It was September 2011. My first visit to Paris and to the IUMI annual conference. I had heard about this “largest gathering of marine underwriters on earth” and was looking forward to taking part one day. I had already completed two years in the corporate marine department of my company, the largest in India, and was pestering my seniors to nominate me to attend. My boss, recognising my enthusiasm, asked me to attend the Paris IUMI meeting. I was delighted and started to prepare for the journey.
On 18 September 2011, I attended the IUMI conference first timers’ reception, and then later the welcome reception. The welcome speech at the iconic ‘Les Salons France Amériques’ still rings fresh in my ears. The scramble for the ‘real’ champagne and French hosts’ bonhomie was an electrifying experience. During the first timers’ reception, Ole Wikborg, the then IUMI President and Fritz Stabinger, IUMI Secretary General, met all of us and we felt so much at ease whilst making new friends eagerly.
At the welcome reception, I realised that everyone knew everyone else except me. Friends and groups were already there and animated conversations were going on amongst people. I was hesitant to disturb them by extending my business card with ‘a hey I want to introduce myself’ look in my eyes. But I made two friends, Carlos from Italy and Max Zaccar from Lebanon, soon enough.
The excitement of the evening gave way to great learning experience with the sessions the next morning. The crisp 20 minute presentations, on time completion and pointed questions and answers sessions were impressive. In just three days all the then current issues affecting marine insurance were covered and we were transported to a different marine world - the real international character of marine insurance. Many participants would plan to go out and see the city’s exciting attractions but I did not want to miss any session. In fact, sometimes I felt upset at how there were concurrent sessions going on as both the sessions had interesting topics and forced me to choose only one. Following this I made it a point to attend every IUMI conference thereafter and haven’t missed one to date.
The IUMI website has become the singular window for all developments in the marine insurance world and current issues which are of great interest to marine underwriters. I dutifully started following the website for updates.
Conference after conference there has always been something for everyone or everything for everyone, marine being so interrelated and integrated. Sanctions, piracy, YAR or Rotterdam rules, Hague Visby rules, Incoterms, project cargo, fine arts, manuscript clauses, etc. In short whatever you have heard on marine issues and were not able to comprehend was explained so clearly in those three days that you came back feeling like an expert.
In 2014 I became member of the cargo committee, a first from India and was introduced to all-round expertise in the global cargo market. This was a defining year as IUMI started focusing more on education, as well as Asian markets.
This was meant to be. Participants like me always felt that such an assembly of global marine expertise cannot just be for networking. It has become more and more for education, and the sharing of reliable knowledge, formally or informally as all current issues are discussed in the conference and views exchanged candidly. It was felt that IUMI’s education programme, enhanced with live case studies, videos and webinars, would be fundamentally different from classroom education imparted elsewhere by traditional educational institutions.
I still remember when Max Zaccar and I raised the importance of education in marine line of business in one of the secretaries’ lunch meetings, there was an agreement among the participants but at the same time some dissenting voices observed that IUMI cannot, and should not, be imparting education. They argued that there are already accredited educational institutions for this purpose all around the world. People like us, with less developed marine markets thought education from IUMI, the influential and trusted voice of global marine insurance, was the best place to implement a practical education module away from traditional learning methods.
So, we are very happy to see that since last year IUMI’s cargo and hull online tutorial programmes have been launched. I myself have taken the hull course and found that not a single institute offering a marine insurance course for certificate or diploma in India had so much applied knowledge as the IUMI tutorial. There is considerable interest in India about IUMI’s online tutorials and I expect in the coming weeks many people will join the course either personally or sponsored by their employers.
The marine practitioners in India and neighbouring countries have several issues with regard to marine insurance. Not only is the marine business a very small fraction of the overall insurance business, but the practices also vary. There is a lot of indigenisation of this most internationalised line of business. For simple underwriting or claims it is fine but for a large risk to be underwritten or large claim to be paid there is usually a flurry of correspondence back and forth which mostly arises out of ignorance with international practices, or question of facts versus simple interpretation of clauses.
Not that in India there is a shortage of marine insurance experts. In fact, one of the famous books on cargo insurance “Insuring Cargo; Law and Practice”, written by Mr KS Vishwanath, an acclaimed marine underwriter in India, has received wide appreciation globally. New India Assurance’s “Guidebook on marine cargo insurance” is immensely popular on the IUMI website. Most of the present and ex CEOs or senior officers take pride in being marine insurance experts, solely driven by their passion for marine. In India marine insurance is known as a knowledge line of business where knowledge is of paramount importance. But somehow the market driven race for volume of business in last few decades, has relegated marine to the background and left marine underwriters and experts as a bright but fragmented lot with isolated expertise. Perhaps a marine underwriters association or forum would have prevented such fragmentation of expertise and kept it as a cohesive reliable body of knowledge. Maybe this will happen soon in future.
As an alternative to lack of precise guidance and education many discussion groups have been formed on LinkedIn and Whatsapp where members are free to discuss and debate any issue. Going by the large number of posts and reactions on social media it can be concluded that marine practitioners need a platform which is authentic, accredited for its thought leadership, keeps up-to-date with current issues and interacts on social media as well. IUMI’s education programme fits perfectly and can prepare people from this region for greater responsibilities as well as teaching them more in specialised areas if they choose to advance their studies.
In India, in May 2017, when the IUMI Executive Committee met in Mumbai for their Spring Meeting for the first time, I organised a market meeting which was attended by over 300 participants. Then President Dieter Berg and Secretary General Lars Lange’s spirited presentations and the presence of IUMI’s Executive Committee members in the panel discussions energised the Indian marine market like never before. There has been a revival of interest in marine since then. Regular underwriters’ meet when General Insurance Council is taking place. Underwriters are not only participating in webinars, taking lot of interest in IUMI’s Asia efforts but also aspiring for IUMI Technical Committee memberships.
On 19 June, Indian marine underwriters from all companies are meeting IUMI Secretary General, Lars Lange during his visit to General Insurance Council India and it is important that we keep the passion for marine insurance growing with regular meetings and interactions for a more informed and professional standard in marine underwriting in India.
More in the next blog.