Biba’s chief executive discusses upcoming challenges for brokers ahead of the trade body’s annual conference

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, the annual British Insurance Brokers’ Association (Biba) conference was axed due to government guidelines, but this year it is back with a vengeance.

Since Biba’s last conference in 2019, the insurance industry has seen a change in political parties’ leadership, Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now in its 43rd year, the conference returns virtually on 12 and 13 May 2021 with a ’Strengthening Resilience’ theme, to represent the strength and determination shown by the insurance sector over the past year. The conference is a “key part” of what the trade body does.

This year, speakers include MP and economic secretary to the Treasury John Glen, as well as Elizabeth Linder, founder of Facebook’s politics and government division, EMEA.

Biba has run a conference every year since it was founded. Steve White, Biba’s chief executive, told Insurance Times: “The pandemic has proven to businesses of all descriptions that these things can happen, so planning for this sort of event takes on a whole new level of seriousness.

“We had the word ‘resilience,’ which is the title of our manifesto as well. The team decided that ‘strengthening resilience’ was the way to encapsulate the spirit of what we wanted to carry forward into the event.”

Considering resilience, White said the way brokers have handled themselves over the last 13 months has proved just how resilient these businesses are - for example, keeping the customer at the forefront despite the challenges of the pandemic.

“It’s a great summation of what resilience means in a business sense,” he added.

Challenges ahead

Coming out of lockdown, White said the broking industry could face challenges around what customers want.

“There’s a technological issue. People have been so used to buying things online during lockdown, we do need to make sure that if customers want to get more involved in financial services products, we are able to respond,” he said.

Manchester Central

Manchester Complex Central 

“I have spoken to a number of brokers who had plans in place, but lockdown meant they had to go in a slightly different direction.

”No-one was planning in 2019 to have everyone working at home with a laptop - what does that mean for brokers’ digital planning at a time when there’s likely to be greater demand from customers to do certain parts of the process online? Challenges around ways of working, so the old thinking around all jobs have to be done between the hours 9am and 5pm, sat behind a desk in an office.”

Although White said he dislikes the term “new normal”, he admitted that post-pandemic there will be differences.

He tipped the hard market as another prominent challenge, adding: “It’s been a challenge for a while and in a growing number of sectors as well, so we need to be mindful of that”. 

Furthermore, as the UK comes out of lockdown, there is also the potential for emerging risks around employers’ liability, such as staff who contract Covid-19 in the workplace and hold their employer liable, he added.

Speaking about working from home, White continued: “There’s clearly a fine dividing line between what is personal time and what is working time.

”Lots of firms are saying that they are sensing staff putting in more working hours. A lot of staff may have not taken as much holiday as they would have done working in an office.

”I sense more employers are becoming aware of the importance of mental wellbeing as well as physical wellbeing. As an employer, we are responsible for the health and safety of our staff wherever they are working.”

For example, employers asking candidates if they have a suitable space for homeworking, or if they are in a relationship or household that enables easy homeworking, would have been unheard of in a set of interview questions a year or so ago.

White also pointed out the lack of demarcation of time when working from home, as commuting is irrelevant. 

Steve White_Biba conference

Steve White, Biba 

He noted that vaccine passports could be another upcoming challenge for brokers.

Short history

Over the years, the annual Biba conference has developed into what White believes to be the largest insurance broking and networking event on the professional calendar, attracting more than 5,000 delegates. Typically, the event is held in Deansgate’s Manchester Central Complex.

This year, presenter and newsreader Huw Edwards returns as Biba’s host - he hosted the 2019 conference.

White recalled the buzz in May 2019, when former London mayor and secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs Boris Johnson, now prime minister, let slip that he was going to run for leader of the Conservative party.

Biba was originally formed in 1977 to represent insurance brokers after the Department of Trade and Industry called for a single trade body instead of four separate ones.

White, who has been at Biba for 17 years, named Alan Sugar as another notable speaker during his time at the trade association, as well as politicians John Major, David Cameron and William Hague.

The conference has also been addressed by singer Bob Geldof, rapper Professor Green and activist Katie Piper, alongside insurance industry bigwigs, which Biba believes gives the conference its unique edge.

Biba mania 

Lloyd Hanks_LAH Consulting

Lloyd Hanks, LAH Consulting 

Last year would have been Lloyd Hanks’s 40th Biba conference in attendance, had it gone to plan.

Hanks is the managing director of LAH Consulting and has proudly attended 39 of Biba conferences over the years. When asked how the conferences have evolved, Hanks said it was the technology that had changed. 

He told Insurance Times: ”Initially [the Biba conferences] were all regionally based.” Areas included Nottingham, Leeds, Cardiff and Edinburgh. 

“But the biggest change was becoming a central point [in Manchester]. It does make sense as you can get a lot more people there,” he continued.

”From a corporate point of view, it means that insurers and suppliers have got to put their ‘big hitters’ in because they are dealing with brokers from the City of London through to Cornwall. It’s a great social event, but also I have generated so much enquiry and new business from it.”

His favourite high profile speaker remains Boris Johnson.  

Hanks was previously distribution director at Tempcover. He has also worked at Allianz, as broker development manager, and AXA as an agency manager.