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Welcome Back: Conference Leaders See a Cautious Return to In-Person Events

Although the pandemic has forced events to be held using hybrid formats, the in-person element offers attendees a chance to reconnect with colleagues. It’s a delicate balancing act as health safety remains a priority.
  • Lori Chordas
  • January 2022

After a nearly two-year pause, insurance industry professionals are once again starting to gather, as some industry conferences return to in-person formats. In November 2021, the Risk and Insurance Management Society held its Enterprise Risk Management conference in New York City, the society's first in-person event since January 2020.

RIMS CEO Mary Roth and Stuart Ruff-Lyon, vice president of events and exhibitions at RIMS and the immediate past chair of the Professional Convention Management Association's board of directors, discussed with AM Best TV the return to in-person conferences and how RIMS is gearing up for its annual conference, RIMS 2022 Riskworld, which is scheduled for April 10-13 in San Francisco.

Roth said she hopes the recent ERM in-person event is just the beginning. “You could really feel the energy in the room. It was great to see old friends and passionate risk professionals after having a year of a pause. It was wonderful to make new acquaintances, which is another part of live events. In addition to seeing the RIMS members and risk professionals, I got to see a lot of the RIMS staff, who I hadn't seen in over a year, because we've been a completely remote workforce. It was great to be back together, and we hope it's just the beginning.”

Following is an edited transcript of the discussion with Roth and Ruff-Lyon.

What was the reaction of attendees to being able to once again gather with those in the industry?

Roth: I think they felt the same excitement as we did. The hallways and the networking breaks were buzzing. The education sessions were more powerful and even more impactful because you got to see and feel the speakers and the presentations in person. In those sessions, there was this renewed focus of meeting new people and discussing challenges.

In addition, we had industry partners there that came with great insights in their products and services related to environmental, social and governance and enterprise risk management. Also, we had a really great showing from our board of directors, who were also clamoring to be at a face-to-face meeting. All around, it was welcomed by everybody who was able to attend in person.

Related: We Meet Again: Insurers Return to the Public Space

What surprises, if any, did you find from being back in person?

Roth: The biggest surprise was how normal it felt. You go back into those same roles and habits that you had from when we could meet face to face and in person over two years ago. Going in, I think we were apprehensive. Was it going to work? Were people going to really embrace it? The surprise was that I think it felt normal. Also, the other surprise—we had a really great mobile app. So it was the traction of the mobile app, really to navigate the sessions, as well as navigating with those that weren't there in person.

Overall, no big surprises, but that was the surprise. Also, attendees were so considerate of each other's preferences, which was also really great to see as we gear up for RIMS Riskworld.

What social distancing measures, vaccination requirements and other safety controls did you put in place in order to bring people back in person at the recent conference?

Ruff-Lyon: Before we took any measures, we did a lot of research. Our events team attends a lot of different conferences to study what works and doesn't work, not just in relation to the vaccine and social distancing but to all other things related to events. We're always looking for enhancements we can make to RIMS events to make them better, more engaging and safer. For the ERM conference we had smaller table settings. Normally a table would seat eight to 10 people. There we only had four chairs around them.

We definitely could have put more tables into the room but we didn't, to try to keep it a safe and socially distanced meeting. We had a lot of hand-sanitizing stations and even a hand-sanitizing product that we gave out at our registration desk.

It's important to remember that RIMS headquarters has implemented a proof-of-vaccination requirement for all of our events that we run through our headquarters office. That's also something that was required by the City of New York for the ERM conference but also something that's going to be required by San Francisco for RIMS Riskworld coming up in April.

Before making any decision, though, the RIMS board and staff reviewed business event data that not only supported the decision from a health standpoint but also indicated a strong attendance response. We were looking at the health and safety of our attendees and the reputational harm to RIMS should an outbreak occur.

Also, we had really great feedback from our exhibitor and sponsor community to help guide us in this decision to make sure that we were doing the right things, not only for our attendees but also for our supporters and sponsors as well.

What has the past 20 months taught everyone in terms of conferences and gatherings and how do you see that changing the way conferences and events will be held going forward?

Ruff-Lyon: As an event professional I would say that it's just really rewarding to see how much people value events. We've seen that's so important. People have been wanting to get back in person now for a couple of years, as we've navigated this pandemic.

That's been rewarding to see just how powerful and impactful events really are for an organization. I think the biggest lesson is that people will return to normal at their own pace. We have to make sure that we're respectful of that, and being as inclusive as possible for everyone's comfort levels. Additionally, that's why we're having Riskworld as a hybrid conference.

A lot of conferences in the future will have that hybrid component that will offer both the in-person opportunity to learn and engage and network, but also one that will offer a virtual component for those who can't travel, those whose companies don't fund their travel or those who maybe aren't comfortable to travel still. However, that means a lot of additional work for the event professionals, I would say, because we're now basically running two separate conferences simultaneously. It requires extra reliance on partnerships. I believe there's definitely going to be a learning curve overall in the events industry for this, as we find this new normal of hybrid events.

As you plan conferences in the coming years, have terms and conditions of the venues that will be hosting the events changed in any way?

Ruff-Lyon: Yes, absolutely, they have. Cancellation policies are definitely changing. There are changes to force majeure language constantly. The runway to negotiate and come to agreement on contractual language is taking a little bit longer now, as more legal terms are involved, and everyone's trying to protect themselves and their own bottom lines.

Just like risk management, the event business is a relationship business. RIMS is so fortunate to have some of the best relationships we could possibly have within the events industry. We have great communication and partnership with our host cities, our hotel communities, convention centers and all of our local vendors. That's just key to navigating these new contractual terms and everything for the events industry.

An example of that would be canceling a city or venue, but rescheduling them for future years. We would also try to reschedule our hotels if we have to cancel. We are truly partners in this and it's not just a transactional business relationship.

What are your plans for Riskworld 2022?

Roth: We will be moving forward with the hybrid event. The pandemic has really changed in-person meetings. We saw a lot of benefits from actually holding RIMS Live this past year that people outside of the United States and North America really wanted to attend the RIMS events. It's an opportunity for us to reach a more global, widespread audience of risk professionals. It also allows us to reach other professionals within an organization that have risk management responsibilities—individuals in audit, compliance, cybersecurity professionals, human resources, finance and legal.

It allows even junior staff members in some of our organizations that normally wouldn't be able to come to an annual conference to attend a hybrid event. There will be requirements for proof of vaccination for Riskworld.

For the ERM conference and future conferences, we'll work with a vendor who will manage the proof-of-vaccination process for us. San Francisco requires this, so for the immediate future, those are our plans. Obviously, we will monitor and follow CDC requirements and best practices as we move forward.

What will be the theme of the upcoming annual conference and what can participants expect to see at the event?

Roth: The RIMS annual conference is where the world's risk management community meets, whether that's in person or virtual. As we try to distance ourselves from the pandemic and quarantine, we realize that life and business will not be the same, so Riskworld will address a world of new risks.

It will address a world of new business strategies and processes that risk professionals and organizations have had to adapt. It will also address a world of new expectations for risk management. We've seen great changes in what risk managers are required to do, what they're getting involved and engaged with. We've designed an education event around that. We're confident that we're going to deliver the best and most relevant content. We're confident that the networking is going to explode. Networking online is great, but nothing beats that in-person interaction.

Even more so than in the past, those hallway meetings, those meetings in the exhibit hall, those meetings in session rooms will be critical to our attendees. We're excited to welcome back all of our exhibitors who provide such needed solutions for risk professionals to manage a world of new risks.

When you look back over the last two years since the last time RIMS hosted its annual conference, what has changed, and what are some of the new risks that have emerged or evolved over that time?

Roth: I would say a great deal has changed. I will honestly say I've missed those last two in-person RIMS annual conferences. I am just ready to be back together with our members and constituents in San Francisco. Obviously, organizations are now facing the complexities of resuming operations post pandemic. We're still fighting through the pandemic. You can't watch the news without understanding the major concerns with supply chain and the concerns of risk professionals and their organizations when it comes to getting products to customers.

Cybersecurity remains a top priority, especially with a greater dependence on technology. Our entire workforce is remote, and for many organizations, most of their workforces are working remotely.

Related: Live Entertainment Returns but With Some Big Insurance Changes Due to COVID-19

The impact of the pandemic on our workforces, changing expectations as well as the impact on their physical and mental well-being when they're not in an office environment, where they're not constantly being monitored for doing things safely. It puts an additional stress and onus on the organizations to make sure that our employees are safe and their well-being is cared for. ESG risks, climate change, social issues, the way we manage our organizations and our people are prime examples of things that have been on our radar but really are heightened, and business interruption.

We saw what the pandemic did for many businesses around the world, and everybody has been impacted. We are continuing to make sure that we've learned from these experiences and how we can be better prepared for the future.

What do you foresee for the future of in-person conferences in the coming months and years, and what words of advice do you have for event organizers and for attendees who may be contemplating whether or not they're ready to return to in-person events?

Ruff-Lyon: In-person events are definitely returning, which I'm really excited to see. I guess my advice would be to really listen to your attendees, your stakeholders and your business communities. It's important to understand their needs and what they're looking for moving forward. As an example of that, I would say that the RIMS members have really let us know they appreciate the safety measures that we are putting in place, and they're ready to come back to in-person meetings.

Also, event professionals and organizations really need to build their digital capabilities. For the foreseeable future, most events will be hybrid. People really need to find the right partners, the right vendors, the right teams who can help them with this transformation. Frankly, event professionals need to remember that they're not alone. Just like RIMS is a community for global risk professionals, there are communities for event organizers.

Schedule of Popular Insurance Events

Status of select insurance industry conferences and meetings, 2022.

Dates

Name Organization Type Location
Jan. 7-12 American Farm Bureau Convention American Farm Bureau Federation Live Atlanta
Jan. 19 St. John's Insurance Leader of the Year Award Dinner St. John's Live New York
Feb. 4 Artemis ILS Artemis Live New York
Feb. 7-10 Surplus Lines Management WSIA Live Atlanta
Feb. 9-11 World Captive Forum Business Insurance Live Miami
Feb. 21-24 RAA Cat Risk Management Conference Reinsurance Association of America Live Orlando, Florida
March 1-2 PLUS D&O Symposium PLUS Live New York
March 1-3 NAMIC- Claims Conference NAMIC Hybrid Orlando, Florida
March 6-8 CICA 2022 International Conference Captive Insurance Companies Association Live Tucson, Arizona
March 6-9 Refocus Conference ACLI Live Las Vegas
March 20-23 WSIA Insurtech Summit WSIA Live New Orleans
March 23-25 NAMIC- Commercial & Personal Lines Seminar NAMIC Hybrid Chicago
April 4-7 Envision 2022 AIR Worldwide Hybrid Miami
April 10-13 Riskworld Risk and Insurance Management Society Hybrid San Francisco
April 12 Philly I-Day Insurance Society of Philadelphia Live Philadelphia
April 14-15 FAIA Sales and Leadership Conference Florida Association of Insurance Agents Live Orlando, Florida
April 19-21 Global Insurance Symposium GIS Live Des Moines, Iowa
April 24-26 Auto Insurance Report National Conference 2022 Risk Information Live Dana Point, California
April 24-27 IMUA 91st Annual Conference Inland Marine Underwriters Association Live Savannah, Georgia
May 3-5 2022 Group and Worksite Benefits Conference LIMRA Live Boston
May 24-25 InsurTech Insights Americas InsurTech Insights Live New York
June 5-8 IASA Xchange IASA Live Baltimore
June 5-8 National Flood Conference APCIA Live Washington, D.C.
June 7-9 InsureTech Connect Asia InsureTech Connect Live Singapore
June 13-15 Bermuda Captive Conference Bermuda Business Development Agency TBD TBD
June 26-29 Management Conference NAMIC Live Carlsbad, California
July 13-16 NCOIL Summer Meeting NCOIL Live Jersey City, New Jersey
Aug. 8-11 VCIA 2022 Conference Vermont Captive Insurance Association Live Burlington, Vermont
Sept. 10-14 Les Rendez-Vous de Septembre Les Rendez-Vous de Septembre Live Monte Carlo
Sept. 11-14 WSIA Annual Marketplace WSIA Live San Diego
Sept. 18-21 NAMIC Annual Convention NAMIC Live Dallas
Sept. 20-22 InsureTech Connect InsureTech Connect Live Las Vegas
Oct. 7-11 Insurance Leadership Forum Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers Live Colorado Springs, Colorado
Oct. 23-26 Baden-Baden Reinsurance Meeting Baden-Baden Kur & Tourismus Live Germany
Nov. 9-11 PLUS Conference PLUS Live San Diego
Nov. 16-19 NCOIL Annual Meeting NCOIL Live New Orleans

All events subject to change as organizations monitor developments regarding COVID-19. For a full list of conferences and cancellations, visit Best's Calendar.

Source: Event hosts



Lori Chordas is a senior associate editor. She can be reached at lori.chordas@ambest.com.



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