More than 15,000 back-office insurance jobs in the UK could be lost over the next 12 months because of industry consolidation and the impact of e-commerce, predicts Deloitte Consulting.

This figure includes the 4,000 redundancies planned by insurers CGU and Norwich Union, if their merger is given the green light by

regulators.

But the cull of back office staff will be countered to a small extent by job creation for front office and internet positions.

"There is a major talent gap to fill at present and the industry is only really waking up to this fact now," said Deloitte's Roger Magid in his Millennium Top Ten Predictions for the Global Insurance Industry.

However, Magid said insurers are beginning to learn from the retail revolution in financial services in terms of developing new distribution

channels, products and cost efficiencies and are expected to invest more than £2b in IT systems in 2000.

He predicts call centres and the internet will grow in importance as consumers increasingly demand a 24-hour service.

And he stresses that the current round of mergers in the industry could actually boost UK insurance employment in the longer term.

"In fact, if businesses like Norwich Union and CGU were to become involved in pan-European mergers, the opportunities for employment could improve dramatically, as Britain is currently one of the most competitive markets for call centres and IT shared service centres."

Other predictions made by Magid are: insurers will have to expand globally to remain key players, insurers will need to generate strong returns to remain independent, greater consumer demand for investment products will force insurers to switch from 'product peddlers' to trusted financial advisers.