Kathleen Faries, ILS Bermuda
Convergence 2020 kicks off on October 6 in a new fully virtual format, becoming the latest event to be forced to make alternative arrangements due to restrictions on movement and gathering due to COVID-19.
Kathleen Faries, chair of ILS Bermuda, insisted the event will retain the look and feel that regular attendees will be familiar with. “We have, as much as possible, kept the original format with panel sessions and key note speakers as well as networking opportunities for participants,” she said. “The only difference this year is that everyone will be attending virtually.”
Faries insisted event organisers have learned a lot this year from putting on virtual events, arguing that experience not be wasted, even once social distancing guidelines ease and delegates are again allowed to gather in person and shake hands.
“It’s likely that future events that are held in physical locations will also have a virtual element for those who are unable to travel and attend,” explained Faries. “The pandemic has simply accelerated a trend that was already taking place.”
At Convergence 2019 some presentations were given remotely, and Faries sees the 2020 event as merely an expansion of the same principle. “This is something we will undoubtedly continue to do even if all travel restrictions are lifted,” she said. “It improves accessibility for attendees on a budget or for those who are unable to travel in a ‘normal’ year.”
Virtual events will continue to improve as organisers experiment and learn from each other, Faries predicted. “Content will be more about super-high quality and relevance over sheer volume,” she added.
“Virtual event solutions are wide-ranging and can vary dramatically based on the event deliverable, content offering and of course the platform itself,” noted Gemma Godfrey, chief operations officer at The Whitfield Group, which helped organise the event.
The ILS Convergence platform sets itself apart from many other virtual events by giving attendees superior virtual networking opportunities, Godfrey said. This includes the ability to reach out directly and communicate with colleagues, clients and prospects.
“There is an incredible opportunity for attendees to make meaningful connections and for sponsors to use this as a targeted marketing campaign,” said Godfrey. “We believe our online platform is robust and will afford attendees the same opportunities to learn about the latest trends in ILS, hear from leading scientists and experts in their fields as well as network with investors, managers and others in the ILS market.”
Technology will continue to improve and open up new opportunities for virtual events, noted Godfrey. “The virtual conference and meetings space is evolving at a parabolic rate,” she said. “Companies who work in the event space are innovators by design, so we are already looking ahead at concepts for next year, which could include a hybrid event as one of several offerings.”
Bermuda Convergence typically sees between 300 and 400 attendees every year, but the opportunity to attend virtually is attracting many new delegates who have never attended before. Other events, such as the Bermuda Captive Conference, have broken records with the number of attendees they have attracted virtually, and Convergence is likely to be no different.
The organisers insisted attendees will see no reduction in the quality of the sessions they participate in virtually.
“The organising committee worked very hard this year to pull together speakers that may not have been heard from recently, to differentiate our panels and speakers from other events,” said Faries. “Climate change continues to be a hot topic and we will also be hearing from scientists directly involved in wind, fire and earthquakes as well as the environmental, social and governance (ESG) aspects of ILS.”
“We believe all our sessions will be considered well worth a listen!” added Godfrey.
Nevertheless, inevitably physical conferences can offer something that virtual conferences cannot replicate. “It’s no secret that some of the most valuable connections at events and conferences are made around the event, either in networking sessions or during evening socials,” said Godfrey. “Each year we have a number of scientists join us on the event agenda and often they remain for the duration of the event to mingle and meet with our attendees which has always been well received in the past.”
“The main draw-back to holding a virtual conference is that we aren’t able to showcase Bermuda’s market and intellectual capital in person,” added Faries. “Part of what makes Convergence in Bermuda so appealing is the ability to set up business meetings and networking chats throughout the event because we are one of the primary global hubs of reinsurance and ILS.”
Converegence 2020 has addressed that as best it can, said Faries. “We have enabled Convergence attendees the ability to chat virtually during our networking time to keep those relationships strong until we can meet again in person.”
For now, it is still not a given that large physical conferences will be viable in 2021, but the organisers of Convergence are ready either way. “If we are unable to meet in person, we will have learned a considerable amount this year and would look to keep improving and differentiating Convergence Virtual,” said Faries.
The organisers stressed they will not make any decisions about the event in 2021 until they have digested feedback from this year's delegates.
Convergence 2020, ILS Bermuda, Kathleen Faries, Gemma Godfrey, The Whitfield Group