AXA's acquisition of Stuart Alexander and Layton Blackham is a bold but unsurprising move.

The insurer has for some time indicated that buying a broker was on the cards as a way to extend its distribution capabilities and forge closer links with the end customer.

Equally, Stuart Alexander and Layton Blackham are unsurprising targets. Both are profitable businesses with close relationships and sizeable books of business with AXA - indeed, AXA owned a 38.9% stake in Layton Blackham through its Venture Preference subsidiary.

But the fact that AXA has chosen to buy the two brokers together is an audacious move that will raise the stakes considerably in the already highly competitive SME sector.

AXA sees the move as key to achieving its ambition of being the market leader in the commercial SME sector. It is at pains to stress that the move is no "land-grab", that will see AXA take all the brokers' business.

The new broking operation will remain independent. But the deal will enable AXA to make money not only from its own underwriting, but also the commissions generated by the broking operation, which will benefit from AXA's considerable support and financial muscle.

Further broker acquisitions will also be looked for in order to expand AXA's distribution footprint across the UK.

Whether AXA's achieves what it hopes to from the deal remains to be seen. History has shown that insurers owning brokers is not always successful - Norwich Union and Hill House Hammond is an example.

But rival insurers will certainly be asking whether they need to follow AXA's move if they are to stay in the running in the SME sector.

So which broker will be the next to come under the control of an insurer?

It could be any. Recent months have already seen a flurry of acquisition activity with insurers buying personal lines intermediaries. There is clearly the money and the will to do major deals.

With speculation surrounding Aviva UK boss Patrick Snowball's next move after missing out on the top job at Aviva this week, perhaps he will be tempted to flex his muscles and pull off a similarly audacious broker buy.