Over half of the top 50 brokers are from Lloyd's James Sullivan reports on their success, but has a warning for the future.

All the attention at Lloyd's at the moment seems to be focused on the insurers themselves, finally going public on merger attempts after years of inactivity.

But despite the best intentions of the likes of Amlin, Omega and Cox to dominate the headlines, a closer inspection of the market reveals that on the other side of the fence some interesting developments are taking place among the brokers who place business there - and we are not talking about Spitzer here.

No, beyond the glitz and glamour of the large, multinational players who dominate the market, a number of smaller Lloyd's brokers are continuing to post impressive results. This means that of the UK's top 50 brokers in 2005, more than half are Lloyd's brokers, continuing to dominate the insurance landscape.

The fact that Lloyd's brokers continue to hold their own in such a difficult climate speaks volumes for a market which, despite a series of hefty losses in recent years and a barrage of negative publicity, is currently posting impressive results. And it appears to be getting to grips with its rogue elements under the auspices of the new franchise board.

Of the top 10 UK brokers, eight are at Lloyd's, unchanged from last year's standing, while in total 27 brokers in the list are accredited at Lloyd's.

And it's not only in terms of brokerage that Lloyd's continues to hold its own at the moment, with eight of the top 10 brokers in terms of growth also the biggest players in the Lloyd's market.

Aggressive growth

To some extent this reflects the fact that most of these players are multinational entities with aggressive growth strategies, enormous marketing strength, and the ability to pull in considerable revenue purely as a result of the size of the pond they are fishing in.

But the fact that they are not simply standing still, but continue to dominate the UK intermediary market, is also to some extent a testimony to the strength of Lloyd's itself. Its franchise board appears to be shrugging off some of the discredited practices and unwanted elements and returning to a more level-headed market after years of woeful volatility.

Among the many Lloyd's brokers in the list, one of the most impressive is Howden Insurance Brokers, part of the Hyperion Insurance Group. Although only a minnow in comparison to the giants at Lime Street, Howden has leapt 12 places this year to number 36, with brokerage up from last year by an astonishing 43.6%.

Indeed, such is the rate of recent growth at the company that this year it is the third faster grower in the country, beaten only by Oval and Smart and Cook, and leaving such impressive performers as Giles and Towergate in its wake.

The fact that Howden has performed so well is also impressive when seen in context - only two years ago it was tipped as one of the companies most likely to break into the Top 50 when it stood at 57.

The standing also differs from many of the other fastest growers because Howden has achieved its standing through organic growth in its core liability and indemnity markets, rather than through a process of aggressive acquisition carried on by many of its non-Lloyd's competitors.

A similar story to Howden's is that of Lloyd's broker RK Harrison, which places a diverse spectrum of business, both direct and reinsurance, in the market and which also made the top 10 in terms of growth with brokerage up 36% on last year.

Maintained standing

Yet although there is no doubt that Lloyd's brokers have maintained their standing and - in the case of Howden and RK Harrison - actually made great strides to improve its overall standing in the UK market, the plain fact remains that of the top 10 fastest growers at the moment, eight are not Lloyd's brokers.

These are the aggressive, acquistional national brokers or networks such as Smart and Cook, Oval and Towergate which have made no secret of their thirst for success in today's competitive environment.

They have dramatically increased turnover on the back of the sort of mid-tier commercial business that Lloyd's would so dearly like to get its hands on.

Ian Richens, chief executive of commercial broker FM Green, itself in the process of being taken over by top 50 broker Primary Group, explains just why Lloyd's is failing to secure a bigger slice of this pie:

"We do some business at Lloyd's but through Lloyd's brokers, and although there's a lot more UK commercial stuff at Lloyd's than there used to be, the market in general is so competitive at the moment we can usually find good quotes in the company market.

"Lloyd's is good for the larger stuff, but it's getting better, with syndicates tending to write smaller risks than they used to.

"But I suppose there are a lot of mouths to feed, and we have targets and agreements with the company market." And of course the national brokers and networks also have just such arrangements with the more competitive company sector.

For the time being, it seems, Lloyd's is unlikely to write significantly more of the mid-tier business which is the bread and butter of the company market, but its brokers seem likely to benefit from the continuing strength it demonstrates in key areas.

As Dennis Veingard, commercial account manager at professional indemnity and liability specialist Churchill Insurance Brokers says: "For the commercial combined market we use Lloyd's very little.

"We use it for specialist risks such as jewellers' block and we use it a lot for liability business."

He says that Churchill utilises Lloyd's service companies in going to the market, rather than going for direct accreditation itself. Will it change its mind and become a fully-fledged Lloyd's broker then?

"For brokers of our size it doesn't really make sense," he says.

"Even if accreditation were simpler it's still easier to use a specialised broker."

While this attitude persists, it's hard to see where the thrusting Lloyd's brokers of tomorrow will come from, despite the continuing success of those today.