January kicked off a busy year. The Millennium Bug, which had worried the industry for the past year, spectacularly failed to cause the anticipated havoc. But insurers seemed to wish they could have used it as an excuse for the service standards that seemed to go into freefall. In the first week of the year, CGU had to apologise to an intermediary after the insurer pulled its £135,000 a year agency agreement without even telling the intermediary.
Several stories that were to run and run began that first week too. QBE took over Iron Trades, Ockham moved its motor business from Lloyd's to the FSA-regulated Highway (which later had to stop writing business for fear of overshooting its capacity) and Cornhill announced it was hitting cricket sponsorship for six, pulling out after 23 years supporting the game.
From then the news continued to be mixed. The Lloyd's internal battles between Edgar Hamilton and Highway spilled over into the courts while the onset of technology produced conflicting messages. CGU withdrew from a Policy Master pilot on digital TV, Eagle Star opted for another digital TV provider, brokers were slammed for lack of internet knowledge and the AA said the internet would be king and predicted the death of the high street motor intermediary.
Fledgling regulator the General Insurance Standards Council (GISC) was either pounded from all sides or had a highly successful consultation period, depending on your point of view. Whichever it was, it continued in the same vein for the rest of the year.
Tony Baker walked out of the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and straight into a columnists job with Insurance Times. St Paul scooped the official solicitors professional indemnity deal and motor premiums showed the first signs that they might rise to profitable and sensible levels eventually.
Axa threw up the idea that it could pay penalty payments to its top 200 brokers if its service standards fell. Lloyd's meanwhile, was thrown into chaos when it slashed 1,100 jobs. A week later the HSBC bank gave Lloyd's a glowing report. Then Axa hit the headlines again by promising net-rated products by May 2001 – something to look out for.