12 September 2014 Insurance

Monte Carlo memories

Since 1957, senior executives from global reinsurers have met at the Rendez-Vous de Septembre in Monte Carlo. As the conference looms, Intelligent Insurer catches up with seasoned attendees to find out how the event has evolved and whether it will remain important in years to come.

Founded in 1957 by André Roux, then president of the Assurances Générales de France, together with some other members of the industry, the Rendez-Vous de Septembre (RVS) was formed with the intention of its becoming a universal meeting point for the reinsurance market.

It continues to represent a pivotal point in the calendar for the industry. And, as more than 2,600 re/insurance industry professionals, including lawyers, journalists and bankers, among others, from 80 countries prepare to head to Monaco, today’s RVS is somewhat different from that experienced by the event’s attendees in years gone by.

A trip down memory lane

What was once a week-long conference, which involved catching up with friends, soaking up some sun and creating a wealth of sometimes hazy memories amid 30 or so champagne-soaked meetings, is now a thing of the past.

Some 57 years after its establishment, the RVS has been condensed into four days of manic meetings and annual dinners and, in terms of press coverage, it has become the reinsurance industry’s equivalent of a celebrity wedding.

“In 1987, when I first attended Monte Carlo, attendees arrived one weekend and departed the next. A whole week was spent meeting in somewhat more relaxed circumstances than today. These days I seem to fit 50 or 60 appointments into half the time that used to accommodate 30 or 40,” says Clive O’Connell, a partner at law firm Goldberg Segalla.

Peter Hughes, a partner at Litmus Analysis, agrees. “It’s earlier in the week than it used to be and Sunday has become much more active than it was. In the ‘old’ days people would stay until the Friday (I used to have a regular dinner on the Thursday night), but now you’re lucky to get a meeting beyond Wednesday morning.”

Rob Jones, managing director at Standard & Poor’s, says that the presence of non-reinsurance professionals such as investors, analysts and consultants is also a change worth noting.

Historically the event has been used as a meeting ground for firming up deals ahead of the renewal season, but as the business evolves, it is rare for deals to be secured during the event itself.

O’Connell continues: “In those days, as a lawyer, one kept half an eye on who was meeting and with whom. Deals were being done at the event over coffees and, more likely, alcohol. Monte Carlo’s canapés and champagne for an underwriter were the bread and butter of business until promises evaporated and problems emerged. Today, deals are spoken of but not concluded. Relationships are cemented but not consummated.”

Despite its expensive price tag, Monte Carlo has managed to hang on to its position as the home of the largest and most important reinsurance conference in the calendar.

Stuart Shipperlee, a partner at Litmus Analysis, says that one of the biggest changes he’s witnessed since his first visit in 1991 is the understanding of ratings.

“I first attended ‘Monte’ in 1991 for S&P. From a parochial point of view a major change is simply the use of ratings,” he says.

“In the early 1990s we might as well have been talking ancient Greek as far as most market participants were concerned. By the late 1990s I would overhear 40-something brokers taking about using ‘A’ rated paper as if they’d been doing that since the day they started work! Whether the understanding of ratings has kept pace with their use I’m less sure about.

“On the odd occasion rating actions have also been a major topic, especially during the early 2000s, and most notably I’d say the year of Converium’s downgrade below the ‘A’ range. In fact, the media used to suggest that the agencies ‘timed’ rating downgrades for the event. That rather ignored the fact that most were triggered by mid-year disclosures of major reserve deficiencies—and by the odd windstorm.”

Another observation among attendees is the introduction of designated spots for the big players such as SCOR, Munich Re, Aon, Guy Carpenter and Willis which will, no doubt, once again be hosting client meetings in their own pre-booked and branded areas this year.

With many relationships formed and much alcohol consumed, traditional events such as the Tuesday evening White Mountains party, which starts at midnight and features a spectacular view over the harbour from the Hermitage balcony, have become an important part of the conference itself.

However, while the RVS has certainly evolved—and picked up the pace—over time, Monaco continues to entice the industry year on year.

“For all the changes, what endures is the opportunity to see so many people from around the world in a short time and small place. For this, Monte Carlo is irreplaceable,” says O’Connell.

Hughes adds: “The authorities are more aware of the need to sensibly accommodate the RVS comfortably and are making efforts to improve things. However, it remains to be seen to what extent current building projects will disrupt efforts to find somewhere to meet this year.”

Top of the agenda

While 2014 promises another year dominated with talks of alternative capital, many expect pricing to lead the discussions.
“While we all read the headline big industry statements, the real conversations are still about jockeying for position in the upcoming renewal, which is what the event is really about,” says Hughes.

Shipperlee adds: “This year the issue will surely be pricing unless there’s a major cat in the run up to, or at, the event. If that’s a proper conversation then it should really be about expected return, not simply headline rates.”

Other expected points of discussion are the introduction of Solvency II, cyber risk and the industry’s need to innovate.

In years gone by ...
Each year, the quest for originality in terms of branding and marketing at the event is a hard-fought battle. From paper helicopters and branded merchandise, to extravagant gala dinners and electric cars, reinsurers, brokers and advisers alike battle it out to ensure their brands stand out from the crowd.

However, aside from purposeful marketing tools, the RVS has hosted a plethora of memorable occasions for completely different reasons.
While some stories will never publicly surface, remaining strictly between the participants of the evening, some other partakers are
more willing to share their tales.
“The 10 Franc Dinner was an evening concocted by myself and an old friend where no-one was allowed to talk about work in any format, which was refreshing by the Thursday night,” recalls Hughes.

Anyone who so much as mentioned a colleague was fined 10 francs. At the end of the dinner, we went to the casino and played the slot machines until we’d lost the whole pot. First-time attendees were often the biggest ‘victims’ in terms of contributions to the 10 Franc pot,” remembers Hughes.

O'Connell says that the high point of the week for him was always the black tie gala evening held at Le Sporting on Thursday evening.

While the RVS holds positive memories for many, attendees of the 2001 RVS will also recall that that event coincided with the September
11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York.

One attendee described the atrmosphere as "filled with rising confusion” and “growing horror” as people realised their colleagues
were in the Twin Towers.

Another said: "Inevitably everybody heard about it very quickly. For those of us lucky enough not to know anybody who might have
been a victim, the atmosphere was surreal. After the initial disbelief everything just went quiet. In Casino Square you could hear a soft hum of people talking in whispers to each other and not really knowing what they should do next, or say to those who did have friends, relatives or colleagues in or near the World Trade Center."

As the 2014 RVS kicks off, the conference shows no signs of slowing,and no signs of uprooting to a new destination. So as attendees pack their bags and prepare for another year, Monte Carlo retains its rather expensive crown until 2015—at least

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