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Monaco meeting celebrates 50th year


MONTE CARLO, Monaco—For the past 50 years, insurance and reinsurance executives have been flocking to the principality of Monaco to discuss market issues, and the Rendez-Vous de Septembre has grown to include participants from many nations.

It wasn't always that way, though.

The Rendez-Vous began in 1957, principally as a gathering of continental Europeans initiated by Andre Roux, then president of France's Assurances Generales des Accidents, and others to exchange information on market trends before the Jan. 1 reinsurance renewal period. Monaco had held meetings of marine insurance executives prior to 1957, and the location was attractive for several reasons, according to the Direction du Tourisme et des Congres. Monaco's weather is mild, Monte Carlo is a small area with relatively easy access from other cities, and in the 1950s it had no insurance or reinsurance entities domiciled there, offering a neutral venue for the industry.

The tiny principality bordering France attracted America's attention when actress Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956, but U.S. reinsurance industry participants were infrequent at the Rendez-Vous until the early 1980s, according to market executives.

In French, "rendez-vous" means "meeting," and that precisely describes the main activity here. Informal meetings of participants occur in hotels, cafes, restaurants and elsewhere.

Even though "very little" business is transacted in Monte Carlo, the event remains an important opportunity to see where reinsurance rates, terms and conditions may be heading, said veteran reinsurance executive John Berger, chief executive officer of Pembroke, Bermuda-based Harbor Point Ltd.

"The Rendez-Vous sets the stage" for serious renewal discussion and business written in Baden-Baden, Germany, each October, noted Mr. Berger, who has attended the Rendez-Vous almost every year since 1986. "It has always been very social, very traditional. From an overall networking and market knowledge standpoint, how productive (the Rendez-Vous is) is determined by what's going on in the market," he said.

Jacques Bonneau, chairman and CEO of Hamilton, Bermuda-based ACE Tempest Re, said the Rendez-Vous gives reinsurers a good opportunity to meet brokers and "get a beginning feel for what people are thinking. It gives you a chance to meet with clients specifically and have good dialogue." He said the gathering also "gives us an opportunity to talk to people in other areas of the world where you don't have a presence and get educated" on activity in those markets.

"The value of the Rendez-Vous is that it provides such a concentrated view of what's happening," said Henry Keeling, chief operating officer of XL Capital Ltd. in Hamilton, Bermuda. "You might have 40 meetings in two days, so you don't have a lot of time to drill down into business issues. But communication can be very direct and very insightful across a wide range" of topics, said Mr. Keeling, who has been coming to Monte Carlo for nearly 15 years. "Monte Carlo is not a lot of fun--it's a lot of work."

While the Rendez-Vous annually attracts participants from dozens of countries, especially in Europe, in recent years large numbers have come from outside Europe.

"The American contingent has grown over the years," said Mr. Berger. "A small number of Americans always came," but the group grew dramatically in the 1980s, when the U.S. reinsurance market saw a wave of company formations.

Consolidation over time has made U.S., U.K. and Bermuda-based companies among the most influential players in the global reinsurance business, and the Rendez-Vous' participant list reflects that shift.

Jean-Philippe Thierry, chairman of Paris-based Assurance Generales de France, the successor to Assurances Generales des Accidents, pointed out that the world's four largest reinsurance brokers are either U.S. or U.K. based. "The world market for reinsurance brokers has fallen into the hands of U.S. and British companies," Mr. Thierry said in translated remarks at a press conference September 12. "As a result, the Rendez-Vous de Septembre has become more Anglo-American than usual," he said.

Approximately 2,500 participants from 83 countries--comprising reinsurers, insurers, brokers, consultants, accountants, attorneys, investment banks and others allied to the reinsurance business--were registered attendees for this year's Rendez-Vous. But many who come for the informal gathering do not officially register, so the total number of attendees from year to year is typically higher. Fifty years ago, there were 462 registrants from 24 countries at the first Rendez-Vous, and by 1973 those numbers had reached 1,300 participants and 66 countries. The Rendez-Vous has attracted more than 2,000 participants annually since about 1990, according to the event's organizing committee.