Insurance professionals joined our round table to discuss perceptions of Biba's role within the industry

The Panel

Chair: Elliot Lane Insurance Times

Allan Clare NFU Mutual

Richard Hawkes Groupama

Clair Hayward Mansion House

David Partington Marsh UK

Steve Wong Willis

Hala Melcon Jardine Lloyd Thompson

Eric Galbraith, chief executive Biba

' Chair: I just wanted to quote something that you said recently about Biba and attracting young people to the association. “The issue of young members cuts across every single aspect of our industry at the moment. The whole question of making sure that young members feel there is something valuable in the trade body and that builds up the reputation of the industry is the most important part of what we do.” What are you going to do at the conference to try to promote to young people the benefits of Biba and broking?

Eric Galbraith: We have tried to attract younger members this year by making it easier and cheaper for the firms to send young staff along, even for one day. There is a day pass for the Friday, which is not quite a whole day but at least will allow them to see the exhibitors and come along to a couple of the plenary sessions. We've opened up the bursary side of it and there are almost double the numbers coming along, however there is still a relatively small number of younger staff allowed to come. We need to break down barriers so that principals, directors and firms will say 'Yes, we think it's a good idea for individuals to come along'.

Richard Hawkes: I attended Biba for the first time last year in Glasgow. Lots of people told me that the same people attend every year, albeit with some different hats on. You need to encourage more people to come along. Would it be fair to say that last year's conference didn't have the same number of attendees as previous years?

Galbraith: It had more. The information that was publicised in the press quoted around 80 firms, but in fact we had over 200 firms at last year's conference.

Chair: 80 firms exhibiting?

Eric Galbraith: No, brokers. Every year we try to improve the number of broking firms attending, and Glasgow was the biggest yet in terms of the number of broking firms and the number of people present. Having said that, I still think we should aim to attract more people to come along so they can see what's going on in the industry. They could visit for one day, or attend for specific events such as to see some our interesting speakers. We're not just sitting back and saying that's enough. Our sponsors, for example, want senior people to come along, who will, on many occasions, have also attended last year, because those are senior people in broking organisations. But I want to see younger members taking an interest in what's going on in the industry too.

David Partington: Isn't part of the issue, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, that the Biba conference is generally used as corporate entertainment?

Galbraith: It's a very useful vehicle for sponsors to ensure that they are getting closer to their main producers, and it's also a very good networking event. An issue arising from the last conference was that people said they didn't have time to network at the exhibition as there were so many interesting events with plenary speakers. We're now trying to allow more time for people to network, which is very important, a lot of business goes on around the conference.

Chair: Something else that is never quite promoted enough is what the conference leads to and what it generates, whereas the Monte Carlo Rendezvous is known for doing business. Is location the problem?

Clair Hayward: It's the same situation with RIMS in the US – it's a conference but it's there predominantly for networking and doing business.

Hala Melcon: Well this is insurance. It's a relationship for your business. You won't get anywhere unless you network and meet people, and the trust is usually based upon people that you know. I think attending these so-called conferences is a big aspect of the job.

Chair: As the industry moves closer to Europe could there be a Biba conference in France or Eastern Europe?

Galbraith: I've only been at Biba for a year and a half and there have already been discussions about whether we take the conference elsewhere. We are limited by its size however, as it is huge for a conference and it needs a particular venue.

Some of the venues, like Birmingham and London, are so expensive that it, quite frankly, knocks a lot out of the benefits of doing it. Places that are developing, such as Manchester, Glasgow, or Newcastle are possibilities. I wouldn't rule out a European venue, but getting a number of people out of their business day to go to Paris or Barcelona might not be possible and it might affect the conference.

Allan Clare: Outside of the networking and the exhibition side, what is the purpose of the conference?

Galbraith: The main purpose is as an industry conference. It's for networking, getting a conference together and giving a platform for various issues. Some of the plenary speakers don't actually talk about insurance, but they talk about things happening in the world or in business effectively.

Hayward: I don't think people from the industry necessarily recognise that there are some really good quality speakers, and that we actually get these people to come into our industry.