UK insurance brokers have had a lot to contend with in recent years - what with the perceived threat from direct writers, the internet, and emerging markets. Now there is interactive TV, the GISC, and ...

UK insurance brokers have had a lot to contend with in recent years - what with the perceived threat from direct writers, the internet, and emerging markets. Now there is interactive TV, the GISC, and even insurance company collapses to keep them awake in the middle of the night.

But is it all as bleak as it sounds? When asked what was their greatest technological advance, one broker quipped: "The move from quill pens to biros with a huge drop in the cost of blotting paper." Perhaps this illustrates the general sentiment: many smaller brokers just want to get on with the job at hand.

We have all heard the maxim "Adapt or die", but more brokers really are starting to embrace new technology and marketing methods. Because in a market that does not stand still, they know what will happen if they rest on their laurels.

The continuous change in the market is highlighted in the 2001 Top 50 UK brokers and intermediaries list. Compiled from figures on fee and commission income, the results vary slightly from last year, with Aon taking the number one spot, followed by Marsh (the owner of last year's number one Sedgwick).

One interesting feature of this year's list is the inclusion of more independent brokers, such as Ward Evans and Layton Blackham. And there were more queuing up just behind these two.

Some regulars have been lost from the list too, after Alexander Forbes bought Alfred Blackmore last year and Jardine Lloyd Thompson swallowed up Burke Ford. You can also see the results of last year's merger activity, as Heath Lambert moves up the list.

No doubt there will be further consolidation in next year's Top 50 - it has already started with the merger of EW Blanch, the parent of Blanch Crawley Warren, and Benfield Greig to create the third largest reinsurance broker in the world. Combined UK turnover figures will not be available until next year, but it should be enough to shoot them up into the Top 10.

However, the merger and acquisition activity tends to make it difficult to obtain a truly comprehensive view of the broker market at any one time.

The unavailability of 2000 returns for some companies has also hindered the comparison. All firms were told to supply turnover figures that included commission income and consultancy fees (but to exclude investment income, income derived from minority interests in affiliated companies and international returns) in an attempt to keep the Top 50 as true a comparison as possible.

As this year progresses though, the only certainty in the broker market is that the 2002 Top 50 list will not be the same.