Having participated as a speaker, panelist or moderator at literally dozens of insurance technology conferences, I must admit that I continue to be perplexed at the second-class status afforded technology vendors by those in charge of the events.
Several of the most notable tech conferences in this industry, in fact, refuse to allow vendor representatives to take the podium in an education session, unless there is also an insurance company representative or industry analyst (NOT a consultant, ahem) also speaking in that session. But what, exactly, are they so afraid of?
Most would probably say that the conference organizers want to make sure that an education session doesn’t turn into an unpaid commercial for the vendor. That makes a lot of sense. Having witnessed sessions that fit that description, I can remember the looks of anger and disgust on some faces (including mine, although I admit I couldn’t see my face at the time) at what was happening.
Conference organizers have reason to fear this scenario, yet I would question the idea that, for example, having an insurer representative on the same dais would solve the problem. Often, the insurer reps are from companies that have used the vendor’s product successfully and are willing to talk about it. In other words, there is a close bond between vendor and insurer. Thus, it becomes a double-barreled commercial, which is great for the vendor, but perhaps not so wonderful for those seeking unbiased information about some genre of technology.
Even having an analyst in the session with the vendor may have its problems, because vendors are often clients of these analysts (who are also consultants, but I digress). Would it be a great shock to hear such an analyst extol the virtues of the product made by the company that just happened to be its client?
Let me come to the defense of our industry observers, however. (In the interest of fairness, you should know that I am one of their number.) We have many fine analysts and consultants in the insurance tech space, and in my opinion, they are generally honorable folks, but the temptation to please a client is always there. So what’s a conference organizer to do?
My idea is that we should begin with the technology vendors who, for my money, are some of the most knowledgeable people in our industry—because they have to be. I have no problem with tech vendors leading sessions, as long as they are presenting facts about technology and its benefits rather than selling their wares. Most of the vendors I know also are honorable people who will stay within the limits set for them by the conference organizers.
I would further suggest that vendors who lead education sessions be required to submit their materials to the conference powers ahead of time for review, so there is no misunderstanding about what is permitted.
And what if a vendor decides to make the session into a commercial anyway? I think such a vendor would be serving notice that his or her company could not be trusted to observe conference guidelines. It would be reasonable, then, to bar such a vendor from future sessions.
By the way, I am still a big fan of having an insurer and/or analyst/consultant as part of a vendor-led education session. My point is that conference organizers owe it to us to deliver the best educational product possible, and often the most critical information lies with our technology vendors.
So, let’s not treat technology vendors like the big bad wolf at the door of our straw houses. I’ve seen many fine presentations by vendors who were considerate enough—and smart enough—to leave the sales talk for a later time. They are a vital part of our insurance tech community.
Ara C. Trembly is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a noted speaker on and longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.
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