BLOG – BIBA 2014 ‘Tales From The Conference Floor’
Last week the BIBA 2014 Conference and Exhibition returned to Manchester. In this two-part ‘Tales from the Conference Floor’ blog, Unicorn Senior Relationship Manager, Juliet Cox, looks back at some of inspiring, wonderful and, at times, just plain weird standout moments of this year’s event.
It’s 6.45am and I’m on the train heading north for the BIBA Conference and Exhibition 2014.
Last year the BIBA conference was held at London ExCel and it suffered from a rather ‘under the weather’ feeling, caused, I think, by the venue being out of the centre.
The arena was also perhaps a tad too large for the exhibitors and delegates to really feel the cosy camaraderie which, in my experience, usually characterises the event. This year, we were back in Manchester.
On getting off the train – and obviously conscious of the company’s profit margins – I took off on foot. Seriously, it had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact it was a beautiful sunny morning, I had very sensibly worn ‘flatties’ and I knew it wasn’t too far to the venue.
Now, I think I’ve got a pretty good sense of direction, for a woman. Oh, c’mon girls, you know we turn maps upside down… we do! And I wasn’t too worried when 10 minutes of walking produced no recognisable landmarks.
20 minutes later, though, when I found myself standing on a street corner (in the nicest sense) with a group of bewildered, soberly dressed men, and women in breathtakingly tight body-con dresses, I had to ask the question everyone wanted to hear ‘Are we all looking for BIBA?’
Yes, indeed, we all were. In fact, I suspect that some of the group weren’t originally, but felt perhaps, sadly safe in the company of members of the Financial Services community.
Through ‘working together’, a past theme of BIBA Conferences I seem to recall, we were able to find the venue – Manchester Central Exhibition Hall. It’s an interesting one this. It used to be an old station and the roof is a smaller version of the arched structure at St Pancras.
There is something very interesting hidden behind the bricks of one of the walls, I seem to remember. I don’t think it’s a body, but then again, why let the truth get in the way of a good story?
The buzz on arrival was noticeably back and, as a delegate this year instead of being on a stand demoing, I was relishing the chance to at last be able to attend the main speaker sessions, and perhaps a fringe seminar.
The main morning session was hosted by the Channel 4 presenter, Jon Snow, and a very urbane chairman he proved to be. The panel consisted of Janice Deakin from AJ Gallagher, Paul Lewis from Radio 4 MoneyBox and Amanda Blanc, CEO of AXA UK.
I remember being at Towergate when Amanda joined, she was rather tired looking, six months pregnant, starting a demanding new job – fair play – and I watched, with a degree of awe, how she rose to become CEO of the Broking Division before breaking the hearts of the Exec by jumping ship to AXA, and turning herself into a bit of style icon in the process.
It only goes to show what you can achieve, even if you are Welsh and come from Swansea (my husband is from Swansea, as is my father, so I’m allowed to say that!).
The topics for debate ranged between the cost of compliance, flood claims to broker commission disclosure.
Amanda quoted some amazing statistics regarding the most recent flooding ‘event’; 2,000 claims and only one complaint!? Clearly AXA must be doing something right.
She also challenged the assumption of Paul Lewis the flooding this time was worse than in 2007, by saying the reason it seemed worse was simply because it happened in the South-East of England….oooooh, controversial. Actually, it’s a good point, and it led to a discussion about how little the media, and in fact the public in general, understand about insurance and how claims are processed and paid, or not, as the case may be.
On the subject of compliance, the audience began to get involved, and with the UK compliance bill being in excess of £1bn (who knew?) it was generally agreed the cost was disproportionate to the problem.
In addition, brokers felt that they were being punished unfairly for the misdeeds of other sectors of the financial services community.
Back out for a coffee and a wander round the stands, there was a good mix of brokers, insurers, loss adjusters, broker software companies, add-on providers and, can I have a quick rant here, an enormous number of the exhibitors either speaking into or texting on mobile phones and devices!
Apart from, that is, one forlorn lady standing, holding her arms out, on the very edge of her stand, almost as if to step off would mean she received a small electric shock, or something, and calling Helloooooo? Helloooooooooo?’……………. What??? Is it me?
The BIBA Conference also always has a penchant for including a smattering of superheroes on and around the conference floor. Last year, I spent a happy half-hour showing Batman the wonders of Broker Assess, and I like to think he came away with a whole new perspective on how online learning might assist in terms crime prevention in Gotham City.
This year, well, Superman was there and, this one’s for you, Mike Bishop, Wonder Woman was wandering around too. And here she is, folks! I’m the one on the left, WITHOUT the crown, just for avoidance of any doubt.
During the lunch break, I typed up my morning’s notes in one of the ‘work areas’, positioning my laptop between some old lettuce and a blob of lamb jalfrezi, and afterwards headed off for one of the ‘fringe’ sessions. Don’t get excited, Edinburgh it ain’t.
I attended a session called ‘Enhancing the Customer Experience’ and it was delivered by a very smart, sassy lady called Jo Moran, who is Head of Customer Service for Marks and Spencer. I love Marks and Spencer. There, I’ve said it.
Anyway, Jo’s presentation contained many points and ideas that I want to share with you, because whether you are a manager or not, or in sales or not, they will have a universal resonance.
1: How we treat each other in the first instance impacts our customers – that applies to us all, especially when you think we have our external customers but also, our internal ones too. Agree with me, or not?
2: No-one gets it right all the time – customer experience comes through three main delivery points:
- The product you sell
- The environment you sell it in; and
- The service you give
And our customers want different things from these three elements at different times – hard to get it right all the time.
3: The end to end structure we work in needs to support the vision as follows:
i) Role clarity – this should start with why (why do you do your job?) and then the what (what do you do?) and then the how (how do you do it?)
ii) There needs to be the right investment in recruitment and training – here’s an interesting thing, M&S recruit people not primarily for their skill(s), but their ‘attitude’. Basically the key is attitude plus access to knowledge – equipping people to have confidence and capability.
iii) Keep up the momentum – always look for what’s getting in the way, what are the sticking points in your day-to-day activities, which stop you being customer focused, and use that to create a relevant and dynamic cycle of improvement.
So that was Jo, another impressive lady. She said she’d been with Marks and Spencer for 25 years, and judging by her appearance I can only assume they must have been following a policy of recruiting direct from local primary schools.