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Seven Lessons for Leaders (Regardless of Industry) from the 2021 Global Insurance Symposium

GIS Lessons Learned

July 23, 2021

Greater Des Moines (DSM) played host to the seventh Global Insurance Symposium on June 28–30. This annual (save 2020) gathering of CEOs, insurance regulators and industry leaders was created in 2014 through a collaboration with the Greater Des Moines Partnership, the Iowa Insurance Division and the Iowa Economic Development Authority. The intent has been to showcase the breadth of the insurance industry here in Iowa while fostering deep discussions on some of the most pressing issues of our day.

While the 2021 event had many of the familiar features of prior Symposiums — an “InsurTech Expo,” speakers from across the globe and great networking opportunities — it also had many unique qualities thanks in large part to concerns and planning around COVID-19. By all accounts, the Symposium was a great success and re-established the event as a must-attend event for the future. Jay Byers at Global Insurance Symposium

Following are seven lessons learned from the 2021 Global Insurance Symposium that can be applied across our region and across our industries:

1. Global Risks Are Truly Global

This was one of the two central themes of this year’s Symposium. Pandemics, climate change and cyber were among the critical risks discussed by CEOs, regulators, re-insurers and even a NASA scientist. Each of these risks is affecting nearly every industry … industries that also rely on insurance companies to help mitigate their impact and cover associated losses. While we don’t have all of the answers, the insurance industry is proactively working to fill the gaps.

2. Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I)

We’ve come a long way, but have a long way to go. DE&I was the other central theme for #GIS201. What impressed me the most was the leadership happening here in the DSM region on this issue. Our companies and our leaders are actively pursuing more initiatives in this space than maybe anywhere else. Meanwhile, the industry is more cognizant than ever of the need to check for unintended biases in underwriting and pricing that can happen while using artificial intelligence and other technologies.

3. Pivot. But Don’t Lose Sight of Your Purpose

I lost count of the number of pivots or changes we made to pull off the 2021 Symposium. We changed dates hoping for vaccines to be available, we changed format and space to allow for greater social distancing and contact traceability and we added a hybrid component for those not able to travel or not comfortable attending in-person events. Through all of those difficult decisions, we didn’t lose sight of our purpose.

4. Hybrid Events Can Work … But Not Without Effort + Expense

Our hybrid model worked because we invested the time and resources to pull it off. That was ultimately made possible by working with a top-notch, professional event management firm, DSM-based ITA Group and A/V partner Bow & Arrow Communications. These investments gave even our virtual attendees a professional production AND an opportunity to network/get to know other attendees through small group discussions.

5. Leaders Need to Lead

One of the most poignant moments of the Symposium came from the keynote address on DEI by George Nichols III, president and CEO of The American College of Financial Services. He recalled that after being the first African American president of the institution (as well as the first African American insurance commissioner from Kentucky and first African American president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners) he was asked by a group of (white) CEOs why there weren’t more African American executives in the industry. His response? He laughed at them. Why? As he then explained, “You all are CEOs … the leaders that make the hiring decisions, not to mention the investments in talent development. I should be asking YOU all that question.” Leadership requires more than lip service and results speak for themselves.

6. Great Things Happen When We Collaborate

I like to say that this Symposium is “of the industry, by the industry and for the industry” since it is not organized by a for-profit organization (nothing against conferences that are). It is a great example of what can happen when we collaborate. In the room were competitors, regulators (and their regulatees), startup founders, economic development leaders and solution providers … it was refreshing to hear the ideas and opportunities shared when we put down our banners and spoke honestly about what we can and should do. Together.

7. DSM is (Still) an Insurance Capital

… and that’s great news for our 24,000+ industry employees, their families and all of the local businesses that benefit from their patronage. If you had any doubt about our position and the strength of this important segment of our economy, just ask any one of the nearly 400 attendees in person or virtual and they will tell you they are already looking forward to #GIS2022!

Bonus lesson: DSM is #startupstrong. Monday’s InsurTech Expo featured 18 startup companies from two local accelerators (the Global Insurance Accelerator and BrokerTech Ventures). Four of those companies are based here in Iowa, including two that were moved here by their founders to be part of our ecosystem and community.

Discover more about The Partnership’s tools to help Greater Des Moines (DSM) startups and small businesses develop and grow their ventures with The Partnership’s Small Business Resources.

Jason W. Gross

Jason W. Gross is vice president and head of platform at ManchesterStory Group and a 2021 Global Insurance Symposium Planning Committee member.