Caroline Muspratt looks at the relationship between Biba and the IIB and the possibility of a merger.

Two men with very different personalities and style, trying to achieve much the same goals - this is how many brokers describe Eric Galbraith, chief executive of Biba, and Andrew Paddick, director general of the IIB.

The differences between the two men are marked, but the organisations themselves are more similar. Even the traditional divide - that Biba represented larger brokers and the IIB smaller members - is no longer true.

The IIB, which was formed in 1987, describes its remit as providing "a vital service to both businesses and private individuals, making sure that their insurance arrangements meet demands and needs."

Meanwhile Biba claims to be the UK's "leading general insurance association" and describes itself as "the voice of the industry - advising members, the regulator, consumer bodies and other stakeholders on insurance issues."

So far, pretty similar. Even Paddick admits that the difference between the two "is largely historical". He argues that Biba, which was formed 10 years before the IIB, "wasn't doing a particularly good job on behalf of independent brokers. Someone said to me if you think you can do better, why not try yourself" - and the IIB was born.

It is even possible to be a member of both organisations, though in many cases that, too, is largely historical.

Dennis Veingard of Churchill Insurance Consultants, said his company is a member of both Biba and the IIB after taking over another business. He sees the main remit of both organisations as "giving information on the political front, dealing with the FSA, interpreting the rules - it's all behind the scenes work."

Roger Flaxman, a consultant and former broker, agrees. "Brokers do need to be represented, particularly with regard to their relationships with the government and regulators," he says.

However, it is the way in which Biba and the IIB represent their members where the two organisations differ.

Paddick comes across as a more colourful character than his counterpart at Biba, speaking rapidly and passionately and not afraid to call a spade a spade. In his own words, the IIB is "a lot more proactive and causes a lot of a stink".

Galbraith appears to be more measured and, while he is clearly a staunch believer in the issues, he speaks slowly and concisely.

Members are also quick to pick up on the different approaches of the two men.

Grant Ellis, chief executive of the Broker Network, calls Paddick "very enthusiastic and well informed" and says the IIB is "pretty much Paddick's show".

While Paddick and Galbraith insist they get on amicably and regularly hold meetings, they are not always complimentary about their rival associations.

Paddick says: "If we think there's been an injustice or something has been done wrong, we declare war. When diplomacy fails, Biba has a history of walking away."

Other brokers call Biba "more considered", "a little timid" but nevertheless "approachable". On the other hand, the IIB has been described as "more confrontational".

Good ideas

One broker says: "Paddick has some good ideas but he likes to deal with them himself rather than sound out other people."

Lorraine Dillett, director of MacKay Corporate Insurance Brokers, disagrees: "I don't see the IIB as being as proactive as Biba. Quite often it responds to issues in the market after Biba has responded."

On the whole, brokers appear to be satisfied that whichever organisation they belong to is doing its best on behalf of its members. Dillett cites the benefits of belonging to Biba as "the information it provides on issues within the industry and the access to facilities for members".

Flaxman points out, however, that the benefits of membership are not always immediately obvious. "Members join these things and they expect to see something tangible for them in their office," he says.

"What a trade body is doing is tangible for them collectively, not individually and not always visible. To do so requires a resource and a cost in its own right, and they barely have enough money to do the things they have to do."

Lyndon Wood, chief executive of Moorhouse, has chosen not to remain a Biba member.

Not worth cost

He says: "We were members of Biba for several years, but didn't renew our membership this time. It wasn't worth the cost as we didn't feel we were getting anything from it."

He adds: "There's a lot of help on its website but we can get that help elsewhere without paying for it."

Whether they are members of Biba or the IIB, many brokers are agreed that the two organisations should consider merging.

Ellis says: "Personally I would welcome a merger between the two, it would benefit the whole industry. Combined, they could be even more powerful."

Veingard agrees: "I do think they could do the brokers more good if they were to merge."

However, while some have mooted the idea of a new organisation starting anew, albeit combining existing management and skills, Flaxman does not think this would work.

"If you set up a new organisation, the learning curve would be two to three years, and it would lose a huge amount of drive that the existing two organisations have," he says.

Galbraith and Paddick themselves agree, in principle at least, and admit that the suggestion has been floated on more than one occasion.

Galbraith says: "There's no reason why we shouldn't come together. One organisation should be in place to be a strong voice for the industry.".

He adds: "Andrew and I meet and have a dialogue and have been working together on a number of issues over the past few months."

Paddick agrees that the two associations do have mutual concerns and could in many cases put their heads together. But he says that simply deciding to merge overnight would not work.

"If things can be more proactive, demonstrate some successes to the members of both, you could think about formally getting together," he says.

Working together

"We haven't come out on any major issues together yet - we have to move towards working together."

At the end of the day, Paddick says, it would be up to the brokers themselves. "This is a members' thing," he insists.

Galbraith and Paddick agree on one thing at least - the industry needs as strong a voice as possible, to represent its members and work on behalf of brokers everywhere.