Last week, Biba chairman Simon Bolam talked of "feeling the pain" of being an insurance broker in post-merger Britain. This week it is the turn of his brothers in arms in the broking community to share their pain over what has been happening in a once-proud profession.
Letters of support for Bolam have poured into our offices this week. They talk of the agonies of frustration that brokers suffer daily in trying to do business with the leading insurers. And many make the point with real bitterness that phoning the direct side of an insurance operation is like stepping back in time to the days when insurers were geared up to service their brokers.
The letters have not come purely from brokers and intermediaries. Several have been from staff at the insurers themselves, aghast at what is being perpetrated on their providers. One writes: "In our office alone, we have 14,000 pieces of post outstanding, and it is estimated that altogether there are 250,000 unattached articles of post."
Another insurer reports a backlog of approximately seven weeks. "Some of these policies are paid by monthly direct debit, so the customers are having sometimes four or five direct debit payments taken at once."
As these letters suggest, many people working for the major insurers are intensely depressed about the service standards they are being forced to offer. They do not like letting down brokers they have known for years. As was quite rightly said in one of the letters we had no space to print this week, a former employee of a newly-merged insurer, John Bourne of Gateshead, drew attention to their efforts: "Were it not for the heroic work of local managers and staff to make some sense of the shambles handed down to them by senior management, workstates and service would be even worse then they are. The real heroes of this sorry tale are the people at the branches who keep things going."
It is also fair to remember the obvious point that the leaders of the major insurers and their consultants are not exactly delighted at what's been happening. They recognise as well as any broker that things have not been right, and are doing their best to get them right as fast as possible. The sad truth is that it is not just insurance which is bad at implementing ambitious IT programmes: the IT industry's track record and that of its consultants is appalling.
It is encouraging to see the comments of CGU and Norwich Union this week (page 2), and to learn of the steps they are taking to rectify their many problems. For brokers, an end to the backlogs cannot come a moment too soon.