One of the Irish insurance market's biggest challenges is its poor public image, the Insurance Institute of Ireland conference heard last week.

The conference, held in Kilkenny on May 25, was attended by 120 delegates from the country's top brokers, insurers and loss adjusters, who heard hard-hitting addresses on the conference's theme “Resourcing your business through talent and technology”.

Renowned broadcaster, writer and academic Maureen Gaffney said there was a strong public feeling that the insurance industry was disinterested in its customers.

She said the industry's image conjured up word associations such as closed, uncaring and unresponsive.

“That negative image must be having an effect on morale,” she said.

“People psychologically respond to what they see as a dislike of themselves by becoming rigid, defensive and hostile.”

Fineos chief executive officer Michael Kelly, who spoke on how to gain competitive advantage through technology, said it was vital that this image was changed, because customer satisfaction impacted on retention.

“I've no doubt that the insurance industry is not customer focused,” Kelly said.

“It has to become more innovative; it's not a choice, it's survival.”

Speakers such as Commerce Minister Noel Treacy, Irish Life & Permanent group chief executive David Went and Irish Business and Employers Confederation director general Turlough O'Sullivan said other issues for the industry included the dearth of skilled employees, the rise of e-commerce and the new regulatory regime.

But Went said the overall outlook was positive. “The Irish economy remains poised to achieve above-European average growth for many years to come,” he said,

“The underlying demographics support the key product offerings of the financial services industry… and we've begun to transform the business culture within which we all operate.”

During the conference, institute president David Lennon handed over the title to his deputy Paul Donaldson. There had been a full social programme on May 24, with golf competitions, followed by the president's reception and festival evening and the Hibernian Challenge public speaking competition.

Insurance Times sponsored the business lunch on Friday, at which it launched its magazine Insurance Ireland. The magazine will be released quarterly this year and feature in-depth analysis of the Irish industry's news and views.

The conference also featured the institute's Annual General Meeting, during which Lennon said the instutite had “entered the new millennium in a strong and healthy position”.

The conference day was concluded by the institute's gala dinner