Aggressive brokers and weak-willed insurers are responsible for the softening market, according to our readers

Despite insurers' continued protestations that the market is still hard, it is becoming apparent that it is not. But while it is accepted that property and fleet markets are softening, the market for higher risk, liability-led business is starting to show some surprises.

In some cases premiums in the liability markets have been slashed by almost 50% - a far cry from 100% plus increases of two years ago. One broker tells of a scaffolding risk which carried a £70,000 premium last year, but which was renewed at a mere £38,000.

In the small commercial packages, rates are beginning to look pretty unstable too.

It seems that competition is beginning to hot up. Capacity is coming into the market and, keen to build market share, is offering aggressive rates to achieve this.

Another broker reports of a manufacturing risk which had little interest last year, but now has ten Lloyd's syndicates and five composite insurers battling for it, despite no improvement in the risk.

With increased competition, insurers are reacting in what seems to be the only way they know how - cutting prices. So much for what has been said about not chasing volume.

And it is not just weak-willed insurers who are pushing the market down.

Brokers too have to take some of the blame, pushing for ever cheaper deals to win or retain business. As one broker comments, the industry does not help itself.

- "High net worth rates remain fairly stable. But there are one or two insurers within the market who may quote premiums that are significantly less than the rest of the markets. We are seeing some price competition. This is due to a few more entrants jumping on what they would see as a 'profitable' bandwagon." - Kevin Tellis, RK Harrison

- "The smaller composites - NIG, MMA and Fortis - are putting pressure on the market to gain business. The other insurers are having to follow." - Duncan Macbeth, Macbeth Scott & Co

- "The soft market arrived far quicker than we imagined it would. In the property sector it almost arrived overnight. It won't be a long soft market, as the market is still quite volatile and everybody's still a bit jittery about terrorism." - Ashley Canning, Keelan Westall

- "All insurers are saying there are standing firm, but when push comes to shove they are meeting the competition. We don't want market to soften; it is not good for our credibility." - Grant Taylor, Eastern Alliance

- "Rate reductions are available if push for it e.g. can get 10% reductions on property. Idiotic brokers are pushing rates down - there are aggressive brokers who want business and insurers don't want to miss out. Insurers are giving in because they are worried about the new capacity." - David Raw, Gale and Phillipson

- "Motor fleet is very soft for example but other classes are not. It is mainly the fringe markets and the smaller insurers that are pushing rates down, the larger insurers then react. No one wants a soft market and it will disappear as soon as capacity becomes limited again." - Simon Clarke, Hall & Clarke Insurance Brokers

- "Commoditised, small commercial package combined type business is still holding up. The larger risks are seeing big corrections but it's hard to generalise on a percentage. The market is softening, but it won't last long - about a year. It will go down and then stabilise. This is partly because some of the price aggressive new entrants don't have a lot of capital and will fill their books quite quickly." - Broker

- "New entrants are coming and competition is hotting-up in small commercial combined policies. More insurers are becoming interested in liability-led business. AXA is aggressive on new business - it will undercut to get new business but will put healthy increases on at renewal." - Donald Macleod, Berry Birch & Noble

- "In the commercial sector the market remains reasonably firm particularly renewals although insurers are willing to be flexible in certain cases. Groupama, Allianz Cornhill and NIG are pushing rates down in preferred areas." - Stuart Stead, Business Insurance Solutions.