Cox Insurance Holdings is to launch a major expansion of its internet services to regional brokers.

The insurer announced the move as it unveiled results showing pre-tax profit down to £15.1m in 1999 from £18.3m the year before.

Cox said it plans to extend internet technology to regional brokers in a business-to-business application later this year.

It will allow brokers access to products from a panel of insurers.

It already offers insurance to consumers via the internet through a joint venture with Freeserve and Yahoo!

Chief executive Michael Dawson said the proposal would "radically simplify the process" and reduce costs for regional broker customers.

On the drop in group profit, Dawson said it reflected investment performance – below the expected long-term average by £2.8m, compared with 1998 when profits were boosted by investment outperformance of £8.8m.

However, operating profit on a longer-term rate of return doubled to £22.1m from £10.9m due to strong results from the retail division.

Gross written premiums at the 100% level were up 38% to £525m, helped by motor premiums, up 70% at £247m.

Dawson said: "We've made strong progress in 1999, despite an adverse underwriting climate, by reacting quickly to exploit opportunities."