The Hill House Hammond affair shows that the buying public are staying away, says Andy Cook
So farewell Hill House Hammond. It is a sad day for Britain's broking community, but not one that was unexpected. After all, NU made it quite clear last year that it is not really interested in broked personal lines which are not attached to commercial business or high net worth.
And after highly regarded managing director Eric Galbraith left, it was only a matter of when, not if, something happened.
The future looks grim for the 1,600 staff who will be made redundant. But there is hope. Last week, I bumped into Marion Jewell, whose Jewell Insurance won Small Broker of the Year at the 2003 Insurance Times Awards. She had been made redundant but bounced back using her industry knowledge and the goodwill of friends and contacts to build a thriving broker.
For the many staff who do not have the appetite, backing or desire to start a brokerage, there are brokers crying out for decent staff. One of the top concerns of brokers we talk to is that they can't recruit staff. So there is hope.
The future of high street chains that sell personal lines is in doubt. The biggest chain on Britain's high streets, Swinton, has been for sale for a few months without finding a buyer. And without a major turnaround in the British public's buying habits, it seems the number of people prepared to visit a shop for lowest cost motor insurance will fall. And this, as Eric Galbraith (now Biba chief executive) points out, is the opportunity. Personal lines brokers are not making the most of their expertise. Not all motor policies are the same. If only brokers could get this message across to the public.
There is no doubt that the British high street will be a poorer place without its brokers. But just look at what has happened over the past decade. Food retailers have closed because of pressure from Tesco and Sainsbury's (sounds familiar), while hard-goods retailers have moved to retail parks.
So there is a wider political argument about town planning that needs to be addressed if we are to save high street brokers. This seems unlikely. The only other avenue open is change.