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MARR TAKES BIBA STAGE

The insurance industry's surprising ability to draw a crowd is bringing thousands to the North West this month and next, with the 2012 conference season in full swing.

Firstly, the British Insurance Brokers Association annual conference and exhibition took over Manchester in mid-May with more than 2000 delegates visiting the city for three days of networking; one month later a further cohort of risk professionals will travel to Liverpool for the Association of Insurance and Risk Managers' conference.

The former is generally the larger event and each year it attracts speakers of the highest order, with this year's keynote delivered by BBC political commentator Andrew Marr. Delegates were spoiled by an embarrassment of riches from Auntie BBC, with business presenter Simon Jack and Moneybox favourite Paul Lewis joining the roster as they chaired debates and breakout sessions.

With power and influence never far from his reporting agenda, Marr's speech went into the intricacies of Westminster politicking and he observed that we may be at a turning point in the way control is bought and sold. The Leveson Enquiry into press standards could, he said, leave a vacuum without the might of News International to force the political agenda to its will.

Interestingly, BIBA chief executive Eric Galbraith juxtaposed this idea with the insurance industry which is very much at the top of its game from an influence point of view. He reminded members of a string of successes the sector has had such as the full implementation of Lord Justice Jackson's recommendations and its continued commitment to lobbying over issues like brokers' contributions to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

For the closing speech, BIBA brought out its final BBC recruit with Today Programme and Mastermind presenter John Humphries introducing "a man who has quite literally changed the world".

Sir Tim Berners-Lee dreamed up the World Wide Web in the 1980s and his presentation addressed insurers' behaviour directly. An advocate of 'open data' he pointed out that access to information that is publicly owned should be encouraged but that insurers owed consumers an oath of responsibility to not use that data for the purposes of pricing or choosing whether to pay a claim. With an increasing amount of detail about our lives available through online channels, it will be interesting to see what temptations there are for companies and how the authorities react when businesses decide to use it.