Risk managers, searching for a sense of community with their brethren, are turning to the web.
More than 700 people signed up to log-in to eRisks' most recent iConference Oct. 18. Of those, more than 200 actually participated, making the iConference on credit risk the best attended of eRisks' three Internet-based conferences.
eRisks is a risk website offered by consultant Oliver, Wyman and Co., New York.
Peg Esgate, eRisks chief marketing officer, said the iConferences came about as she and others at eRisks talked about ways of bringing risk managers together and building a sense of rapport. Holding regular conferences in the traditional sense posed logistical problems in terms of travel and expense.
"We needed to find a method to have regular meetings with these folks and share state-of-the-art types of issues with them," she said.
They found what they were looking for on the Internet.
More than 11,000 risk managers are registered to use eRisks' web portal. By polling them, Ms. Esgate and product manager Jennifer Pence determined what topics seemed of interest. Then they started looking for a platform on which to hold an electronic conference.
Ms. Pence found Herndon, Va.-based Communicast Inc. The company provides the behind-the-scenes equipment such as phones and computer servers that allow hundreds of participants to log-in via the web and dial-up by phone to watch and listen to the conference.
Once they secured the Communicast platform, it was just a matter of getting the word out. eRisks did that by e-mailing its thousands of users.
The first iConference, held Sept. 13, attracted 174 participants and went off nearly without a hitch.
Since then, eRisks has learned a lot about putting on a successful conference.
"We have learned that environment is everything," Ms. Esgate said.
During the Oct. 13 conference, an ambulance got stuck in traffic on the street outside eRisks' office. The wailing siren punctuated a discussion about credit default risk.
"We had to remind people we were broadcasting from New York," Ms. Pence said.
During the first iConference, some attendees said they heard music through their phone connection. Ms. Pence said the problem later was traced to the headset worn by James Lam, eRisks' founder and vice-chairman, who was leading the conference. It turned out the headset was picking up signals from a local radio station and transmitting them to the conference attendees.
"We don't know which station it was," Ms. Pence said.
The iConferences originate from eRisks' office on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. Speakers sit at a desk, where they control the conference slides and ask questions to poll the audience using a laptop computer. Slides and polling results are sent out over the web and the speakers' words go out via separate telephone lines.
eRisks now is considering offering special online "mentoring" sessions that would include small group discussions with Mr. Lam about risk management issues. For now, the iConferences and the mentoring are free, with eRisks picking up the estimated $10,000 cost for each conference. In the future, some of those costs may be recouped, at least for the mentoring sessions, Ms. Esgate said. The iConferences are likely to remain free of charge, she added.
"We're having a ball and the feedback has been tremendous," she said. "We feel like we have taken the first step toward giving risk managers a way to move forward in their careers by learning from other risk management experts in an easy and affordable way."