Canadian Underwriter

Why these industry events were postponed amid COVID-19 fears

March 12, 2020   by Adam Malik

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Under mounting uncertainty and safety concerns, MSA Research made the call to push back two of its upcoming conferences to the fall.

InsurTech North was set to run April 6-7 in Toronto, while the Canadian Insurance Financial Forum (CIFF) was scheduled for June 1-2. As threats from COVID-19 forced travel bans and raised concerns of contracting the virus, the decision had to be made, MSA Research CEO Joel Baker told Canadian Underwriter.

“We looked at the cost-benefit … and we decided the uncertainty is just too high,” he explained. “The [health] of our delegates and speakers outweighs the risk of forging ahead with it. It just made more sense to move it. It was a difficult decision. We decided to bite the bullet and take them to higher ground — that’s the way I look at it.”

At least year’s InsurTech North in Toronto, from left, Jennifer Reynolds moderates a panel with RBC’s Rino D’Onofrio and Rowan Saunders from Economical at InsureTech North.

A key consideration in postponing both events — InsurTech North to Nov. 9-10 and CIFF to Oct. 19-20 — was the fact that international speakers and delegates were slated to attend the event. “We saw the mounting uncertainty and worry, and we had comments from committee members and delegates who were concerned,” Baker said. “We have international speakers and delegates, and some expressed concerns.”

Add in the fact that some companies have instituted travel bans, Baker felt it wouldn’t do any good “to force anyone to get on a plane that didn’t need to.”

There has been little to no push-back on the decision to reschedule, he noted. “Everybody agreed with us that [this] was the right choice to make.”

That doesn’t mean the decision was made easily. About 200 people had registered for InsurTech, with the expectation of 300 eventually being in attendance. But would that many have actually shown up, given the potential risks? Would registration grind to a halt amid uncertainty? Those were questions Baker had to face. “I think it’s better just to make a decision and bite the bullet, do the right thing and deal with the consequences.”

Moving events also pose additional issues around speaker availability: There’s no guarantee the same speakers will be available in the fall. Still, Baker would rather keep people out of harm’s way. “It’s difficult and we may lose some speakers,” he said. “Hopefully, we don’t lose too many. We’re trying to re-confirm as many as we can.”

Over the next few months, MSA Research will monitor the progression of the virus. The company also hosts the National Insurance Conference of Canada, a premier industry conference scheduled for Sept. 30-Oct. 2.

“We’re looking at the fall as business as usual and carrying on with the perspective that everything should be working out okay,” Baker said. “We’re treating it under the assumption that things will be better in the fall.”

Baker also noted that other conferences should consider their own circumstances before deciding whether to continue, cancel, or postpone. “We feel bad for other conferences that are in this environment. Maybe they’ll make the same decision, maybe they won’t, but everybody has to make their own call depending on their own clients and their own needs.”

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