by Axel Schmidt, Chief Underwriting Officer, Argo Group
Every September, the global reinsurance market decamps to the Monte Carlo Square Mile. Before we go, we spend days arranging dozens of meetings, booking hard to find rooms for the four-day minimum, arranging hospitality events, and setting our budgets. Each year we ask ourselves if it’s worth the enormous investment. Each year we answer yes.
We go because the key people in the industry will be there. The assembled include all the main reinsurers and brokers, but also the capital providers, and the crème de la crème of the modellers, consulting firms, head hunters, accountants, actuaries, and other suppliers we rely on. They come from all over the world. Over three or four days, you can see them all without taxi or tube, let alone flights to New York, San Francisco, Zurich, or Paris.
Monte Carlo is about making and maintaining relationships. It is a place to flag a few key things with strategic partners before the stress of year-end renewals kicks in. In some instances you have a list of specific issues to discuss, or maybe to resolve, before the hectic times bear down. Multiple times each day, you meet new people through introductions who may open doors.
There is no better place to learn what everyone else is thinking. Over a ridiculous meetings schedule – perhaps 15 or 20 a day, formal and informal – you develop a sense of market expectations, and a feeling of how rates might change when technical renewal discussions get properly under way, a month later at Baden Baden. Over the years, the topics discussed have continued to evolve, peripheral issues, which began as a side discussion for a select few, have become central concerns which now dominate the agenda. A decade ago, no one was talking about digital or big data. Capital markets were less developed. Five years ago, cyber was barely mentioned. These areas now dominate conversation. This year, the impact of Harvey and whether models now need to be reassessed will invariably provide a key focal point. This tiny principality provides the forum for a global discussion.
These days a large number of roundtable discussions are organised. Executives from multiple companies congregate around a table for frank conversations. The events usually result in a dynamic discussion that you almost certainly wouldn’t have in any other scenario.
Then there’s serendipity. You always bump into people by coincidence, have a very quick chat over coffee in the lobby, which often opens up opportunities. That’s also why we all keep going back.