Hundreds of brokers will receive a letter from Axa in the coming months to inform them that they can expect a third-rate service.

The letter to minor account holders is the second step in Axa's new distribution strategy that it announced last October with a cull of 2,500 agency holders.

Broker development manager Colin Calder said Axa's agency base would be divided into three groups: premier partners, prime brokers and as-yet-unnamed others.

He said brokers at the lower end

of the final category, those with a very small volume of business or limited relationship with Axa, would receive the letter.

Calder did not know how many would be sent or when, but said it was part of Axa's move from being "all things to all men, to a bespoke tailored approach". He said entry to the higher categories was based on size and willingness to work in partnership. There will be no standard level of service. "What they'll get is a tailored solution, a service linked to their needs, so we don't have a catch-all," Calder said.

Axa's Cornwall, Devon and Exeter office has been the first to send a letter to its commercial non-motor agents who place less than £50,000 of premiums.

The letter said Axa would only communicate with the broker in writing, that it would no longer offer quotations on hotels, pubs, offices, shops or nursing homes and that it would aim to return documentation within three months.

"We will not be able to provide you with a telephone service," it said.

"We are aiming to issue documentation on your commercial business within 90 days of receiving your written instructions."

A specialist commercial broker of 30 years' standing who received one of these letters said he had such a small Axa account because its service was already so poor.

"Because of the atrocious service we've had from Axa in the past couple of years, we've reduced its account," he said.

"It takes umpteen phone calls and broker forms to deal with any issue.

"We'd be inclined to do it (apply for a higher category) if we'd had a decent level of service from it."

Calder said he did not know how many letters had already been sent but said four responses had been received, "ranging from pulling away to coming to talk about getting into the preferred categories".

British Insurance Brokers' Association boss Mike Williams said: "It's disappointing news and something we'd have to talk to Axa about." He is meeting Calder on January 15.

Institute of Insurance Brokers chief Andrew Paddick said Axa's move was the first of what would become a trend in the industry.

Association of Insurance Intermediaries and Brokers head Michael Slack agreed that this was a taste of the future. He said: "Companies want at least a £1m to talk to you."