The choice of Stockholm as the setting for the first international seminar organised by the International Underwriting Association of London reflects the outward-looking approach adopted immediately by the association, says Marie-Louise Rossi.

Stockholm is an excellent choice of location for the first international seminar organised by the International Underwriting Association (IUA). Apart from its well known attractions as a tourist centre, it is one of Europe's more outward-looking and cosmopolitan cities, and has long prospered as a trading centre. It has a strong sense of its own worth, but welcomes people of all nationalities; modern, yet proud of its traditions.

These are values with which the IUA readily identifies. We are an international association, serving a global industry. Our roots and the majority of our members are in London which, for well known historical reasons, provides the world's main insurance marketplace and centre of expertise. At the same time, we are international in our focus and outlook.

The seminar itself reflects the changing and increasingly global nature of reinsurance. We have made a special effort to encourage people from within to take a detached, broad view of the industry. That is, of course, reflected in the theme, Through the Looking Glass, and it is why we have invited more people than usual from outside to give us their views.

It is all too tempting, especially in difficult market conditions, to become introspective. Far better to share experiences, encourage outsiders' views and consider the lessons we can learn, not just from other companies, but from other industries as well. Information swapping at all levels, in the conference hall, over dinner or in the bar, is one of the most important features of such a seminar. Indeed, our first debate is entitled the Reinsurance industry - how others see us, and I expect some of the speakers to be critical, or at least draw our attention to the changing needs of the market.

Among the many other areas that we are covering, we shall take a close look at the great consolidation debate, examine how different companies are adapting to “big is beautiful” and look at why electronic commerce has not yet brought the industry the benefits some thought it would.

Events like this also provide an opportunity to gain a greater insight into the activities of others, who are responding to and helping shape the changing commercial environment. For that reason, we are delighted that so many senior people have agreed to take part, including Jim Duffy of St Paul Re, Max Taylor of Lloyd's, Bill Adamson of CNA Re and Michael O'Halleran of Aon.

For the first time, we have introduced breakout sessions. These will give delegates a wider choice of topic and the opportunity to have more direct dialogue with the eminent speakers who have agreed to take part. Global market developments, alternative risk transfer, the impact of the single European currency, the future direction of electronic commerce and the crucial question of the insurance cycle are all issues of particular relevance to senior executives.We have, in addition, allowed more time for feedback from the floor. We know that delegates value the opportunity to question or put points to speakers and this emphasises our Through the Looking Glass theme.

Further details of the association's year-round activities can be found in the pages following this introduction. Other articles consider the (re)insurance market as a whole, and David Holmes, head of secretariat at the IUA, sums up the changes the industry has seen over the years with a good deal of wit in: A colourful past, a lively present and an exciting future.

The piece also traces the history behind this seminar - the fourteenth in a series previously organised by two of our predecessor associations, the Reinsurance Offices' Association (ROA) and the London International Insurance and Reinsurance Market Association (LIRMA), whose last seminar was held in Dublin in 1997. The IUA is proud to continue the tradition and I am confident that this year's event will prove a great success.

Marie-Louise Rossi is chief executive of the International Underwriting Association of London (IUA).