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CHICAGO -- The annual conference of the Professional Liability Underwriting Society attracted about 2,100 attendees to Chicago's Sheraton Hotel & Towers Nov. 12-14.

A recurring conference theme was the need for professional liability insurers to price and underwrite responsibly, a notion PLUS President William R. Mullin forwarded in his opening remarks.

Mr. Mullin, senior vp at American Professional Agency Inc. in Amityville, N.Y., asked PLUS members to "stop the insanity" and "take back our profession."

In his keynote address, Maurice R. Greenberg, chairman and chief executive officer of American International Group Inc., voiced a similar concern. "How can individuals in our business be so professional yet behave so imprudently?" Mr. Greenberg asked.

"There's a short-term view being taken by too many professionals in this business," he added.

Mr. Greenberg suggested that in any similar insurance market situation, "there's a group of companies always that say, 'We're not going to follow prices down to absurdity.' Those companies are the survivors."

At the same time, the AIG chairman suggested that current low rates should ease insurers' fears that the capital markets will compete with them for risk transfer business.

"As long as the insurance industry is willing to underwrite risks at rates that are so low, the capital markets are not a threat," Mr. Greenberg said. "So don't fear that. . .I'm sorry to say."

Responding to a question from the floor regarding his plans for a successor at AIG, Mr. Greenberg noted that the company has a president and that it's traditional for the president to become chairman when the chairman retires. Mr. Greenberg's son, Evan G. Greenberg, was named president and chief operating officer of AIG earlier this year.

Mr. Greenberg also quoted Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett as saying he'd retire 10 years after he died. Mr. Greenberg said he's "working on that sort of thing."

The 1998 PLUS conference is scheduled for Nov. 11-13 in Palm Springs, Calif. For more information, call PLUS at 800-845-0778 or 612-928-4644.