In an analyst panel moderated by yours truly at this year’s IASA’s Educational Conference and Business Show, noted economist Frank Conde told those in the Chief Information/Technology Officer Roundtable that the U.S. economy will recover more slowly than many had thought, and that the insurance industry is still struggling with shrinking premiums and financial troubles—albeit not in as much of a pickle as some other industries.

While many in the audience undoubtedly shared the opinion of panelist Craig Weber of Celent that the current picture “scares the heck out of me,” fear was not the emotion of the day, nor of this conference overall. In fact, the mood was quite the opposite, and given the conference numbers reported by IASA Executive Director Joe Pomilia, that came as no surprise.

According to Pomilia, overall attendance at this year’s conference was up 10% over last year’s event. This included some 1,200 actual attendees (not exhibitors or IASA staff) and “well over 2,000” total attendees. In addition, the number of exhibitors also grew slightly, going from the 180s to the 190s.

But how did that happen a scant 10 days after the industry’s other major tech conference—ACORD LOMA—saw apparent decreases in the numbers of attendees and exhibitors? The two shows, while not identical in their attendee profiles, basically draw from similar populations of insurance and vendor personnel. What made IASA different to the point where not a single exhibitor I asked (and I asked many) had a complaint about the conference?

My guess is that IASA does better because it taps so successfully into the idea of volunteering one’s time and services to benefit the industry. Many of the folks I spoke with volunteer on IASA committees or do other work to help make the show a success. In fact, I am on three such committees myself. When one donates one’s time, talents and efforts to a project or an event, one begins to feel a sense of ownership and, hopefully a sense of pride in what is accomplished. And let’s face it—if we own something, we are much more likely to do all we can to make it successful.

Of course, numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. Everywhere I went during the conference, the mood was upbeat, which I also attribute to the notion that many of us were glad our volunteer efforts were paying dividends. People seemed happy to be there, and energized by the sessions, the large exhibit area and the ample show floor traffic. That’s not to say that many of us didn’t experience the inevitable fatigue that comes with the effort to make a trade show worthwhile for our companies, but what one didn’t experience here was the kind of dysthymia that seemed evident in some places at ACORD LOMA this year.

But before you go thinking that this blog is about trashing ACORD LOMA, let me point out that I see some hopeful signs for that conference—traditionally a mainstay for technology in our industry. As noted in another recent blog, a good number of those at that event cited improvements over the previous year and expressed optimistic feelings about the conference continuing to get better.

In that same blog, I also opined that the temporal proximity of the two events was problematic for many who attend and/or exhibit at both shows. Interestingly, a rumor flying hot and heavy around the IASA event was that ACORD and LOMA were thinking about moving their Systems Forum to March next year. While I would prefer to see one of our two top trade shows in October or November, I think the move to March—if indeed that is what is being considered—would definitely improve things, especially for vendors who want to exhibit at both events but don’t relish the idea of two shows being so close together. Many of those at IASA agreed with that opinion.

It should be quite an interesting time over the next year for technology in insurance. The IASA conference has flourished based on its model of leveraging volunteer participation and efforts. ACORD/LOMA still carries the cache of an important event for our technology community. Let’s hope that the kind of success that has blossomed with the 2010 IASA show will take root at ACORD LOMA as well.  

Ara C. Trembly ( is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.

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