The softening commercial market hit Manchester broker, Alec Finch Group, which saw profits tumble by 75% in 2006.

Pre-tax profits for the year were £126,724 compared to £478,200 a year earlier.

The news comes just weeks after the broker was acquired by French intermediary, Verlingue.

The group blamed the slump on falling liability rates and a move to fees rather than commissions.

Group financial director, Simon Worrall, said the broker had suffered a "temporary blip" in its history and would return greater results next year if the soft market hardened.

He said: "In our core corporate broking business we have seen static turnover where liability premiums have softened.

"We have also moved to a fee-based structure which provides a lower income of five or ten percent rather than the higher commission structure.

"We want to be more transparent, have a professional approach and be able to justify our fees to our clients."

The broker has also reorganised its operations in a move which saw its personal lines book sold off.

Also the broker amalgamated its IFA division, Alec Finch Employee Benefits, with Oakley Financial Solutions.

Additional recruitment costs also put downward pressure on the year-end result, Worrall addded.