Snow was causing disruption over half of France by the time a record-breaking 1500 delegates arrived in a freezing, but dry Nantes for AMRAE’s January conference.

In his opening address to delegates, Michel Yarhi, president of AMRAE, outlined the reasoning behind this year’s choice of theme, New Risk Engineering. His thesis was that we have more or less learned to manage traditional risks, but that, as society progressed, they were being replaced by new species. These are being created by ever-increasing demands for comfort and ever-increasing fear of things going wrong. Things had got to the stage, he said, where an airline passenger could try to demand compensation for the anxiety caused when an aircraft had to turn back because of a technical problem.

How could such risks be managed, and what tools could be put in place? These questions were what lay behind the chosen theme of the conference.

Among the most imponderable of risks is the question of global warming, and the conference heard diametrically opposing views. The attack was led by Claude Allegre, previously education minister, well known for his view that increasing levels of carbon dioxide cannot be directly held responsible for climate change. He called for a pragmatic approach to the problem rather than giving in to the demands of ecologists. Other speakers took the mainstream position. Risk managers were possibly left no wiser about what they should be doing…

Speaking to StrategicRISK, Alain Poullet, the president of AMRAE’s scientific committee outlined some of his thoughts about the near-term future. The current overcapacity in the insurance market, he said, was limited to traditional products, but over 80% of risks surveyed within organisations fell outside this category. Between insurable and non-insurable risks there was a grey area which could potentially be covered, but which was not at present, and it was up to the insurance industry to think about this.

Away from the conference hall, Jean-Paul Rignault, CEO of AXA Corporate Solutions, spoke to StrategicRISK about risk management in France. The key issue, as he sees it, is a cultural one. “In many companies these days, it’s difficult to say ‘this is a French group’ or ‘just a German group’. The question is how to integrate the different cultures, of breaking down the silo mentality so that we become richer from the ideas of others. Risks have no ‘nationality’. Risk managers and insurers must have an international vision based on one culture, the culture of prevention and anticipation. More and more multinational companies are integrating a global risk culture, with the French putting a lot of effort into internationalising and becoming more open minded. This is very promising for the future.”