It's official. The cycle has turned. At 53%, more than half the brokers responding to the 2004 Mazars' Insurance Broker Industry survey believe the insurance market is softening.

Speaking at the launch of the survey, Biba chief executive Eric Galbraith and Oval chief executive Phillip Hodson agreed that the conclusions regarding the softening market were the most significant finding from the survey.

Hodson said that with competition between brokers increasing from the start of 2004 "silly fees" were being quoted, and maintaining rates would be hard. He added that the property market was softening "quite dramatically".

Chief executive of Lloyd's broker CBC UK Peter Hicks said that many well-informed clients were aware of the market conditions and were driving brokers to get the lowest rates. "Most markets are now reducing prices," Hicks said.

But Allianz Cornhill chief executive Andrew Torrance said private motor rates had strengthened over the first quarter of 2004. He added that "small single digit" increases were being recorded in commercial motor, while some other parts of the commercial book were achieving "high single digit" increases.

"I don't expect a rate war in any of those segments and if we get one we will walk away," he said.