Island of Ireland Forum – CRO interview

Published on Thu, 25/08/2022 - 12:38

Ahead of the Island of Ireland Forum on 25 October, George Ong, Chief Risk Officer for Northern Ireland Water, spoke about the importance of the inaugural Airmic event.

On 25 October, Airmic will host its first event in the Republic of Ireland. However, the Island of Ireland Forum being held in Dublin is really an event for the community of risk and insurance professionals that spans north and south.

George Ong has played a part in bringing about the event. Ong, who is Chief Risk Officer at Northern Ireland Water, had initial conversations with Airmic CEO Julia Graham about the need for such a forum – largely as a result of the unintended consequences of Brexit across north and south.

“There is no Irish equivalent of Airmic,” says Ong. “I believe there is much we can do to support and collaborate with risk management professionals across the island of Ireland.”

One recent issue facing employees at Northern Ireland Water, among others, was the need for green card insurance documents, which until a rule change by the European Commission, were required for Northern Ireland motorists, post-Brexit, to drive in the Republic.

While green cards have already been scrapped, other problems persist.

“I believe this is an opportunity for risk professionals across the island to address the problems brought about by Brexit, such as ‘passporting rights’, restrictions on the flow of knowledge and resources within the island of Ireland, while also capitalising on potential opportunities by providing a platform for better co-operation and the innovation of solutions for emerging risks to other parts of the UK and EU.”

Passporting has led insurance companies to set up new post-Brexit operations, whether in the EU or the UK, in order to continue to operate in both markets.

Ong emphasises that for people in Northern Ireland, such rules at a corporate level are at odds with their established rights as individuals, as written into law in the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, under which Northern Ireland’s residents can hold one or two passports, enjoying full citizens’ rights of either or both the UK and EU through Ireland.

While they can move freely, work and represent both the UK and Ireland, not so the brokerage and insurance companies that they work for, given the ‘passporting’ restrictions. These restrictions have been resolved in some professions, giving those companies and businesses established in Northern Ireland a competitive edge for European and international corporations.

Ong wants the common issues facing firms in both jurisdictions to be better represented and believes that Airmic can play a part through its existing relationships at national and European levels.

“Global companies want to take advantage of these synergies,” he says. “Brexit has created new threats but also opportunities for Northern Ireland and Ireland to be the ‘natural’ business centres for Europe given the intrinsically linked financial systems, rules and engagements,” Ong continues.

“There are other threats unique to or more prominent in the island of Ireland, which is why the Forum’s theme ‘Navigating the Perfect Storm’ is so appropriate,” says Ong. “When you consider the geographical location of the island of Ireland, it is currently facing supply chain risks given its far western location on the edge of Europe.”

He says this threat can potentially be turned into an opportunity by looking at it as the ‘centre’ between Europe and the Americas, and developing new solutions with government support to improve on physical and virtual supply chain risks.

“In the shorter term,” says Ong, “let us also consider how we can find insurance risk solutions to the so-called ‘Irish Sea’ border problem.” 

Another unique risk are the frequent storms from the Atlantic Ocean landing on the island of Ireland first before being dispersed into the UK and Europe. “The one-in-100-year freeze and flood events are happening far more frequently,” says Ong.

Ong hopes the workshop he is presiding over in the Forum will help explain the benefits of parametric cover to risk and resilience management. 

“It is not a surprise therefore that Northern Ireland Water is possibly one of the first water companies in the world to have put in place a parametric insurance programme for freezing conditions and a drought cover for lack of rainfall and high temperatures.”

In so many sectors, the UK and Ireland are natural business partners, Ong emphasises.

Northern Ireland has become a hub for cyber security technology, Ong says, creating opportunities for synergy to develop innovation and explore business relationships between cyber security firms and other large technology companies operating from Ireland.

He notes that it is common for the job titles of so many regional CEOs and business leaders at global firms to include both countries.

“With such accountability, this Forum is a unique opportunity to bring together the wealth of risk and resilience knowledge of CEOs in the insurance services with ‘Irish’ responsibilities to develop agile insurance solutions to meet the challenges both now and going forward.”

Asked why should risk managers and the insurance industry attend this Forum, Ong explains: “Risk and resilience managers are called up to the board more so now than ever before to provide ‘solutions’ and ‘assurances’ that the combination of risk factors in the connected world we live in today are ‘well managed’ and that the generations of pollution in ‘Mother Earth’ can be transformed into a sanctuary by 2050.”

He adds: “We can’t do this alone. We need the insurance industry to work with us to develop risk engineering solutions to evolve the world into a better place. My desire is that this is the start of more Airmic forums to turn unique threats into opportunistic solutions and bring benefits to the people and society we all care for.”

Given the North’s determination to overcome the challenges of Brexit and the Republic’s ambition to play an increasingly important role as a hub for international insurance, Airmic plans to cement its commitment to its members and further activity locally.

“We see our engagement and growth in the island of Ireland as a long-term commitment,” says Alexander Frost, Airmic’s Head of Market Development. “There will be a focus on the issues that emerge from this Forum at Airmic’s main annual conference in Manchester next June, and we plan to be back in Dublin for our next forum in October 2023.”