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Ole Miss Insurance Symposium tackles critical industry issues

By Stella Connell

University of Mississippi

Key industry issues, including the Affordable Care Act and catastrophe management, were examined in depth at the annual Ole Miss Insurance Symposium, hosted for the 22nd consecutive year by the University of Mississippi’s risk management and insurance program.

The event, held March 22-23 at The Inn at Ole Miss, continues to attract industry leaders to campus and is one of the hallmark events of the School of Business Administration.

Andre Liebenberg, associate professor of finance and the university’s Gwenette P. and Jack W. Robertson Chair of Insurance, praised the Ole Miss Insurance Advisory Board for developing this year’s program.

“We are proud to host over 200 industry guests on our beautiful campus and to showcase our nationally ranked program and, more generally, our exceptional university and town,” Liebenberg said. “In addition to being our largest fundraiser, the symposium provides us an opportunity to serve the industry by providing continuing education.”

Ken Cyree, dean of the School of Business Administration, praised the dynamic lineup of presenters.

“We are thrilled that the RMI program is able to attract first-rate speakers (and) attendees and provide such an extraordinary experience for leaders in the insurance industry,” Cyree said.

Leigh Ann Pusey, president and CEO of the American Insurance Association, opened the symposium with a discussion of critical issues facing the industry in 2017. She noted the need for talent in the insurance industry and commended the RMI program on the strength of its students.

“Life is full of ethical dilemmas, and we have to make decision,” said Lance Ewing, executive vice president of risk management for Cotton Holdings Inc., who led the large audience through a myriad of situations where their judgment would be called into action.

Using leadership examples of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Adolph Hitler, along with corporate policies of Caesars Casino and Wal-Mart, Ewing weaved through complicated situations and philosophies RMI industry professionals deal with often.

“We are in the business of ethics,” he said. “Our word is our bond.”

Introduced by his daughter, Isabelle, a sophomore from Southlake, Texas, David Repinski, CEO for the Americas of Cunningham Lindsey and a self-admitted “claims guy,” discussed catastrophe management.

“Plan when the skies are blue,” Repinski said. “Make sure your team knows what to do when a cat happens.

“Run drills. Find out who is available to be on site when it happens, and who is around to rapidly process 5,000 claims if necessary.”

The worst catastrophes of the past 15 years were the 2011 flood in Bangkok, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, followed by Hurricane Katrina in the U.S. in 2005, Repinski said.

Cunningham Lindsey is the second-largest insurance concern of its kind in the world, with offices in 63 countries and annual revenue of nearly a billion dollars.

In a concurrent session, Aaron Sisk, president and CEO of Magnolia Health Plan, spoke about the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the implications of the potential changes in health insurance legislation for insurers and citizens of Mississippi.

“The two biggest challenges in our industry are lack of human capital and technology,” said Glenn Spencer, COO and president of Lockton U.S., who spoke to a packed room of industry practitioners and Ole Miss students.

“If we aren’t growing, we can’t award and retain our people. We want to be the best place in the world to work.”

In an address to the group, Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter congratulated the insurance program on its 70th anniversary and recognized alumnus Bill Bryson, a member of the first class of graduates in 1947.  He acknowledged the program’s high job placement rate for graduates and noted that its rank has risen to the ninth-largest RMI program in the country.

“It is a common will and drive to always get better,” Vitter said. “Nothing is more important than higher education. It inspires innovation and allows people to improve their lives.”

The chancellor emphasized the UM community’s commitment to service locally and around the globe.

“We focus on the people and resources of our state to make a difference around the globe,” Vitter said.

Hank Watkins, president of North American operations for Lloyd’s of London, presented a brief history of the company, which was founded by Edward Lloyd in 1688, and explained that few new insurance companies are being launched because start-up costs and risks are intimidatingly high.

Many new industry professionals use Lloyd’s as a start-up incubator to grow their own businesses underneath the Lloyd’s umbrella. The firm has a franchise board to make sure compliance issues are met, he said.

The symposium concluded with a panel featuring Mike Chaney, Mississippi insurance commissioner, and Joel Wood, senior vice president of government affairs for the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers.

Chaney and Wood led the audience through a lively discussion of insurance concerns in Mississippi under the Trump administration, regarding flood issues and the low tax rate the state receives. They examined efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which failed the day after the symposium concluded.

The UM School of Business Administration was established in 1917 and the insurance major was introduced in 1947. For more information on the RMI program, go to http://www.olemissbusiness.com/rmi/.