As the 14 January 2005 looms into view, it is tempting to assume that the world of insurance will face an unavoidable and sudden application of the brakes

Indeed, the doom mongers would have it that we will also see the collapse of the internet, the extremes of global warming and an unfashionable return of plague and pestilence.

However, while compliance will undoubtedly change the status quo, I'm all for a more positive view of the future, where controlled acceleration is much more the order of the day.

Of course, greater regulation and softer market conditions will be challenging, but will hopefully help drive forward better business operations. Spitzer may have sent shock waves around the global insurance market, but if its impact in the UK is to encourage a focus on greater transparency that is surely a good thing.

Numerous companies in 2004 have delivered impressive financial performances, providing a good base for 2005, and while downward pressure on premiums remains likely, accommodating this with higher business volumes still looks achievable for many lines.

Delivering improved services and products is a key challenge for 2005 but, if the quality of entries for the 2004 Insurance Times Awards is a good measure, this is well within the capacity of the industry.

Before we move into 2005, I would like to take a last opportunity to congratulate all the winners and short-listed entries of this year's Insurance Times Awards. I would also like to thank all the companies that entered, our panel of expert judges, the sponsors and all those that attended the 2004 Awards for their support and contribution to the success of the Awards.

For those of you that were unable to join us in Birmingham for this year's Awards, or those whose memories of the evening are, perhaps, a little sketchy, you may like to review some of the highlights of the evening on our website - www.insurancetimes.co.uk
At this time of year, it only remains for me to wish you all the best for a happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.