Insurance Times' recent survey shows that brokers are deeply dissatisfied with the current level of service provided by insurers. Katy Dowell investigates further

Brokers paint a bleak picture of the industry in a survey conducted by Insurance Times. Insurer service levels are at an all-time low, personal lines support is sparse with many insurers driving down rates, while commercial lines is fast becoming the main stream of revenue. This picture of the current market gives a depressing insight into what is weighing on brokers' minds. Insurers, warns one broker, "must sit up and listen - then act, before their sales force slips away."

Most shockingly, it was revealed that insurer service standards to brokers were nose-diving. There were complaints that brokers, as the sales forces of national insurers, felt they had been neglected. One broker says: "The fact that insurers do not include brokers in their business planning process is a clear reflection of their attitude to the sector. What other business ignores its sales team when planning for the year ahead?"

The report, Senior Broking Executives Speak their Mind, questioned 91 industry leaders from across the broking sector. The panel was carefully selected to give a cross section of opinions. Guaranteed anonymity for the panel meant that Insurance Times extracted an accurate portrayal of the market, backed up with quantitative and qualitative data.

In a world where Norwich Union, Royal & SunAlliance and Allianz Cornhill are battling to increase distribution lines, where are insurers going wrong? Insurance Times found that brokers want marketing support, but are not getting it. And they are sceptical of the support they do receive. One broker sums up this view: "Overall the service provided by the insurer market is very poor. The only acceptable service is borne out of relationship and critical mass."

Concerns also exist that insurers are too preoccupied with direct business to consider brokers. The distribution war may be raging, but brokers say they are being left as the walking wounded with no help from their allies.

This is true, in particular, of personal lines business. The survey found that personal lines gross written premiums are sliding, 55% said GWP had fallen against 45% reporting a rise. New business is suffering most, with half of those surveyed saying that new personal lines business accounted for a measly 5% of their business.

The soft market is putting the squeeze on brokers, who claim that it is market consolidation which is driving down rates: "Competition from other brokers is forcing premiums down in the soft market," says one broker.

Insurers, again, come in for some harsh criticism: "The extent of discounting to retain business now outweighs the higher cost of securing new business leads. Insurers miss the point entirely in the simple view that retention is king." Another broker adds: "Insurers are working very hard at retaining business. Some, though, are clearly price adjusting to grab specific market shares."

Despite this poor forecast, there is a glimmer of hope. Some of those questioned emphasised that there are opportunities for brokers to exploit. Client relationships and top-quality service are the business-winning factors. There are also opportunities for brokers to be more innovative in their work. As one respondent puts it: "Getting new business in a market where there are so many players means innovation and having a fantastic marketing operation. This usually means that the big corporations corner the market on brand awareness, and we increasingly have to find niches to fill. Fortunately, UK brokers are good at that."

Personal service is worth paying for, and this has never been more clear than in commercial lines business. In commercial lines GWP terms, 73% reported a rise on the previous year.

One broker said his firm worked particularly hard at maintaining a relationship with clients: "We try to look after our clients with newsletters and regular contact. Plus we meet two months prior to renewal with clients.

We are open and honest with them and thankfully, it works." Those firms which did report a decline in commercial GWP (27%) blamed it on rate changes, which are largely beyond their control.

For insurers, then, this is a stark warning. Their sales force is deeply dissatisfied, and as the market evolves to fit into the 21st century, change is not necessarily bringing slicker, more efficient insurers.

And from a broker prospective, the message is clear: it is time that insurers got their act together.

For further information on the report Senior Broking Executives Speak their Mind, please contact peter.joy@newsquestspecialistmedia.com