Last week, 24 members of Sompo’s team headed to Manchester for the 2023 AIRMIC conference. After three days of conversations, meetings, debates, dinners and media interviews, here’s what we learned.
The irony was overwhelming: AIRMIC, the UK’s leading risk management conference was hit by flooding the day before it was due to open, turning carpets into a soggy mess and damaging some exhibition stands. The culprit? A violent rainstorm that overwhelmed the conference centre’s gutters and bubbled up through drains. It’s hard to think of a more vivid illustration of the effects of climate change.
While last year’s conference in Liverpool was marked by the sheer excitement of our industry reuniting in person after the pandemic, this year was different. This year, the exuberance was still apparent, but market issues reasserted themselves as the key themes of the event. ESG was certainly right up there, a point made all too clearly by Sunday’s flooding.
While Sompo’s stand was relatively unaffected, damage to flooring and other stands meant that the opening of the exhibition hall was delayed from Monday to Tuesday. Media interviews arranged for Sompo underwriters had to be relocated to a nearby hotel; the sense of both dislocation and disorientation – magnified by the humid conditions – rendered everyone out of sorts. However, a ‘blitz spirit’ and good-humoured camaraderie saved the day.
Complexity and connectivity
But the fact that a major conference had been impacted by bad weather was not lost on underwriters and risk managers. Environmental themes touched many conference events including the seminar on connected and complex risks featuring Brendan Plessis, our EVP, Client Management, Strategic Distribution and Development. The session examined the vulnerability of global supply chains on events and the vast network of interconnected risks that now mean an event in one part of the world can impact on businesses and societies on the other side of the globe.
Cyber was another key theme for the conference. Cyber-related seminars and workshops were frequently over-subscribed with much discussion focused on attempts within the London market to limit cyber exposures and place exclusions on war-related events.
The rise of AI
But arguably the theme that dominated all others was the rapid progress of artificial intelligence (AI). As highlighted by Tannie Khupe in his Google Hub session, AI seems to be touching almost every aspect of our industry while also creating a series of emerging risks that are yet to be fully understood. From Sompo’s perspective, this is a technology in which we intend to play a leading role. With the support of our digital labs team, we explained to risk managers how we intend to gain the fullest possible understanding of their AI-related risks while using the technology to improve our underwriting, claims management and customer service.
Time of change
Overall, this was an AIRMIC conference at which the sense of change was palpable. Risk managers are aware of the transformations taking place in their own organisations and are keen to see their insurance partners taking the same journey. At the same time, risk managers want to be reassured that their insurers are willing to support them through what may be an epoch-defining transition to new ways of working and trading.
AIRMIC 2023 may have looked and felt like other AIRMIC conferences, but many who attended left with the feeling that the discussions and debates they’d seen over the last few days marked the beginning of a major transition for our industry and clients. It’s a transition in which Sompo plans to play a key role.