Christine Seib laments the FSA's sudden decision to get tough on commission rules

'No one could accuse the FSA of rushing into things.

Hard to believe that it's been a whole 14 months since the Spitzer shebang, and it's still rocking on.

After whetting his appetite with Greenberg Jnr at Marsh, New York's attorney general ripped straight into the real big guns of Hank Greenberg and the Sage of Omaha.

Meanwhile, in slower-paced London, our own City watchdog has just finished ruminating on the original issue of commission disclosure. Months after now-outgoing Lloyd's boss Nick Prettejohn put the hard word on the FSA about transparency, it has told brokers to improve their handling of conflicts of interest or face mandatory disclosure.

But this is where it gets weird.

After cogitating for so long on the topic, and waiting until the initial burst of industry fervour had dissipated, the FSA wants action by 20 January. Take away the Christmas break and that doesn't leave much time for brokers to put in place formal anti-conflict policies.

Sure, they should have already done so and most have a fair idea of what the FSA wants of them. But it's certain there will be a fair few high street or one-man-band brokers out there who don't have an anti-conflict policy and aren't too sure how to put one together.

I could argue that if these brokers haven't got their act together by now, they don't deserve to be in business. But is it reasonable to expect far smaller operations to meet the same deadline as the big players?

Even Marsh and Aon have taken months to decide how to respond to the changes wrought by Spitzer, and some would say that even now they are not entirely sure how their reshaping will end up.

As far as I can see, none of the industry leaders has come up with a brilliant plan for replacing the hundreds of millions they raked in in contingent commissions, other than via the logical routes of greater efficiency and operational discipline.

Given the FSA's earlier insistence that it "would not make sense to bend like a reed in the wind" in the face of Spitzer, smaller brokers could be excused for thinking that commission disclosure and conflict management were not issues that applied to them.

That said, and I'm no underwriter, but we might be reaching a point in the insurance cycle where transparency is as important as it is ever going to be.

Last October, when professional insurance buyers professed themselves shocked at the antics uncovered by Spitzer, many scoffed. The market was slowly softening - surely they knew what prices to expect and how much commission their broker might be receiving?

Maybe so, but now, after a year of catastrophic losses, in which Hurricane Katrina and her like will stabilise rates in most classes and force up those in others by more than 100%, will it become harder for buyers to guess how much they should be paying, particularly those with global accounts?

I don't know but I'd be interested to hear what other people think.

Is transparency more important now than it was in the past? Has the industry failed to change, despite the post-Spitzer hype? Or is the regulator just too slow? Replies on the back of an envelope please IT.