The five largest European insurers have increased their share of the UK insurance market after losing out to direct competitors in the mid-1990s, according to figures from Swiss Re.

Fierce competition from direct writers such as Direct Line cut back the "big five" insurers' market share to 32% of the market by premium income in 1994.

But the big five have successfully used mergers and acquisitions to claw back these losses to the extent they held 55% of the market in 1999.

Much of this growth was at the expense of the top six to 15 insurers, said the report Europe in focus: Non-life markets ungoing structural change.

The top five European insurers are Axa, Allianz, Zurich, CGU and Generali.