For now, the InsureTech Connect website offers this reassuring statement: “ITC Is on Track for Sept. 21-23-2020.”
But with the coronavirus pandemic spreading aggressively around the world, ITC CEO and co-founder Jay Weintraub said that the organization is already planning contingencies in case the virus continues creating safety problems later this year.
“We’re all assessing, trying to understand, not just how to operate in the world today, but we’re all trying to figure out the world, whatever the new normal is, what that is going to be,” Weintraub told Carrier Management during a recent remote interview, speaking from his home in New York, a city that has become an epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis.
Weintraub added he believes there will be “a lot of lessons learned from going through this, and so when we think about this with respect to InsureTech Connect, it’s how we can sort of highlight the learnings that are going to result from this.”
ITC attracted more than 7,000 people in 2019 from around the world, up from 5,000 in 2018, 3,500 in 2017 and 1,500 in 2016, the conference’s very first year, according to ITC data cited by Weintraub. The conference has become one of the largest InsurTech industry events globally. Planning takes months to launch a conference that includes displays of the latest InsurTech innovations, plus massive levels of networking and launches of the latest innovations. But through the winter, as ITC planners were doing their work, the coronavirus crisis worsened and spread. Meeting cancellations mushroomed, or other groups moved their sessions online to reduce coronavirus risk.
Moving forward, the coronavirus pandemic has left planning for many meetings and gatherings of all sizes up in the air. Weintraub said that as the virus spread in February, there was no indication in people’s mind that ITC’s September planning could be impacted. As March unfolded, however, it became perfectly clear that ITC would have to prepare for multiple scenarios.
“We realized next fall’s conference had to be rethought,” Weintraub said. “We had the conviction that no matter what happens, we need to plan these alternate scenarios.”
Best-Case, In-Between, Worst-Case Scenarios
For now, Weintraub said at least three possible options are in play for ITC’s fall conference: a regular session, some sort of hybrid presentation with both live and remote connections, and a possible postponement if the situation does not improve by then.
“The best-case scenario is certainly that the event is exactly as we expected it would be both in size, audience, makeup the tone of the conversations and that it was a continuation of the past four years,” Weintraub said. “It is full-steam ahead right now, on the belief right now that the world will return to a sense of health, and after weeks, if not months of distancing, there will be a desire to see each other in person again.”
A smaller, live event is one alternative option under early discussion in a post-coronavirus world where some risk might remain. The preliminary idea here is such an event could safely accommodate individuals who travel to the show, but also many who can’t travel “if companies have restrictions in place that are not lifted in time for our show.”
A hybrid event would mean that digital would play a large role in the final ITC conference, though organizers are in the early stages of figuring out what that would look like. Still, some possible scenarios are emerging.
“Imagine that there is a group of people whose companies made the decision, that [they’re] extending [their] travel ban through the end of the year, but imagine in this scenario around the time of July or August, the light at the end of the tunnel is truly a light at the end of the tunnel – not a train coming,” Weintraub said.
If this were to happen, Weintraub imagines corporations may lift their coronavirus travel bans, but other companies may not, preventing them from attending.
In this case, how could potential attendees still gain a sense of the ITC conference and the energy of a live show? One solution being explored would be the potential use of iPads in ITC’s massive “One-to-One” networking zone, so a person at the conference could easily network with a desired networking partner who could not attend – “somebody is in person and somebody is not,” as Weintraub explains. In addition, he said, ITC organizers are looking at the idea of having cameras positioned in such a way that a digital audience “could feel and see” the room a speaker is talking in as well as have a great view of the presentation itself.
“The only thing they could not do is rush the speakers after the fact,” Weintraub explained.
Of course, if the coronavirus situation does not improve, and if putting on the event “is not good for the community,” Weintraub acknowledges that ITC could be postponed. Still, he emphasized that postponement is not a certainty, either, with an event that’s 6 months away.
“I don’t want people to feel like we’re planning for it not to happen,” Weintraub said. At the same time, he added, it would be irresponsible for ITC “not to have multiple options lined up.”
“It would be naïve of us to assume it is 100 percent that ITC will happen,” Weintraub said. “It is outside of our control today. Come January, no one would have guessed that the Olympics would be moved and the NFL draft would be canceled.”
Regardless, the coronavirus will inform the agenda for ITC’s next conference, however it is presented, Weintraub said.
“Coronavirus will absolutely inform our agenda decisions. It presents us a unique opportunity to try and add value to people. If things play out in the more optimistic scenarios [with] a light at the end of the tunnel by early summer, there will be a lot of different companies that have gone through this,” Weintraub said. “Everyone was impacted. That is super-unique. You think about a lot of other incidents in insurance – even the biggest natural catastrophes – where it is not everyone all at once.”