Not quite as many people will attend the 1998 RIMS conference in San Diego in April as did the Super Bowl in January, notes Lee Coppack. Compared to the 70,000 or so fans who turned up to watch the Denver Broncos beat the Great Bay Packers (31-24), RIMS will be a modest occasion.
Still, there is nothing like RIMS. This is a conference plus exhibition so large that only six or seven cities in North American can accommodate the 4,000 plus registered delegates and their spouses and more than 4,000 exhibitors. The San Diego conference centre was booked in 1989 for the week from 26 April 1998.
In addition, some 2,000-2,500 RIMS groupies never register but take advantage of the concentration of clients and potential clients to hold meetings, host cocktail parties and, perhaps in a few cases, catch up on non-business activities. A special orienteering session is held at the start of the week for first timers; there were over 1,000 last year in Atlanta.
The keys to RIMS is selection. California is always popular, and by January, the exhibition hall was fully booked and there was a waiting list. Some 700 exhibit stands range from A&S Financial Services to Zurich-America Group and include the wonderfully named Lien on Me.
One internet holiday guide to San Diego advises: "Chances are you'll enjoy a few diversions, then spend much of your vacation in the shade of a tall palm tree, watching the waves crash on shore, letting the surf lull you into a series of siestas." This is not what the RIMS organisers have in mind.
During the day, there are more "learning opportunities" and chances to network than anyone could take advantage of between now and the next RIMS. This year's programme lists 30 industry and 140 core educational sessions. As usual, the programme is full of intriguing session titles, like "Retiree medical - show me the money!", "The butler did it - steps to file a fidelity claim" and "From Wall Street to Pine Street."
In the evening, hospitality suites organised by companies range from comparatively modest - a few drinks and some canapés - to extravagant - more drinks, a buffet that eliminates the need for dinner and professional entertainment.
On Tuesday, RIMS has scheduled a panel discussion by insurance industry "big guns" to talk about consolidation - and what it means for sensitive topics like fees and commissions. It is intended as an opportunity for consumers - in this case, a large number of risk managers often from more modestly sized companies and organisations - to find out how the macro-developments in the industry could affect them.
It should also give them a chance to tell the industry's movers and shakers how they feel, too. As this year's president of RIMS, Stephen Wilder, wrote in the 1997 Risk edition of Global Reinsurance following a survey of RIMS members on this very issue: "Service providers, who spent decades fortifying their global networks to support corporate customers' expanding operations, may not be shrinking their global reach, but consolidations will certainly limit customers' choices.
"This is perhaps only one of the potential concerns of corporate risk managers. Service quality, the range of products available and industry efficiency overall - there is no clear consensus on whether consolidation will be positive or negative for corporate customers. While many in the business community have focused attention on the financial viability of the combinations and the impact they will have on share prices and shareholder values, certainly the customers' perspective should not be lost in all of this!"
Americans are well known for their love of the car, but although the staff in some of the largest convention centres resort to bicycles or roller skates to cover the necessary distances, there is no other way to see the exhibits than to walk. To tempt delegates to do so, RIMS has this year introduced an event that appeals at another US quality - the sweet tooth. After the panel discussion on Tuesday, a selection of 10 different desserts will be served from strategic positions in the exhibition hall, though perhaps not from outside stand 1652 (Healthcare Management, Inc.), number 638 (IMC Health Care, Inc.) or number 1201 (Medical Consultant's Network).
Outside the conference, there will be plenty of attractions. San Diego is actually the sixth largest city in the nation, but also an important vacation spot with beaches and parks. Sunday 26 April offers the 17th annual La Jolla half marathon and the 9th annual San Diego earth fair in Balboa Park. (Expected attendance: 50,000).
It is a city with a long and interesting history. Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo landed at present-day Point Loma and claimed California for Spain in 1542. Sebastian Vizcaino renamed the place San Diego in 1602, but it was only in 1769 that the development of San Diego really began with the first settlement in San Diego Bay and the establishment of the first mission. San Diego was part of Mexico until 1848 when the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, ending the Mexican-American war. Today, the city still reflects its Spanish history and close proximity to Mexico. The busiest border crossing in the world is that between San Diego and the neighbouring city of Tijuana, Mexico.
By the end of the week when the delegates are shaking the sand from their shoes (being realistic), packing their bags and wondering where to put all the literature and corporate goodies they have collected during the week and the Mexican hat from Tijuana, Barbara Parker and her team at RIMS will already have been working for several months on the 1999 RIMS conference being held in Dallas, Texas. It is an exceptional event.
For more details of this year's conference, see the RIMS web site at www.rims.org. Please also visit us at the Global Reinsurance stand number 1653 at RIMS.
Lee Coppack is co-editor of Global Reinsurance.