Richard Mulholland, head of SME propositions, Lloyds TSB

Traditionally, the role of the broker has been to provide advice and guidance for their clients. But in the past 10 years, that market has begun to change. Some of these changes have been brought about by the actions of the broker themselves, with several smaller brokers merging into larger entities.

So how do SMEs see themselves? Evidence suggests that smaller businesses don't see themselves as business customers. They see themselves as personal customers who happen to run a business. That mindset influences them greatly in the way they deal with us and brokers.

Increased use and availability of the internet within the home has allowed access to new ideas, new markets and new services, all at the touch of a button.

Brokers must recognise how vital the integration of channels can actually be. They will still carry on having a key role to play within this marketplace, but they should perhaps recognise that the consumer is getting savvy and is increasingly prepared to do some more of the legwork themselves when finding insurance.

Existing relationships that the brokers have can be used to their advantage, but brokers also need to consider how they are going to attract and retain new customers.

So is advice the key differentiator? For larger SMEs, the answer is probably yes. For smaller ones, considerations such as price, and ease of purchase are likely to be ahead of face-to-face advice.