Insurers' panels are a diminishing source of work for loss adjusters, who must resist the watering down of their skills in this competitive market, says John Jackson

When I was knee-high to a grasshopper and in short trousers, my parents talked about something called "the panel". I discovered it was to do with doctors' lists of patients. It was important to be "on the panel".

Panels in insurance terms means you are on somebody's list of approved specialists and you get work from them. It is good to be on a panel, and bad to be thrown off.

Capita McLaren has just been removed from Churchill's panel. You win some, you lose some. But the market for specialist services such as loss adjusting is highly competitive.

Capita is a high profile services company, and has substantial contracts both in the public and private sectors.

It is not surprising that it entered the insurance market.

However, as mergers increase, so the number of insurers offering panels decreases, and the number of firms on those panels reduces.

The widespread use of consultants within the insurance industry is also seen as a much more cost-effective way of using specialist services such as adjusters.

Some insurers have taken adjusting in-house, but I am a strong believer in the principle that the cobbler should stick to his last - or horses for courses. There is no substitute for independent, professional advice.

I agree with comments from Ian Muress, new managing director at adjuster Crawford, who says that as the FSA asks more questions of insurers about claims, so higher standards will be expected of adjusters. However, despite many mergers over the years, the loss adjusting market remains buoyant, although adjusters have had an uphill struggle to be seen as providing independent advice between the insured (and his broker) and the insurer.

The old-fashioned face of the adjuster has changed dramatically. Traditionally seen as "the creature of the insurer" the adjuster usually came in at the end of the day among the smoke-filled ruins of a property.

Today, the adjuster will have all the high technology gadgets, be at the front end of the insurance chain, providing risk management expertise to insurer and insured.

Adjusters are also proud of their professionalism. Qualifications are an essential tool of the modern adjuster. Indeed, it is only in recent years that Cila has allowed its members to work for non-adjusting firms.

So if you still think that panel-beating is something welders do, give Capita McLarens a ring.