Regulation will put the boot in, says John Jackson
The whistle has blown for the start of the great regulation match in which if brokers and other insurance providers are not up to Premiership status then they will not be playing next season.
For brokers, it will certainly be a game of two halves. If they do not have their applications for authorisation to conduct business into the FSA by June, then the second half of the year will be grim.
Indeed, the 'league' is already beginning to sort itself out. Many of the fat cat insurers - the managers - are showing handsome profits, and are already trimming their squad of providers. AXA, for example, is setting the pace by warning brokers to have their applications in by 13 July or face the axe. No starker warning could be sent out by the manager to the players.
For it should be remembered that there is no dropping down into a lower 'division'. Either you are fit to play in the top league or you do not play at all. There is no penalty shoot-out.
One of the biggest thorns in the side of brokers has been the secondary providers - vets, dentists and garages. Norwich Union, among others, has warned that they could get the red card.
This is music to the ears of professional brokers, as there is good quality local business to be picked up if, as seems likely, most of these second-team players are dropped from the squad.
There was a significant point made in the Deloitte Business Insurance Consulting report published in Insurance Times at the beginning of the month. This is that 35% of brokers see networks as a possible opportunity. I am not surprised at this. I have always seen broker networks as a kind of trade union, in which collective bargaining by weight of numbers (and premium income) gives more clout when talking to the employers.
Networks are not everybody's idea of the way forward, and brokers are fiercely independent. But as the market shakeout moves apace, collective security makes obvious sense. Going on to the transfer market and joining Network United may be no bad thing.
What is clear is that the nature of the game has changed. By the end of the summer, we shall have a better idea of the winners and losers. With the FSA acting as referee, a large number of red cards are inevitable.
The cry used to be 'export or die'. For brokers it is 'change or die'. It will be interesting to see who make the grade when the full-time results come in.