Anthony Hilton's opening speech at the Insurance Times Capital conference held in association with AXA Insurance

Anthony Hilton, financial editor of the Evening Standard, warned that the recent hurricanes have shifted the industry's focus on capital and investment.

He said: "A month or two ago, before Katrina, the industry as a whole was perhaps looking to shed capital. Now the whole mood has changed, in that Katrina being one of the biggest losses ever, half the industry is looking for capital to replenish its coffers on the underwriting side.

"But more than that, there is a changed attitude to investment, because the changed environment has opened up huge numbers of opportunities and the awareness of the potential in insurance and insurance broking."

He also identified the turmoil the insurance broking community has had to deal with, and suggested the worst had passed.

"With the big firms challenged by Spitzer and the smaller firms challenged by the FSA, I think that a lot of that is now behind us, it is settling down. And the industry as a whole, again, ought to be in expansion mode, because if ever there was a time when clients needed the skills and resources of a good broker, then it's in the coming period."

Hilton therefore concluded that there is much cause for optimism. "We have an opportunity which doesn't come along often - we have extremely promising conditions in the insurance market, particularly for new operators without the legacy of what we've just gone through.

"We have an availability of capital - capital for insurance, capital for most projects. Capital is in a degree of abundance and at a price which one doesn't see come round often."