2003 was a bumper year for the insurance industry On the back of hardening rates and the recovering stock market, insurers have been reaping the rewards and enjoying burgeoning profits.

Just look at the performance of the top six companies. Lloyd's has more than doubled its pre-tax profits to nearly £2bn. Royal & SunAlliance gave a blistering performance, increasing its profits seven-fold to £550m. And both Zurich and AXA pulled their respective businesses out of the red; AXA turning a £50m loss into a £66m profit, and Zurich stormed back into the black with profits of over £500m.

Only Royal Bank of Scotland is the black sheep of the pack. RBS Insurance (the new entity formed from the merger of Direct Line and the Churchill Group of companies) made a profit of only £166m in 2003. Prior to the merger Direct Line made a pre-tax proft of £340m in 2002.

With talk of a softer market approaching the industry will need to keep a tight rein on underwriting if it is to maintain profits in the comiong years - although it can take solace from the fact that the underwriting cycle is in general becoming more disciplined than in previous years (page 19).

In addition to pricing, regulation is also on high on insurers' agendas.

With the FSA's new capital regime coming into force at the end of the year, along with new accounting standards, insurers, like brokers, are working hard to ensure compliance. Going forward, David Strachan, the FSA's insurance sector leader, says that risk management is going to be at the forefront of the regulator's agenda (page 17).

Also in this year's Top 50 UK Insurers supplement, Insurance Times has the first interview with Ian Stuart, the new chief executive of Zurich's UK general insurance business (page 13). Well known in the Irish market, where he was managing director of Eagle Star, Ireland, Stuart took up the new role in May. His mission, he says, is to put the customer at the heart of the company's decision-making. With 'treating customers fairly' high on the FSA's list of priorities in the coming years, that is a timely move by Stuart.