The conference trend clearly was toward property-casualty

By ara c. trembly

Long before “The Sixth Sense” made the phrase “I see dead people” part of the popular lexicon, Hollywood foisted a variety of deceased menaces–zombies, vampires, revivified cadavers (or parts thereof), ghosts, mummies, scary voices from the beyond–upon an apparently all-too-willing movie-going public.

Have you noticed, though, that in most cases when it comes to plain old dead people who have yet to step onto the celestial elevator, we in the audience can see and hear them, but those in the film who are alive usually can’t? Remember how the dead Patrick Swayze couldn’t really communicate with his still-living love interest Demi Moore in “Ghost,” at least until the Righteous Brothers started belting out “Unchained Melody” with such force that it must have shattered the barrier between here and the nether world? Now those boys could really sing!

Anyhow, I couldn’t help thinking that I, too, was seeing dead people walking when I observed the trade show booths of some exhibitors at the recent ACORD LOMA Insurance Systems Forum in Orlando. The exhibitors I’m talking about were those who were offering strictly life insurance or annuity-related technology products–some of the same companies who were once the staple of the now-deceased LOMA Insurance Systems Forum.

To be sure, there were individuals manning these booths. These people were well-dressed, articulate, engaging and at least initially, enthusiastic. Yet as I watched them try to draw show traffic into their space, it seemed as if the show-goers took no notice whatever. The booth denizens smiled, waved and hoped, but for all their efforts, they might as well have been ghosts. For the most part, those in the aisles stayed there or flocked to p-c oriented booths.

But is the situation really that bad for vendors of life technology products? At ACORD LOMA, apparently it was. A review of the new product introductions at this conference revealed that there were more than twice as many p-c announcements as life/health product intros. At least in the context of ACORD LOMA, p-c tech was grabbing most, if not all, of the attention.

Why should this be? According to more than one life tech vendor, the timing of the ACORD LOMA conference (end of May) is too late in the year for life carriers’ corporate buying planning process (the former LOMA Systems Forum was held in March or April). Another life tech company representative complained that the traffic he was seeing was “mostly other vendors.”

To anyone attending this conference it was abundantly clear that p-c products were dominant, and that is really no surprise. When ACORD (primarily concerned with p-c) and LOMA (which deals in the life space) merged their tech shows in 2004, ACORD was drawing nearly 1,000 more conference attendees each year. In addition, LOMA already was seeing a yearly drop-off in attendance at its Systems Forum, while ACORD was experiencing growing numbers for its conference. Common sense tells one that the majority of people attending the melded event should be focused on p-c.

Interestingly, total attendance this year at ACORD LOMA was down slightly to 2,295 from last year’s 2,450, according to Rick Gilman, vice president of Pearl River, N.Y.-based ACORD. While the numbers haven’t been broken out, it’s a good bet that the lion’s share of the decline came on the life side. It should be said, however, that ACORD LOMA makes a significant effort to offer life insurance and health insurance sessions as part of the conference. Life tech vendors are being victimized more by the realities of their market than by any shortcoming of the conference.

As one who regularly monitors tech developments in our industry, I can affirm that much more happens on the p-c side than the life side. In part this may be due to the many lines of business that fall under p-c, as well as the urgency to purchase p-c lines, like auto and home insurance, vs. life insurance. Such urgency gives rise to buzzwords like “speed to market” and “straight-through processing” that are simply not as important in the sleepy life space as they are in the faster-paced world of p-c. In addition, the p-c arena includes independent agents who have their own unique technology needs, as opposed to life agents, many of whom are captive.

The bottom line, however, is that the needs of life tech vendors are not being met at this combined conference. There is a legitimate place for life/health technology, but it will not flourish in an atmosphere that is clearly p-c dominated.

Life tech needs its own show again. Yes, it would be relatively small, but at least such a conference could focus on the unique needs and concerns of this vitally important segment of the tech industry.

Is that the Righteous Brothers I hear?

There is a legitimate place for life/health technology, but it will not flourish in an atmosphere that is clearly p-c dominated. Life tech needs its own show again.”