Introduction - A dynamic, innovative and flexible industry

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The insurance industry underpins the very social and economic fabric of modern society, and plays a ...

The insurance industry underpins the very social and economic fabric of modern society, and plays a key role in the face of adversity, be it natural or man-made. From the UK's preparations for the 2012 Olympics to the aftermath of natural catastrophes - such as the tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina in the US, the recent minor inconvenience of the Kent earthquake and last month's shock flood damage - and from terrorism, both domestic and international, to everyday accidents and mishaps impacting people both at work and at home.

As last week's British Insurance Awards ceremony at the highly prestigious Royal Albert Hall showed, the insurance industry has much to be proud of. There has been much to applaud over the past 12 months as the industry has demonstrated its dynamism, innovation, flexibility and skill in meeting the many challenges thrown at it by numerous events.

The industry itself is also having to react to changing distribution models and changing regulation under the Financial Services Authority, which in turn is driving the increased levels of merger and acquisition activity across the sector. The last year has seen brokers continuing to buy brokers; insurers buying insurers; and, most recently, insurers increasingly buying brokers. The market itself, having had one of its most profitable years last year, is now feeling the squeeze and the effect of increased competition. It is against this background that the industry is often at its best, seizing potential problems as opportunities to drive through innovation, re-engineer and restructure its operations.

This year's judging was perhaps the most difficult of recent times, a reflection of the sheer volume and quality of entries from across the sector by both large and small operations. We are indebted to Ashton West, chairman of the judging panel, for committing considerable time from his day job as chief executive of the Motor Insurers' Bureau to ensuring all entries were properly considered and debated. This was Ashton's first year as chairman, and he did a sterling job. The judging panel of market experts and practitioners, analysts, consultants, industry commentators, and political and trade union representatives then analysed all the entries to whittle them down to the finalists for last week's ceremony.

And all the finalists should be proud of their achievements - they have really demonstrated excellence, and are setting the benchmarks for others to follow. To put this into context would mean publishing the names of those not so fortunate to make it to the short list, but discretion in this area is, of course, essential. Needless to say, across the industry, and as this year's finalists stand testimony, progress is being driven by the skill, intellect and vision of insurance professionals.

The BIA is the culmination of a long process in which many parts come together to make the whole. It is based on a partnership between the judges, the magazines involved, the sponsors and the organisers. As such, I would like to say a public thank you to all the judges, who spent three days deliberating over the many entries; to all our sponsors, without whom the awards could not exist; and last, but by no means least, a very big thank you to all of you who put aside the time and effort to enter.

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