The meaning of partnership is changing
Insurers require more than raw information from partners – they need interpretation, innovation, and collaboration to create competitive advantage. More than 15 years ago, RGA established the Global Client Actuarial Seminar (GCAS) to serve as a source for knowledge sharing and networking. The seminar offers guidance to insurance leaders seeking to navigate rapid change. Since then, aided in part by a virtual format, the event attendance has grown seven-fold, attracting attendees from Chile to China.
In today’s complex and changing competitive landscape, building partnerships through shared knowledge is more important than ever. RGA sat down with conference organizers, Robert M. Musen, retired RGA Executive Vice President and current member of the Longer Life Foundation Board of Governors, and Dan Lyons, RGA Vice President and Business Initiatives Leader, to look back at the event’s origins and discuss future opportunities.
Why organize a global actuarial seminar at all when so many differences exist among markets and insurers?
Our industry is global and becoming more so. Insurers gain a competitive advantage by learning about what doesn’t work and what does, both within and across product lines and markets. That’s why, through GCAS, RGA has sought to share expertise and insights from around the world in a single event.
True partnership is about collaboration – about creating value together rather than just engaging in a series of transactions. We wanted to create a venue where individual insurers could seek advice from RGA experts in actuarial science, underwriting, investments, claims management and other disciplines associated with insurance, life insurance and health insurance. We also wanted to create opportunities for insurers to network and exchange ideas.
How do you find topics that are relevant to such a diverse audience?
Some trends really are universal and transformational. For example, the rise of accelerated underwriting, an ongoing revolution in digital distribution, and the really remarkable pace of medical advances. But these days, we confront a common challenge that could be summed up in a single word: COVID-19. This November GCAS covers two of the most compelling, and confusing aspects of the ongoing pandemic: the impact of vaccines on global mortality and morbidity, and the implications of long COVID. In fact, long COVID can involve 200 symptoms that defy easy categorization, vary in severity and duration, and linger after infection clears the body. This condition alone presents a unique challenge to insurers.
We also benefit from an RGA Steering Committee comprised of business development leaders across RGA’s international offices. The Steering Committee assists us in choosing the topics most relevant to the clients in their markets.
What makes GCAS unique?
From its founding, the combination of global reach and local insight has really made this event different. We have learned over the years how to expand its reach. The first seminar was held in St. Louis some 15 years ago and focused purely on the Asia-Pacific region. We realized quickly that this lens was too narrow. We then organized the event to precede the Society of Actuaries annual meeting in the same host city, and it began to attract clients from across six continents. It’s also worth noting that in 2021 GCAS presentations feature live translations into Japanese, Spanish and Portuguese.
It’s interesting that so many people over the years have been willing to travel extremely long distances to attend GCAS. Can you explain the attraction?
Many of the things we address at the seminar – to innovate, collaborate, solve problems, and identify new opportunities – aren’t learned formally. Especially in knowledge-based industries like insurance, much of what we need to know we learn from others. The real value of an event like GCAS is the ability to bring experts from a wide variety of fields together in one space to share real-life experiences and lessons from the field. In many cases, we have noted that insurers choose to send their rising stars to this event, and that says a lot. Too many companies take a narrow, opportunistic view of relationships, evaluating them strictly in financial terms and neglecting the human benefits of information exchange. Exposure to challenging ideas can broaden horizons and prepare people to lead in periods of great change, just as networking with new people can open new doors and provide unforeseen opportunities.
Moving the seminar to immediately follow the SOA Annual Meeting and in the same host city reduced the travel required since many of our clients attend the SOA meeting beforehand. Also, the past two years, the seminar has been held virtually such that travel is not a hurdle.
Conducting the seminar must have become more difficult with the outbreak of COVID-19 and the inability to hold in-person events.
Surprisingly, the opposite proved true. The move to a virtual format helped attract a whole new audience to GCAS and expanded attendance by several orders of magnitude. We think this success reinforces the importance of adaptation. Yes, the lack of in-person interaction has been a challenge, but by moving to more frequent and shorter seminar presentations in June and then in November, we have been able to reach people who otherwise would not have been able to participate.
With the exchange of information so important, does GCAS invite external experts as speakers?
Put simply, our emphasis is on partnership. We believe in the power of shared knowledge, but a partner’s role is also to offer a trusted resource for re/insurance solutions. RGA’s deep expertise across disciplines means that clients do not need to go to expensive consultants for advice. But that’s not to say that RGA does not draw on a wide array of relationships to deliver insights. In fact, GCAS did feature an outside speaker in 2020: a Ph.D. clinical investigator who was funded by the Longer Life Foundation, a joint partnership between RGA and Washington University School of Medicine. That speaker discussed primary research into biomarkers that could be of use in triaging COVID-19 patients. It was a fascinating look at how medical research gets started at the lab bench level.