Lloyd's is a funny old beast; on the one hand it is hailed as a unique and creative insurance market, while on the other it is branded as archaic and outdated.

It seems to be stuck between servicing modern insurance needs, which demand swift and contract certain cover, and protecting the qualities that sets Lloyd's apart from younger competitors. In short: it's technology versus face-to-face trading.

Fifteen years ago there wasn't a computer screen in sight at Lloyd's. Now the likes of Dell, Samsung and Apple litter the trading floor as underwriters use modern technology to calculate risks more accurately and log policy details.

Brokers send spreadsheets and emails prior to their visits to the box containing basic details on the risks they have received.

But rather than harming the unique relationships that define Lloyd's, as one of the market's brokers points out, "it is more a time-saving exercise than actually trading electronically".

What it does is maximise the actual broking time, he says.

But more than that, technology will depersonalise things. And brokers agree. "The unique 'in person' communication is what makes Lloyd's stand out against our US competitors. Therefore, we should not be implementing more electronic systems as 'trading mechanisms," says the broker.

Aon chief executive Dennis Mahoney is regarded as the 'powerhouse' behind the company's drive towards electronic trading.

He once asked delegates at an FSA conference: "If you stood on the corner of Leadenhall and Lime Street in 1906, what would you have seen? Answer: hundreds of people carrying paper in slip cases. If you stand on the corner of Leadenhall and Lime Street today, what would you see? Answer: hundreds of people carrying paper in slip cases."

Mahoney is of the firm opinion that everything that can be done electronically should be, thus allowing face-to-face relationships to have real value.

The fear in the industry is that technology will eventually create a "faceless" market that undermines the spirit of what makes Lloyd's so special.

Sue Langley, chairman of the G6 group that is spearheading efforts towards greater efficiency and electronic trading, says: "A common mistake in a lot of technology projects is trying to automate something that can be done much more simply on the phone or in conversation - think Kinnect."

No one would deny that Lloyd's still has some way to go to modernise, but with a 318-year legacy, will it - and should it ever - be a fully automated market?

The answer it seems, is no. Instead, it's about striking the right balance where technology assists to streamline the process, but the "creative and bespoke nature" of Lloyd's is delivered through the unique relationship between underwriter and broker. IT