The Insider heads for the south of France to log the changing rituals of the Rendez-Vous

Once upon a time, Dubai ruled the roost. The emirate was synonymous with extravagance: five-star-plus hotels with in-built aquariums, expensively decorated shopping malls selling million-pound watches, skyscrapers that touched the heavens. You name it, Dubai had it. And then came the credit crunch. Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC), the financial hub once touted as the next New York, didn’t even put out a stand at this year’s Rendez-Vous. A spokesman blamed limited travel expenses. The non-appearance certainly raised a few eyebrows in the reinsurance world, though. One slightly miffed player, probably remembering last year’s glitzy party, rumbled: “Its budgetary restraints are set by people who do not know anything about Monte Carlo.”

The true Markel of a man

It was some sight at this year’s Monte Carlo Rendez-Vous reinsurance event: all those chief executives rushing around with PAs trailing behind them, clutching clipboards and stopwatches. And my spies headed out to join them. They should do it the Tony Markel way. The head of the Markel Corporation breezed in with a smile, a handshake for everyone, and a slap on the back for the lucky few. He’s hard not to notice: a bulldozer of a man, a 6ft 5in American who wouldn’t look out of place in a WWE ring. After doing the rounds, Markel sauntered off to chill out with a glass of vino on his brother’s super-yacht. Now there’s a man who knows how to do Monte Carlo and not sweat the detail.

Official Secrets Act

Talking of yachts, there really was a battle of the boats in Monte Carlo. As well as Markel, Argo and Flagstone Re parked up their toys in the harbour. The inevitable game of “who’s got the biggest?” was played out by much of the reinsurance crowd. Most of the nods went to Flagstone Re with its 90ft beauty with a cracking blue hull. And the best part? While the other two were out of bounds, Flagstone Re’s was used in an “official capacity” for networking. We all know what that means …

Keeping a tag on proceedings

Let me tell you what the so-called “Hotel de Paris dance” is all about. The hotel is the central meeting point for networking. As is the nature of global reinsurance business, many people haven’t actually met face to face, relying instead on emailed company photos. But we humans are a vain bunch and don’t like our photos being updated. We’d much rather remember ourselves as we used to be and go into denial about those first few streaks of grey. The only way of sure identification, therefore, is the name tag. I watched a bunch of people ducking and diving out of each other’s way, craning their necks to see if they’d found the right name. It looks like some bizarre mating ritual from the animal kingdom but, no, this is the “Hotel de Paris dance”.

Future shock

What is it about boys with toys? The latest to be bitten by the technology bug is Amlin boss Charles Phillips, spotted demonstrating the wonders of the iPhone. Lloyd’s chairman Lord Levene was among the rapt crowd. And they say the insurance market is slow to embrace technology.

‘We’re just good friends …’

Consolidation continues to fascinate the reinsurance industry. A few months ago, Aon Benfield’s chief executive Andrew Appel talked of the big opportunity for reinsurers to merge and move into the top tier. Since then, PartnerRe has merged with Paris Re, and Validus has closed its hard-fought merger with IPC. Monte Carlo was rife with rumours of more, including a possible three-way deal between Ariel Re, Montpelier Re and Harbor Point. Ariel Re’s chief executive Don Kramer downplayed the idea, however. The three Bermudian reinsurers certainly know each other well, but perhaps this rumour is little more than cocktail party gossip. IT