Every year, the insurance industry returns to Manchester for Biba’s annual conference, but how is the event evolving to still deliver benefits for today’s brokers?

By Kelly Ogley

Kelly Ogley column headshot

Kelly Ogley

A global pandemic, a climate crisis, geopolitical tensions, economic shifts, the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and unprecedented challenges in the personal lines market – the world is being rocked by unheard of changes.

It’s not easy out there, especially for our clients. Even trade body Biba’s theme of ‘What Next?’ for its annual conference last week (15 and 16 May 2024) seemed like a cry for help.

But, following thousands of us migrating to Manchester for our yearly get-together, I’ve got three reasons to be cheerful. That’s because the Biba Conference shows us at our best.

Reason one: Adaptability

Some seasoned conference goers moan that the Biba Conference is not what it once was.

Gone are the days when the race to be the most popular exhibitor revolved around the early opening of champagne and shots. Last week, there was more interest in coffee and water than sipping G&Ts. Is this less fun? I prefer to say more focused and more productive.

Alongside the more ecofriendly giveaways and freebies, I was pleased to see Biba’s new Cyber Hub – in partnership with CFC Underwriting. This enabled brokers to drop in on stimulating discussions about AI in conjunction with listening to more traditional topics during the conference sessions. We’re moving with the times and we’re better for it.

One evolution of the event for me – after many years of marching through the exhibition hall in stiletto heels and being overjoyed when my next meeting involved sitting – is that I ditched the stilettos and donned my trainers.

Reason two: Networking

The Biba Conference offers unparalleled opportunities for networking.

The great joy of the two-day event was never the extracurricular clubbing or casinos – although they had their moments – but the ability to chat frankly about issues face-to-face and devise solutions in real-time.

I missed this practicality during the Covid-19 pandemic and it feels more important than ever to take advantage now we can all be under one roof again.

Last week, I really enjoyed reconnecting with friends I’ve made over the years while speed dating my way through a slew of productive pre-booked meetings.

Reason three: Attracting talent

Biba’s conference provides not just the chance to see old faces, but to meet up with the up and coming stars of our industry too.

We know this industry won’t succeed unless it stays relevant and keeps bringing in talent. So, it was great to have such a focus on young brokers this year, helping to ensure the industry can attract and retain new talent, as well as accelerate career progression.

Attracting and retaining talent is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I still feel we might be missing a trick. Couldn’t future conferences be used an industry showcase to really highlight young brokers’ achievements?

And what more can we do to really show the outside world the value we bring as an industry? Nothing runs without insurance, yet we all know the stereotype that the industry is boring and staid.

The best way to banish the cliché is to spotlight a dynamic new generation of entrepreneurs. One for #BIBA2025, I think.

Call to action

Adaptability is all well and good but some things about our annual get-together will never change.

I suspect for all of us the annual pilgrimage to the Biba Conference is still a hotly anticipated date on the insurance calendar. There might be fewer people propping up the bar than there used to be, but the event is a chance for us to revive our spirits, reconnect with friends and focus on the future.

In a more volatile world, the conference gives us reasons to be cheerful. ‘What’s Next?’ isn’t a cry of despair after all. It’s a call to action.