With insurers showing significant growth, suspicions of softening rates will only rise, says Andy Cook

With just weeks to go before applications are due for compliance with the insurance sales regulations, it is no surprise that Biba was not at the top of the list for many brokers and other intermediaries.

So if you didn't go, what did you miss? From the conference programme, star sailor Tracy Edwards was inspirational and it was interesting to see Royal & SunAlliance (R&SA) commercial director Brendan McManus and his QC engineer a 30-point swing in the debate. This must have been especially rewarding for McManus, who endured some pointed remarks about R&SA from rival debater Andy Homer.

But, of course, it was everything that didn't happen in the conference that represented extra value. The top tier brokers were all there, on the prowl for gossip about who is for sale and some even lining up an exit for themselves.

The insurers' intermediated sales departments gave their all in hospitality terms, with FirstAssist providing a new distraction for the already well-fed brokers.

The talk of the town was in no particular order: the soft market and regulation of the secondary market. Every broker whom I spoke to confirmed that commercial lines rates are dropping for all classes, bar the most distressed of liability. On personal lines the picture was less clear.

Of course, every insurer refuted the claims of softening rates, each one claiming that top-line growth will be sacrificed for profitability. That makes understanding some of the recently posted figures difficult. For instance, AXA's first quarter showed double digit revenue growth.

But I am assured by an ebullient Peter Hubbard that profitability has not been sacrificed.

And Allianz Cornhill has also grown its commercial lines revenues by almost 10%, again I am assured by Chris Hanks that this has all been done at the right rates. Who's right? Time will tell.