Insurance Times, brought together the Welsh broking elite to reward the region's best brokers

In recent years Wales has worked hard to promote itself as a thriving and vibrant business centre offering fast growth and diversity to both home grown firms and inward investors. 

According to International Business Wales, the country has a buoyant and growing financial services sector, which is home to more than 1,800 companies, employs around 28,000 people and contributes to 5% of Welsh GDP.

Insurance and pension companies are said to account for 21% of employment, with brokers too making up another significant sector of operation and supervision enterprises.

But, while business parks in Cardiff and the southern fringes are bustling with the likes of Lloyds TSB, HBOS and Zurich, the state of the independent broker market appears mixed.

In one camp the outlook for independent brokers is promising and full of opportunity, but others are less optimistic.

Paul Ragan, chief executive of Protecta-Group, which heads the field of independent Welsh brokers, is keen to point out that Wales has a prospering independent broker sector.

The picture, according to Ragan, is a positive one and the future looks promising for proudly patriotic nation.

"It is gratifying to see Wales acknowledged as a country and not just a region of the UK," emphasised Ragan, as he accepted the honour of being number one ranked independent broker based on their annual turnover figures.

His pride in the market is palpable, but after 11 acquisitions, all small in nature, his company is having to look further afield to ensure it achieves its aims of growing revenue from £8m to £40m by 2011.

Effectively, Wales has become an empty pot of resource for growth-driven companies such as his, a reality not missed by ProtectaGroup's closest rivals.

Lyndon Woods, chairman and chief executive of Moorhouse, the second largest broker in Wales, is candid in his assessment of the market.

"The independent broker market in Wales is as flat as a pancake," says Woods.

While his view is far from that of his competitor, Wood is adamant that Wales is not alone in suffering from an uninspiring market.

"The Welsh market is stagnant," states Woods. "It is an ageing market with very few young entrepreneurs, hence the reflection on growth.

"It's just not buoyant, there is nobody being proactive, but that almost goes for the market in general. There are only really about 10 firms, which are actually doing anything out of 3,000, 99% of companies are stagnant, trading flat or going backwards."

His comments are hardly complimentary, but appear driven by a desire to stir the market into action and wake up the troops.

"The government has attracted the likes of Zurich and maybe AXA, but it is not enticing people to start afresh and open brokers or distribution businesses.

"If we're not careful in two to three years a lot of the smaller brokers will disappear, but again Wales is no different."

The choice: be proactive, promote the company to the wider market and aspire to grow.

At a time when consolidation is the tactic of choice for large, regional brokers, the value of remaining truly independent appears more important than ever to a significant proportion of the provincial market.

Staunch independence is no more evident than in Wales, but if the independent broker market is to remain part of the bustling financial services sector that has emerged in Wales then it may have to succumb to the encroaching threat of consolidators.

Wales is becoming an increasingly intriguing place for competitors and potential business seekers, keen to travel that extra mile across the Severn to see what Welsh brokers are keeping so tight-lipped about.

As one London broker is keen to point out, there is a raft of potential in Wales that so far has remained untapped.

According to Woods that may have to be tapped into sooner rather later if the market is to turn around its fortunes and start to join the Welsh Assembly drive for fast growth and diversity. IT