AIRMIC's 2004 conference was one of the liveliest and best attended for years The wide range of talks and workshops gave a glimpse of the changing risk management agenda. Listed below are some of the highlights of the event.

European risk management grant

An initiative to expand knowledge of risk management to small and medium-sized enterprises has received the go-ahead following a grant of EUR208,317 by the European Commission. It is run by an umbrella group consisting of risk management associations and academic institutions from the UK, France, Germany and Italy.

AIRMIC Executive Director David Gamble, one of the scheme's architects, said: "This news means that we can begin work on educating a wider public about good risk management. We know that there's an appetite out there for this type of knowledge."

As well as AIRMIC, this initiative brings together as partners FERMA, the UK-based Institute of Risk Management (IRM), AMRAE (France), ANRA (Italy), DVS (Germany), Bordeaux Business School and the University of Verona.

New asbestos laws

Most UK businesses are in breach of new asbestos regulations that came into force in May, apparently unaware that failure to comply could have serious consequences.

Justin Martin of Cunningham Lindsey UK told a workshop that research showed around 50% of firms did not know about the Control of Asbestos at Work regulations and only about one-in-four were compliant.

"Companies should understand that failure to comply leaves you in breach of the law and potentially facing prosecution. You may find that contractors refuse to supply services or do so at additional cost," he said.

"It may also affect your relationships with underwriters, especially when purchasing Employers' Liability insurance."

Captives face increased regulation

The days when captive insurers could be a law unto themselves with only minimal regulation are rapidly disappearing, said David Hertzell of Davis Arnold Cooper.

Captive centres have to satisfy an increasingly demanding international climate, and prudential regulatory requirements are becoming similar to those for mainstream commercial insurers, he said.

"Captives must be able to demonstrate that they meet tough solvency thresholds, as well as satisfying international concerns in relation to terrorism, tax evasion and money laundering," said Mr Hertzell.

E-commerce and insurance buying

Risk managers were told that they would have more control over their insurance programmes and a greater choice of suppliers if they adopted common electronic standards for their e-commerce.

"We're trying to achieve a situation where everyone in the risk process - insurers, brokers, reinsurers and the ultimate customers - speaks the same electronic language," said Phil Brown of the ACORD standards agency.

"For risk managers, advantages include greater transparency of information, more freedom to switch between suppliers quickly without having to reconfigure back office systems, and opportunities to negotiate improved coverage with insurers in return for providing the information they need."

ACORD is a not-for-profit organisation set up to standardise flows of information on a global basis for the insurance and reinsurance industries.

It has strong backing from within the London market - including Lloyd's, the IUA and the brokers - and from all the main North American and European insurers, reinsurers and brokers. It has yet, however, to make much impact on risk managers.

Workplace rehabilitation

Providing workplace rehabilitation is proven to reduce absence and save money, as well as being the right thing to do, according to Melanie Summers and Steve Eckhardt of AIG.

"Rehabilitation benefits individuals, their families, their employers and society as a whole," said Ms Summers, Managing Director of AIG Medical and Rehabilitation.

"We recognise, however, that there must also be some cost benefit for insurers, and our research demonstrates conclusively that there is. We estimate that they can expect to save on average 34% from the cost of claims, mainly because of the multipliers associated with the cost of future loss of earnings."