Summary –ACIC 2020 Virtual Fall Annual Meeting and Education Conference
By: Aaron Borden (Prudential Financial)
This past year has been both unprecedented and challenging, to say the least. In a single year, we have experienced a pandemic, struggled through an extraordinary strain on the economy, and confronted aspects of racial injustice. Most of us have witnessed these events primarily from our homes, as our companies have transitioned to a work-from-home environment due to the pandemic. In turn, our work-from-home environment has presented its own series of micro-challenges, as we struggle to balance work and family life side-by-side, not to mention trying to get our home offices to function as efficiently as our work offices. It is no wonder that in the year 2020, life can feel both highly connected and disconnected at the same time.
Given this backdrop, the ACIC pulled off what can only be described as a series of minor miracles in order to present the 2020 Virtual Fall Annual Meeting and Education Conference. Not only did the conference go entirely virtual for the first time, but it also presented a series of sessions that were highly relevant to this year’s unprecedented events. Conference topics ranged from the impact of Covid-19 to promoting equality in the workplace. The conference, along with the wine event, provided topical panel discussions, imparted a sense of normalcy in an abnormal year, and gave attendees an opportunity to connect with folks that they were unable to see in Chicago in the Spring.
Six CLE sessions were presented virtually through online platforms over two days, with 192 people in attendance. Attendify was scheduled to be the primary platform for the virtual conference. However, after an unexpected outage with Attendify during Session 2, the ACIC quickly, and almost seamlessly, switched over to the Zoom platform for the remaining sessions. The rest of the virtual conference carried on relatively smoothly, notwithstanding the occasional frozen screen. All sessions included live audience polling on a range of topics, allowing both panelists and attendees to track results in real-time. The live polling continued to enhance and enliven panel discussions. In light of the seriousness of this year’s events, the conference dispensed with its usual lighthearted conference theme. Also, in lieu of ACIC swag given to registered attendees, prizes were instead awarded based on attendees’ interactive participation on the virtual platforms
The co-chairs of the conference were Patti Boss (Voya) and Michael Robson (Greenberg Traurig). The co-chairs along with the Education Committee, Development Committee, the various panelists and the moderators deserve high praise for putting on an engaging and especially topical conference. The ACIC administrators deserve a special shout out for executing the technical wizardry to allow this year’s annual conference to occur. By all accounts, the conference was, once again, a great success.
Wednesday, Day One
The day began with welcoming remarks, introductions and announcements from the co-chairs and C.J. Marchain. The remarks included an apt comparison of the year 2020 to the famous Grateful Dead lyrics, “what a long, strange trip it’s been.” After announcements were concluded, the virtual conference then proceeded to the first session.
Session 1: Public-Private Partnership. This session provided insights into the complex world of public-private partnerships (also known as “P3”). The presentation focused primarily on the three key features of P3s – procurement process, concession agreements and construction/construction security. Power projects were occasionally referred to in order to illustrate examples of these key features. The panelists included Mike Pikiel (Winston & Strawn LLP), Paul Epstein (Shearman & Sterling LLP) and David LaSota (Greenberg Traurig LLP). Each of the panelists presented on a separate key feature. Subtopics included commitment letters, Brownfield vs. Greenfield deals, allocation of risk, and surety bonds. The session was moderated by Lonneke Purucker (Aegon). The session concluded with commentary from the panel on break fees.
Session 2: Market Update: State of Market/NAIC/LIBOR Transition. The second session began smoothly enough with an overview of the health of the private placement market, presented by Mark Williams (Bank of America), who highlighted the unexpectedly robust pace of issuances to date. Following Mr. Williams’ presentation, a series of technical glitches plagued the Attendify platform, which led to the remainder of the session being moved to Thursday. However, some speculated that it was the moderator’s unfortunate segue into a discussion of make-whole holidays which ultimately jinxed the Wednesday session. Nevertheless, the session happily picked back up on Thursday with David Wagner’s (Houlihan Lokey) discussion of the transition away from LIBOR. Sasha Kamper (American Equity) followed Mr. Wagner with a discussion of regulatory developments, focusing largely on the NAIC’s risk requirements and ratings regime. Chip Fisher (Akin Gump), the moderator, concluded the panel by discussing trending changes to the Model Form, including a reprise of the make-whole holiday discussion.
Session 3: The New Normal of Working from Home. The final session of the day focused on a topic all too familiar to both panelists and attendees — the new work-from-home regime. The panelists focused on both ethical and practical ramifications of this new regime. The panelists acknowledged at the outset that they were not ready for this “new normal,” despite having gone through tabletop exercises to prepare for such worst case scenarios. The panelists delved into such considerations as to how to properly protect and dispose of sensitive client information at home, understanding the risks associated with the relevant technology used at home, and when in-person meetings may be taken in this Covid-19 environment. Deborah Winokur (Cozen O’Connor) led the panel, which included Diana Ashton (Finnegan Henderson) and Keturah Pestel (Thrivent Financial). After the session, Mr. Robson announced moving over to the Zoom platform for all of Thursday’s sessions due to the Attendify outage, while deftly (or shamelessly, depending on your perspective) working in a plug for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Wednesday Evening Wine Tasting Event
Many attendees were treated to a virtual wine tasting event after Wednesday’s final session. The wine tasting event was led by sommelier Shiraz Noor of Acker Wines, who featured Eastern European wines made by women winemakers. Those who participated in the wine tasting event were pre-shipped three bottles of wine to their home. Good wine and good cheer were had by all. Future similar get-togethers for College members are in the works. The College encourages its members to reach out to any trustee or executive officer with suggestions.
Thursday, Day Two
Thursday began with the annual meeting, where the Board of Trustee gave the state of the College, voted on new members, and elected a new slate of officers and trustees. The new officers included: Tina Smith (Thrivent Financial), President; Christopher Dallas (Pacific Life), Vice Present 1; Renée Dailey (Akin Gump), Vice President 2; Melody Cross (Prudential Financial), Secretary; and Luke Weedon (Baker Botts), Treasurer. The new trustee included: Keith Atkinson (Nuveen); David Lawton (Morgan Lewis); and Patti Boss (Voya).
Session 4: Impact of Covid-19 – Present and Future. Following the annual meeting, the attendees watched a three-part presentation regarding the effects of Covid-19 (and the related recession) on the private placement market. Part one focused on Covid-19’s impact on various industries and the resulting actions taken by the rating agencies. This presentation was led by Lyuba Petrova (Fitch Ratings), who noted, among other things, that 30% of Fitch’s portfolio had been placed on negative watch/negative outlook as of September 2020. Part two looked at trends in amendments and waivers after the onset of the pandemic, and broke down the trends into three distinct phases during the first six months of the pandemic. Ayesha Chatterjee (King & Spalding) led this discussion. Part three was presented by Michael Reilly (Morgan Lewis), who opened his remarks by noting that the bounce-back from Covid-19 will be “slow and long for most companies that are in the wrong sectors.” Mr. Reilly’s segment discussed the trend of increased workout and bankruptcies, noting differences from prior recessions. Ann King (Sun Life) moderated the session.
Session 5: Third Party Asset Management. The panel for this session discussed various features of third party asset management along with key regulatory considerations for asset managers. Discussion points included the life cycle of global investment management clients, differences in the overseas regulatory landscape for investment managers, and the impact of ECG (also known as “socially responsible investing”) on asset management. The panel was moderated by Noelle Sproul (Nuveen), and panelists included Michael Renetzky (Locke Lord), John Hunt (Sullivan & Worcester) and Jeff Hall (Nuveen).
Session 6: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging: How Lawyers and the Legal Profession Answer the Call to Action. The final session of the day was a riveting discussion of the impact of racial, social and economic inequalities in today’s work environment, and what lawyers can do to advance the call to action to promote greater inclusion and equality. The panelists discussed their personal experiences and perspectives on these issues of inequality, particularly in light of the historic BLM movement and protests this summer throughout the country. Discussion topics included: acknowledging the moment, lawyers as leaders, microaggressions in the workplace, pro bono efforts, corporate social responsibility, and driving change from within the organization. The session was moderated by Nikki Lewis Simon (Greenberg Traurig LLP), and the panelists included Angela Harrell (Voya), Sarah Pauls (JPMorgan Chase) and Akinyemi Akiwowo (Morgan Stanley).
The conference concluded with some closing remarks by Mr. Robson, and an announcement of prize winners by C.J. Marchain.