At this year's Biba conference the association is showcasing the strong stand it is taking in promoting brokers' interests. Ed Vinales previews what's in store for delegates at the biggest event yet
The British Insurance Brokers' Association is taking significant strides in the post-regulatory era to make its presence felt amid threats to the very existence of its core membership.
The theme of this year's Biba conference - Making the Difference - is designed to showcase the influence the broker channel has on the insurance market and move on from last year's theme of refocusing brokers' minds on core values post-regulation, according to the trade body's chief executive, Eric Galbraith.
"The point we are trying to make is that brokers make a difference by providing consumers with solutions and advice. We're regulated now, so let's get on with business. Let's promote our unique selling point - that we can make a difference - and start doing that business," he explains.
Mr Galbraith adds that the conference's plenary speakers were specifically chosen because they reflect the theme. "Everyone has to accept that Lord Coe made a difference - just look what he achieved in bringing the Olympics to London for 2012. And we expect the mountaineer, Joe Simpson, to inspire brokers' to go forward and promote themselves and their businesses."
The selection of Tony Blair's former adviser, Alastair Campbell, as the third speaker seems highly appropriate considering Biba's desire to establish a political voice. Mr Galbraith freely admits that Biba's desire to become more politically active is tied into the conference's theme. And this year the trade body is conducting a survey to quantify the social and economic value of brokers.
"The survey will gather management information about our market from the largest through to the smallest brokers," explains Mr Galbraith. "When it's finished I will be able to sit before Gordon Brown and show him what our value is to UK plc."
He adds that he meets regularly with the Financial Services Authority, the Treasury, insurers and the broking fraternity to make sure Biba's members are properly represented and promoted. "There is no such thing as a traditional broker any more but there are traditional values. Brokers are competing with other distribution channels and we have to make ourselves heard," he says.
This year's conference will be held at the Hilton Brighton Metropole and is set to be the biggest yet. A record 141 exhibitors will set up camp at the hotel and take up nearly 50% more floor space than at the 2005 event.
"As the conference grows, there are fewer places we can go. For example, there is nowhere in Northern Ireland big enough to hold us now," says Mr Galbraith.
He explains that people are booking years ahead to ensure they get an exhibition stand and that Biba has had to turn away applicants because the conference is fully booked. However, he quickly adds that none of the biggest players have missed out.
The format of the conference programme remains the same as last year, with the continuation of longer breaks and multiple event streams to facilitate more networking and choice. A one-day pass is also available on Friday to allow people to get a feel of what is going on.
Of the 63 new exhibitors, the most notable entrant is Bupa International, which doubles as an event sponsor. Mr Galbraith says he hopes the company finds the event worthwhile to its long-term business.
Karen Froud, manager of marketing and communications at Bupa International, says: "Our offices are right next to the Hilton Brighton Metropole, so we saw this as a great opportunity to get our message across to brokers."
She adds: "We hope brokers will come across to our headquarters and see how our operation works. The idea is to improve our profile and get across the key message that brokers can sell our personal medical insurance from within the UK - most think you need to be based overseas. We will take this opportunity to inform brokers that selling our product is quick and as paperless as possible."
Bupa International's managing director, Keith Biddlestone, is also scheduled to deliver a lecture on 'The changing face of expatriate assignments', to explain how health risks have changed in recent years.
According to Richard Weston, managing director of the Special Insurance Schemes Agency, the Biba event is the foremost gathering of brokers in the UK. He says: "Everyone - from chief executive officers to the foot soldiers who run small provincial brokers - attends the conference. This is our second year as an exhibitor and we intend to update brokers on our progress."
SISA provides an edirectory that helps link brokers to scheme providers and Mr Weston says the conference is an ideal place to get real feedback: "As insurers devolve the management of risk to brokers and underwriting agencies, brokers need a tool to get hold of these people - that is where we come in.
"It is difficult to get feedback from our 2300 users and the Biba conference provides an excellent opportunity to trade information."
Topics for the breakout sessions include the explosion of claims, which is being led by Harry Roberts, director of technical and product assurance at Cunningham Lindsey UK, while James Sutherland, head of development and operations at Lloyd's, will look at the threat and opportunities arising from its new licence in China.
Hugh Price, partner and director of insurance at Hugh James solicitors, will chair a panel discussion on the effects of contract certainty and binding authority. The discussion will seek to assess how the FSA will police these areas and identify how brokers can reduce their exposure. It will address how far brokers should go in checking the financial strength of the placing insurer and who is responsible when insurers fail to pay, as happened with Boscastle.
While this year's event focuses on helping brokers adapt to the future environment, Biba is also mindful of the need to keep an eye on regulatory issues. Mr Galbraith says: "Current regulatory issues, such as contract certainty, need to be solved as soon as possible. Some of the sessions are designed to help brokers keep up to date with these issues at the same time as getting on with their business.
"There is pressure on the smaller personal lines brokers to exit that market or sell up. Some have considered and some have readjusted by avoiding the price based shopper and delivering a value based service."
Key industry issues
The Biba conference is not only for brokers, attracting a large number of insurers that see it as an ideal opportunity to discuss key industry issues with brokers.
Dave Parry, broker and speciality director at Zurich, says: "Zurich continues to support the Biba Conference with a stand, as well as a private meeting room to speak to brokers about their accounts and how we can develop our business together.
"While the conference does not form a central position in our contact strategy, it provides an excellent platform for both brokers and insurers alike to appreciate the issues of the moment and engage in debate as to how we can improve our proposition for our customers."
Future broker scheme
The conference is open to different sectors of the insurance industry and it also aims to attract a wide age demographic.
The future broker scheme, an initiative set up five years ago to directly target the under 35s, is sponsored and hosted by Royal and Sun Alliance. Mr Galbraith says the scheme is free to the first 100 brokers who sign up and that it plays an important part in getting the younger generation of brokers involved in industry issues.
Tesh Patel, RSA's corporate development director, adds: "The interactive lecture at the heart of the scheme has a marketing theme this year. It is designed to help those involved get to grips with the rapid changes taking place in the market.
"The idea is to encourage young brokers to take advantage of current market conditions by understanding what the customer wants and who their competitors are. The younger broker has to realise their job is less about insurance and more about people."
Mr Galbraith says that networking, which is central to the three-day conference, starts on the first night.
He explains: "The opening reception gives people a chance to mix and mingle. Afterwards corporate sponsors will take their guests away to different dinners where a huge amount of networking goes on. On the second night, Biba holds a dinner for the exhibitors and people who are not hosted. Then on Friday there is the black-tie dinner."
Mr Galbraith's concedes brokers feel their industry has been shoe-horned into the existing regulatory regime, which is focused on larger and higher risk business, but says the current regulatory environment will not change.
He concludes: "We have to see regulation as a baseline from which to reach beyond and make the difference to our clients."
Wednesday 26 April
18:00 - 20:30 Opening Reception for all delegates and partners at Hilton Brighton Metropole.
Registration and exhibition opens
Thursday 27 April
08:30 Registration and exhibition opens
09:30 Welcome Max Taylor, chairman, Biba
09:45 Opening Address Eric Galbraith, chief executive, Biba
10:00 - 10:55 London 2012: How We Won and Where Do We Go From Here? Lord Sebastian Coe KBE
11:00 - 11:45 Refreshment break
11:50 - 12:40 Seminar Session 1, Stream 1: An Explosion of Claims Harry Roberts, director, technical and product assurance, Cunningham Lindsey
Seminar Session 1, Stream 2: Organic Growth: How to Spend £10k and Generate £100k Andy Heap, managing director, Ignition NBS
Seminar Session, 1 Stream 3: The Changing Face of Expatriate Assignments Keith Biddlestone, managing director, Bupa International
12:45 - 14:00 Lunch
Future Broker Session: Making Marketing Work for your Brokerage Oscar Holmes, learning and development consultant, Royal and Sun Alliance
14:10 - 15:00 Seminar Session, 2 Stream 1: Insurance Brokers - Binding Authority and Contract Certainty A panel discussion to explore the legal position affecting brokers Chairman: Hugh Price, partner and director of insurance, Hugh James Solicitors
Seminar Session, 2 Stream 2: Communicating for Results Allan Pease
Seminar Session, 2 Stream 3: Energy and Vitality - the Link Between Health and Performance Clive Pinder, managing director, vielife
15:15 - 16:00 Refreshment break
16:10 - 17:00 Seminar Session, 3 Stream 1: China and India - Threat or Opportunity James Sutherland, head of development and operations, Lloyd's
Seminar Session, 3 Stream 2: A Leadership Masterclass Ken Hames
Seminar Session, 3 Stream 3: Revolutionise your Customer Experience Colin Shaw, founding partner, Beyond Philosophy
Friday April 28
08:45 - Exhibition opens
09:30 - Welcome back Eric Galbraith
09:35 - 10:20 Crisis, What Crisis? Alastair Campbell
10:25 - 11:15 Seminar Session, 4 Stream 1: Fraud: Not Simply an Insurer's Problem Mihir Pandya, claims fraud manager, Allianz Cornhill and John Beadle, counter fraud manager, Royal and Sun Alliance
Seminar Session, 4 Stream 2: Building a Brand on a Tiny Budget Dan Germain, Innocent Drinks
11:20 - 11:50 Refreshment break
11:55 - 12:45 Touching the Void Joe Simpson
12:45 - Conference close Max Taylor
13:00 - 14:30 Lunch in exhibition halls
14:30- Exhibition closes.
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