For those in the audience at Harrogate last week, it was a priceless moment. On a high-profile public platform courtesy of the CII, Simon Bolam, chairman of Biba, was tearing strips off the major insurers for their appalling levels of service these post-merger days. And sitting immediately to his right was Andy Homer, Axa Insurance chief executive.

The only pity was that so few brokers were there to hear Bolam's remarks. Had they been present in any numbers, the cheer would have taken the roof of the International Conference centre.

What Bolam was brave enough to say in public has needed to be said for a long time now. Astonishingly varied service levels - a polite way of saying some brokers are receiving appalling service on a pretty consistent basis - has been a fact of life in insurance since the Royal and Sun Alliance merged in May 1996. For nearly three and a half years, brokers have incurred increasing administrative costs and mounting personal anger as they have tried to perform professionally for their customers with one hand and sometimes two tied behind their backs while one insurer after another reinvents itself.

Stories are rife of administrative chaos in insurers' back offices, particularly claims handling. One major insurer, which purports to be offering its brokers a superb service, is taking three months to process simple customer data. Another's commercial claims department has stopped handling claims until it can deal with the current backlog. And yet another is causing havoc amongst its brokers by its insistence on doing away with claims forms.

Insurers may plead they have to merge, and there is no painless way to do it. But potential sympathy evaporates when, for example, the way they are treating their loss adjusters is examined. Outsourcing claims handling sounds a good idea - but only if you pay the loss adjuster enough to make it worth their while to do the job properly. On the rates the insurers have imposed, it's little wonder the wheels are beginning to come off.

Sympathy is also hard to find when brokers consider how little thought insurers ever had for the costs they were pushing down the line to them. Issuing new policies to customers and communicating what is going on generally has been a very costly business for brokers. And with the next merger only a matter of time, the costs look set to rise further.

Small wonder that Biba is asking for a little more courtesy and consideration from insurers the next time a merger is planned. And also for some financial compensation for the costs that insurers are dumping on them.

If the merged insurers are really serious about wanting to help brokers - and every insurer says it is - this is the least they should be offering.