key, Romagne says, is to merge the tried-and-tested methods with the best of the new working practices “we learned in the pandemic and bring them forward in to our daily operating environment to ensure they support both colleagues and customers.”
Romagne says he and his team are looking forward to returning to Monte Carlo. “Not only will it provide an opportunity for us to interact directly with clients and brokers face to face but in some way, it also heralds a return to a bit of ‘normality’.”
The reinsurance industry adapted remarkably well to doing business digitally, says Johannes Bender, Director at Standard & Poor’s. But he adds: “what we've heard from underwriters is that it's time to go back to in-person meeting. Because you can live on your relationships for so long, but to generate new business, to get to know your insurers you need to physically meet them.”
Back to work
The sense of excitement that was evident at the first industry get-togethers held late last year after the world slowly emerged from lockdown is likely to have dissipated by the time of Monte Carlo, suggests James Vickers, Chairman of International Reinsurance at Gallagher Re. “Conferences are settling down to the slightly more serious purpose they were always meant to have: namely, people trying to do business and exchanging views. So, I expect the atmosphere would be pretty much the same as before.”
Mike Mitchell, Head of P&S Underwriting Reinsurance at Swiss Re, says: “I'm quite eager to experience the vibe at Monte Carlo. Many companies are taking advantage of the lockdown to reset the size of the teams they send. Others are taking the opposite view and are going to send even more people than they used to. There's quite a difference in perspectives, so I'm interested to see how that how that plays out.”
Gallagher Re, which acquired Willis Re in December 2021, will be sending a big delegation to Monte Carlo, says Vickers. But he will be interested to see if there will be so many attendees this year from around the world. “Will people from Asia still come again en masse? Will the Bermudian and US companies send their C-suite executives? I don't know. That might also depend on the COVID situation.”
The organisers are not putting any specific COVID restrictions in place unless the health situation and national regulations change.
“I think what's clear is that while everybody says we can all work hard on Zoom and on Teams, there's no substitute for meeting people face to face. It is important to rebuild relationships and reconnect. That, I think, is the real value of Monte Carlo,” says Vickers.
The Rendez-Vous is almost unique as an industry get-together because virtually the whole of the business – albeit one that is relatively small compared to its impact on the global economy – can meet in one place, says S&P’s Bender. “It is a valuable event because you can get 80% or more of the overall reinsurance capacity globally in one place, which is remarkable.”