“Brexit has created new threats but also opportunities for Northern Ireland and Ireland to be the ‘natural’ business centres for Europe”

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.

“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.”

“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.

One country, two systems

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.”

Time to innovate

“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.” 

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.