Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon `em. Although Shakespeare suggested this in Twelfth Night, he could have been talking about the Top 50 UK insurers. Some of the direct writers and the bancassurers were born great. They came straight in the top 50 to displace others that had laboured long and hard to earn their place and achieve greatness. And this year again, the merger and acquisition activity across the market has reduced the number of insurers so significantly that many smaller firms, which have seen steady but modest growth, have had the greatness of top 50 status thrust upon them.

That will continue.

But size isn't everything. Being the biggest doesn't make you the best. Being the biggest doesn't make you the strongest. And the danger is, as any rugby player will tell you, that the bigger you get, the harder you fall.

Intermediaries need to be aware of this too. This supplement is trying to help.

For the first time, Insurance Times has included not just the biggest companies by turnover but a more detailed analysis of each company's financial and management strength. The

AM Best ratings make vital reading. Everyone should be aware of them.

Many intermediaries will have been shaken by the speed with which Drake disappeared from the motor market earlier this year. How many had paid any attention to its financial strength and its management ability prior to that? How many now wish they had?

When giving advice to a customer or deciding on which insurer to partner in a venture or in developing a new scheme, intermediaries need to consider not just that company's expertise in the field and its reputation. They should also consider the long-term viability of the insurer. Will it be strong enough to survive the hard times as well as good times? Does it have the management in place to be ahead of the game, rather than bringing up the rear?

This will be important even in the heavily price-driven marketplace for personal lines business but it will be even more important among the small to medium-sized business community. A company manager who has gone to great lengths to secure her company's financial position and who uses expensive accountants and solicitors as advisers will expect

the same level of professionalism from her insurance adviser. She also probably spends more on insurance than on her other professional service providers.

She will expect her adviser to make use of such information.

We live in an information age and those that use the information available to best advantage will be the winners. Insurers have used different tactics to target different sectors of the market. As soft markets harden we will soon see whether those tactics were right as better underwriting premiums should feed through to better profits.

The coming year will see many more changes to the Top 50 UK insurers as firms grow organically, continue to merge and buy each other and as the strugglers pull out. Bubbling below the top 50 are several well-known names just waiting for their chance to get in.

The only certainty is that next year's top 50 will look different again. Greatness is there for the taking.
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Chris Wheal
Editor Insurance Times