In the first week of March, Insurance Times led with the story that Japan's third largest insurer Mitsui Marine and Fire was due to start trading in the UK general insurance market.

To launch its drive in the UK, Mitsui had initially appointed ten senior staff from Royal & Sunalliance led by Allan Guest, RSA's former director of underwriting. Ex-RSA board member Peter Foreman was named as Mitsui chairman.

Guest said of Mitsui's plans at the time: “This is a great opportunity for Mitsui to develop

its presence in the London market through a high quality, highly focused and innovative approach to commercial and financial insurance.”

Telebroker FirstQuote also made headlines in March when it beat Screentrade in the race to become the first company to sell insurance on digital television.

The broker won the accolade when it went live on Kingston television, the regional cable network for Hull and its surrounds.

However, FirstQuote said it intended to eventually extend its coverage nationally. The telebroker was offering a diverse range of products to Hull viewers, including household and pet cover and promised to follow these with motor and breakdown cover.

The Misys subsidiary, Screentrade, was beaten into second place by just six days. It had planned to begin offering insurance interactively on the Cable and Wireless cable network but was only offering motor cover, with customers having to telephone in order to make a purchase.

Also in March the GISC was slammed by broker and consumer representatives for its interim complaints procedure.

The self-regulatory body faced a deadline of only three months to set up a proper complaints system for insurance customers before it began to admit members from July 3, 2000. This date was still six months after its initial promise to open its doors to members from January 2000. The interim system was intended to plug the gap left until the Financial Services Authority (FSA) complaints scheme got up and running.

Institute of Insurance Brokers (IIB) director general Andrew Paddick demanded to know how GISC intended to investigate consumer complaints without having any official arrangements in place.

Making the news in March was a row that broke out over dual pricing leading up to the British Insurance Brokers' Association's (Biba) Edinburgh conference. It followed allegations that some insurers were using their direct arms to undercut brokers.

Glasgow-based broker Sandy McArthur sparked the war of words after he threatened to withdraw his £300,000 account with Norwich Union after alleging its website was offering cheaper quotes to direct buyers. He went on to accuse insurers that engage in dual pricing as “Jekyll and Hyde” companies.

The final front page story for March centred on speculation that Italian insurer Assitalia was due to quit the UK insurance market.

Brokers reacted to the news with disappointment since many had delegated authority agreements with Assistalia under which they could write a certain amount of business themselves.

One broker said: “We were due to launch a new product last week and this news has left us in a panic.”

An apparent reason for Assistalia's imminent withdrawal was the acquisition of its parent company by Generali last year.

Generali was believed to have ceased underwriting in the UK general insurance market in 1999 and transferred the bulk of its £35m portfolio to Japanese insurer Chiyoda.

Assistalia had traded in the UK since 1981 and employed 32 staff.