John Jackson says brokers have been written off many times before, but they're still here and in demand
It seems light years away now from when the high street broker was being written off, as the demon red telephone and other telesales motor writers took to the insurance market like the grim reaper. In the modern vernacular, the broker was seen as 'not fit for purpose'.
The 'adapt or die' call echoed round the market, and one of the biggest consolidations in insurance history began in earnest. Many brokers did go to the wall, many sold out, while others amalgamated. The pessimists ruled the day.
Then new technology entered the market, and the keyboard and mouse click were set to rule commercial as well as personal lines in both the High Street and the London market. Once again, the doom merchants were in the ascendancy – broking was finished.
But, brokers have not only survived those testing years but, like Mark Twain, have shown that news of their death has been greatly exaggerated. They are now very much flavour of the month.
Moreover, the argument that went on for years about whether broking was a 'profession' is now dead – the Faculty of Broking and its Broker Academy have answered that old chestnut. And it is organisations such as the CII and Biba that have led the way to bringing about this improved climate.
Even insurers such as AXA are now riding the broker tide with the acquisitions of Layton Blackham and Stuart Alexander to boost its share of the SME market. Smart & Cook is also rumoured to be a target.
But the essential role of the intermediary has been underlined by the success of groups such as the Broker Network and the Towergate Partnership.
Changing social conditions are also making the role of brokers more important. A deluge of legislation from Brussels and Whitehall in the last decade, has pushed health and safety into a leading role.
Every board of directors needs a friendly broker at its elbow, and not least those smaller firms unable to afford full-time staff to monitor the tsunami of fresh laws that continually sweep over the business community.
And all this ignores the impact of regulation on the broker market, policed by the FSA. But once again brokers seem sure to emerge largely unscathed from this hostile bureaucratic environment.
Climate change is another area where broker expertise will play a major role. Risk management is now the buzzword that should regenerate the more enterprising broker offices.
The windows of opportunity in an ever-changing world beckon for the entrepren- eurial broker, big and small. The only restriction is the vision of individual brokers. IT