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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

‘Start wide, expand further, and never look back’

t is as if general insurance actuaries the world over have heeded the above words of a famous Austrian. The 33rd GIRO Convention, the main general insurance conference for UK actuaries, was one best described with superlatives.
The conference, held in Vienna from 26 to 29 September this year, was the most distant GIRO from the UK mainland. Nevertheless, a record number of delegates from all over the globe came to enjoy the city famed for its schnitzel, strudel, and sachertorte. By the Tuesday evening, however, the numerous coffee houses punctuating the imperial streets emptied. The crowds made their way to the Hilton Am Stadtpark and awaited, arguably, the most comprehensive and diverse GIRO programme yet.

Not a flying start
For those on the 3pm flight out of Heathrow, the conference did not exactly get off to a flying start. An unnamed passenger, reputedly not of an actuarial persuasion, caught wind of the number of us on board and, despite already being seated on the plane, decided that the trip was just not for him. The resulting delay, however, was not sufficient to dent the attendance at the newcomers’ drinks reception. Around 20% of the 530 delegates were attending GIRO for the first time and the committee was most pleased to welcome them. The remainder of the first evening offered us a buffet dinner and drinks, time to catch up with familiar faces, and the opportunity to meet many more.
Wednesday saw the formal opening of the two-and-a-half-day conference. The programme consisted of eight plenary sessions and around 40 smaller workshops held in five concurrent sessions. For the latter, delegates opted to attend workshops of particular interest to themselves.
During the first plenary, Dr Klaus Wegenkittl, president of the Actuarial Association of Austria, welcomed us all to Vienna and reminded us of the significant contribution made by his countrymen to the field of mathematics and actuarial science. Nick Dumbreck provided some extracts from his then-recent presidential address. He went on to project, using some standard non-life actuarial techniques, the recent development history of GIRO attendance, and arrived at the conclusion that we will soon be an annual gathering of some 5,000 actuaries or maybe 10,000 or 15,000, depending on one’s assumptions.
Cat modelling, GRIT, and ROC
Last year’s ‘theme’ of the estimating and communicating of reserve uncertainty continued in this year’s second plenary with Scott Collings introducing the topic from an Australian perspective. Tony Jones thanked all involved in the General Insurance Reserving Issues Taskforce (GRIT), and launched the successor committee, the Reserve Oversight Committee (ROC). ROC is seeking to implement the recommendations suggested by GRIT’s work.
The Cat Modelling Working Party presented an extract of its work. Graham Fulcher and his team were awarded the Brian Hey prize for their research paper. Named after the distinguished general insurance actuary, the prize is awarded to the best research papers with practical application. The final plenary of the day saw Duncan Anderson give an update on the General Insurance Premium Rating Issues Working Party.
It was not hard to find an interesting workshop given the variety on offer. The two concurrent sessions of the day offered discussions on software use, catastrophe risk aggregation, optimising management information, and Solvency II. Some more technical and specialist areas of discussion included directors & officers pricing, energy-large loss analysis (ELLA), securitisations, and Irish issues.
In the evening, a cruise down the Danube provided a good opportunity to unwind, catch up, and discuss the day’s programme.

The power of group thinking
Thursday presented an even greater choice of concurrent workshops. The first morning session offered sessions on Lloyd’s issues, embedding capital models in the business, and a demonstration of the power of group thinking. The latter showed us how our individual estimates can be improved upon by averaging a number of estimates from a large, diverse group. Further workshops during the day covered claims management, correlations, data quality, reinsurance, reserve uncertainty, and capital allocation, to name a few.
Thursday’s plenary sessions covered an equally varied number of topics. Annette Olesen and Kathryn Morgan updated us on Solvency II, and Rob Curtis of the FSA spoke about the European Reinsurance Directive. Andrew Pryde and James Toller shared their experience of linking their pricing, reserving, and capital models. The annual update from the General Insurance Board was given by its chairman, Derek Newton. Don Mango, presenting on enterprise risk management, urged us to rethink some of our basic terminology in an effort to change price-focused attitudes. Viewing the insurer as a club, he suggested that insurers do not sell products. Rather, they sell a promise and, in turn, policyholders buy varying levels of access rights.
The last plenary of the day also saw the announcement of the GIRO Lifetime Achievement Award. It is awarded to someone who, over the course of many years has made a significant contribution to GIRO. This year, Peter Johnson is a worthy recipient of the award.

Spontaneous combustion
At the end of the second day, delegates were given the opportunity to both suggest and sign up to future working parties for next year’s GIRO convention before taking their seats for the gala dinner. The improvising stand-up comedy group ‘Spontaneous Combustion’ made actuaries look marginally more exciting than tax consultants and kept us all very much entertained, as well as better informed about the Welsh language. In traditional GIRO fashion, the end of the gala dinner marked the beginning of the last night out.
The morning after, the closing plenary on Friday was surprisingly lively. Caroline Hunter-Yeats, a solicitor specialising in professional negligence, gave us some handy hints to avoid meeting her again (at least in her professional capacity). Nausicaa Delfas of the FSA and Camilla Bennett then made us all realise that the treating customers fairly (TCF), an ongoing FSA initiative, is of direct relevance to us working in many different parts of our organisations. A final address from Catherine Barton, at her last GIRO conference as chair of the organising committee, drew the conference to a close. On behalf of the GIRO Organising Committee, I would like to thank Catherine for her considerable contribution to GIRO over the past few years.

From Austria to Wales
Shortly afterwards, actuaries spilled back into the streets of Vienna; some headed straight for the airport, others for lunch, and others stayed to enjoy the culture-filled Austrian capital. With 2006 marking the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, there was plenty of opportunity to join the celebration of Austria’s greatest minds: Schubert, Strauss, Bruckner, and, of course he who coined the above phrase that captures the collective attitude of general insurance actuaries today the current governor of California.
With well over 500 delegates attending this year, this provides both great challenge and encouragement to the committee in the coming year. On behalf of the GIRO Organising Committee, I would like to extend our thanks to all of those who contributed to the conference and made it the success it was. We hope that many of you will share our enthusiasm in contributing to next year’s 34th GIRO convention, to be held at the Celtic Manor Resort, where we look forward to saying: Croeso i Gymru!