Is there anything in the Biba conference for small brokers, asks Grant Ellis

I attended the Biba conference in Glasgow last month as a guest of one of the sponsoring insurers (AXA in my case). While the conference content itself did not perhaps match the very high standard that has been set by Biba in recent years, the event overall certainly provided its usual excellent opportunity to network.

There were, it seemed to me anyway, more exhibitors at Biba this year than usual, all no doubt looking to use this showpiece event to promote their wares to the broker attendees. After all, it is a broker conference isn't it, so it's reasonable to expect that the majority of attendees would be brokers.

However, despite being told that this year's event had a record attendance, in fact only around 80 broking firms were represented in Glasgow. Only 80 firms I hear you cry - but Biba boasts a membership of some 2,000 firms! Where were they all - why aren't more turning up?

Well, all the big regional players were there, but then that's to be expected, as they are the most likely to be targeted for sponsorship by the insurers. So it would seem that it's the smaller Biba members who just weren't in evidence. What kept them away, I wonder?

Perhaps it's too expensive. No, that can't be it. Apart from the fact that I've yet to meet a poor broker (although most would argue the point) in fact not one broker I spoke to in Glasgow had actually paid for their own ticket. Without exception they were all, or so it seemed to me, either sponsored by an insurer as I had been, or were in receipt of a bursary place which not only paid the cost of the ticket, but also threw in £100 towards the cost of accommodation to boot.

So, if not the cost, maybe the time out of the office. Perhaps complying with the FSA is taking more of a broker's time than we thought. Well, that's certainly a possibility, but I'm not convinced it's the real reason.

For a start I don't believe that the reduction in broker numbers attending suddenly happened this year. It's been in gradual decline for a few years now. And, let's face it, if brokers felt it was important for them to attend, they'd be there. I haven't seen any evidence of brokers cancelling holidays to deal with regulation, have you? No, that's not the reason.

So, it has to be location then doesn't it? There's nothing else it could be. Well, again I don't think so. Sure, Glasgow is a long way for some, but the proliferation of low cost airlines makes it very accessible to almost any part of the UK now. Indeed, one broker told me that she and her husband had bought return tickets from East Midlands to Glasgow for £22 each, so the cost of getting there isn't the real reason either.

So what is it? Well, I'm sure there's no one single reason, but I did get a bit of an insight into perhaps why smaller brokers at least don't bother to turn out.

A couple of days after the conference, I had a chance meeting with a small broker friend of mine who's based in south west Scotland.

"Why didn't you go to Glasgow, Brian?" I asked. "It's only an hour's drive for you. Surely, it was an ideal opportunity for you to attend?"

His response was immediate. "Me, attend the Biba conference? What for? That's for the big boys. It's not relevant to me."

Now I know one swallow doesn't make a summer, and a sample of one has a big potential to skew the result, but it does indicate that, for one broker at least, the perception is that the Biba conference is just not relevant to him and his business. So perhaps that's something Biba needs to research properly before next time. Perhaps the whole event needs a rethink, and a fresh approach.

There has been some talk of perhaps merging the CII and Biba conferences into one big annual bash. I think that's a bit premature for Biba. I would suggest that it's more important for it to first find out why it's small members don't feel engaged enough to turn out for their own trade body's flagship event.

  • Grant Ellis is chief executive of The Broker Network
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