Biba has opened the door to younger members. And not a moment too soon, says John Jackson

There was a discernible change of mood at this year's British Insurance Brokers' Association (Biba) conference. Perhaps it was the bracing Manchester air. But it can truly be said to have been a watershed conference.

And not just because Biba was staging its 25th annual event - it was something more than that. A change in the mindset is how I would describe it.

Rarely, for instance, have I heard such open and universal condemnation of those (hopefully few) dinosaurs among the delegates, who made such public fools of themselves in the open forum on the first morning.

Biba is a very democratic body - too lenient in my view. A little "stage management" would not go amiss, ensuring that one or two more sensible questions are put from previously primed members.

So what about this watershed? Well, it came at the session headed by Norwich Union director of underwriting Tim Rolfe. First, when asked by Biba chief executive Mike Williams how many in the 50 to 60-strong audience had attended the conference before, only one broker put up his hand.

And most of the brokers in the room were of the younger generation. Now, although many of them were from the Manchester area, how refreshing it was to see them there.

It was also interesting to note that only three put their hands up when asked if it had been their original intention to come into insurance. So the rest drifted into the profession by accident, a deeply worrying scenario.

Veteran Manchester broker Alec Finch neatly summed up the problem: "The industry is desperately short of good, trained people with experience."

So, if there was ever a need for an immediate concerted effort by the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII), the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and Biba to promote the insurance industry to graduates, then this it.

But the watershed went further than that. The younger brokers made clear they wanted a voice in Biba. They wanted a slice of the action. And Mike Williams responded.

He revealed that Biba had been looking at setting up young people's groups - the South-East already had one. `But what about the conference?' he was asked.

OK, said Willaims, we'll consider it for next year - the younger brokers could run their own bit. He told me later that he was much encouraged - two of the younger brokers had immediately given him their card. They were prepared to give their time to it. That's what its all about - commitment.

That's what I mean by a watershed. A trade body where there is constructive and active participation by its younger members is an organisation with a clear future. And why not reserve a place on the Biba board for an under-25 member?

Next year's conference at Bournemouth should prove very interesting. I have one suggestion for the younger brokers - why not also organise an evening social event at the conference as well?

Where the not-so-young but young at heart brokers can let their hair down - those who have any, that is.