VCIA’s Virtual Conference: What’s Changing in the Digital Transition, and What Stays the Same
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people stay connected. Among the many disruptions it has wrought on normal life, the virus has forced the cancellation or postponement of several marquee insurance industry events — a big blow to a business in which players succeed or fail on the strength of their relationships.
Conferences provide a one-stop shop where attendees can learn new things, form new connections, foster old ones, and get business done. In the new world of remote work, these things are not impossible, but certainly much more difficult.
This year, the Vermont Captive Insurance Association faced a difficult decision regarding its own Annual Conference. Would its early August date fall beyond the timeline of social distancing mandates, or still pose a threat to the health and safety of attendees?
“Based on the information we had, it seemed that the right avenue for us was to go all in on the virtual conference,” said Rich Smith, President of the Vermont Captive Insurance Association. “We couldn’t wait another two, three or four weeks to see how things might look in August. We hit the ground running in order to make this the best captive conference of the year, albeit virtual.”
Here’s what will be different about this year’s all-virtual VCIA Annual Conference, and what remains the same.
The Differences of a Digital Experience
- A longer list of attendees. By eliminating the time, expense, inconvenience, and potential danger associated with travel, going virtual makes the conference more accessible to a larger swath of people. The lack of space constraints also means the conference can handle increased interest.”In the past, we were limited to about 1,100 attendees for logistical reasons. There is, after all, only so much room at the hotel. And only so many people are able to make the trip,” Smith said. “Now we’re able to open things up to a wider audience. Because people can attend from the comfort of the home, we think we’ll reach beyond the folks we normally attract, so we’re excited about that.”
- A more efficient exhibit hall. A virtual exhibit hall means that attendees literally have exhibitors at their fingertips. Attendees can navigate the floor, access exhibitors’ materials, and make introductions (via a live chat function) in a more time-efficient manner. The energy and visual appeal of a live expo hall may be absent, but exhibitors still get their chance to shine.”It’s very important for us to have a platform that allows exhibitors to achieve the goals that they bring to the conference. That includes an ability to set up virtual chats, to distribute materials digitally, and be able to track and record who is visiting their booth and requesting those materials,” Smith said.
- Access to expert pandemic insights. Conference agendas are typically built months in advance, with little wiggle room for last-minute changes in session topic or speaker. Virtual offerings, however, allow more flexibility. For that reason, Smith and his fellow organizers were able to introduce new sessions focusing specifically on the challenges brought by COVID-19.”Obviously the pandemic is going to be a big topic, so we’re leaving space for both educational sessions and other forums that will allow the attendees to hear specifically from experts about how to utilize your captive in these kinds of crises, and to bounce ideas off of each other,” Smith said.
What’s Not Changing This Year
- Coverage of emerging risks. Captives are often a first home for emerging risks not yet covered by the traditional market in an affordable way. Educational sessions will continue to discuss the growing utilization of captives as risk transfer tools for the gig economy, the robotics industry, and in efforts to combat cyber crime.A ‘hot topics’ panel led by Dave Provost, deputy commissioner of Captives for the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, will be held again this year. The consistently highly-rated session is an opportunity to hear experts’ take on the cutting edge issues impacting the industry, including anything from regulatory changes to new ways captives are being utilized in the risk marketplace.
- A breadth of networking opportunities. Face-to-face meetings, luncheons and happy hours are not the only way for attendees to meet new people or continue building relationships. Though the medium will be different, Smith said the event’s digital platform will include plenty of opportunities for outreach to other attendees. Whether within the realm of the exhibit hall, during session Q&As, or through additional open forums, people will be able to pick the brains of their peers and get connected to potential partners.
- Content for newcomers and veterans alike. “Every year we try to balance the particular needs of folks who are newer to the industry against those who’ve been coming to our conference for years,” Smith said. That balance will be maintained and perhaps even enhanced through the virtual format.As in years past, “Captive 101” sessions will outline the key elements of captive ownership for industry newcomers. Digital presentation and communication formats could also make it easier for these attendees to get connected to veterans and have their questions answered, as these methods make experts more directly accessible and more easily capture contact information for follow-up correspondence.
What the Future Holds for the Captive Industry
Though the circumstances necessitating a virtual conference are unfortunate, they also underline the very reasons why captives matter, and will become more prominent as businesses build defenses against the next global crisis. Currently, many companies are engaged in disputes with their traditional insurers over policy triggers and pandemic exclusions, especially as they relate to business interruption losses. Captives transfer more control back into the hands of insureds.
“Captive insurers do the right thing by their owners because the owners are the clients,” Smith said. “Captives also provide the data and the financial resources to make changes that minimize risk — especially emerging risks — more quickly and efficiently. That to me is why captives will be more relevant going forward.”
VCIA will harness lessons learned from this year’s virtual conference to create more digital learning opportunities throughout the year. The Association’s “Roadshows,” for example, are designed to introduce captive insurance to cities across America. A digital platform could help that initiative to reach more interested parties in a shorter span of time.
“I think that this is going to be the future of conferences — some sort of hybrid between virtual and in-person events,” Smith said. “We’re definitely going to be in learning mode to see how best to use this technology going forward. Together with the State of Vermont, VCIA is taking a leadership role in adapting the nature of educational delivery to meet changing demands.”
To learn more about the conference, visit https://www.vcia.com/Events/AnnualConference/tabid/87/Default.aspx.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with State of Vermont. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.