"I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for your continued commitment and support, and hope we can continue to build on our existing strong partnership."

So said Peter Hubbard, chief executive of AXA, in a recent email.

Can anyone help me to reconcile this with the following scenario?

We have just nearly lost a client, thanks to our efforts to support AXA. If this company keeps responding so helpfully to our needs, we could go out of business.

We had a case under attack from another broker. We asked AXA for a quotation.

It declined, stating that the risk was not a preferred trade. We asked if a presentation had been submitted by any other broker.

AXA assured us it had not; we were the first. The declinature had been logged and if a further approach were to be received the reason for declinature would be the same, no matter who presented the risk.

Two weeks later our client received the other broker's report. Yes, you've guessed - it included a quotation from AXA.

We complained to the insurer. An investigation was promised. We are still awaiting the outcome but, from previous experience with AXA, we are continuing to breathe normally in the meantime.

In the end, we retained the business, for reasons other than price, but we now know that when AXA refers to us as 'Key Partners', the 'Key' is for locking us out of deals available to other brokers.

Of course, we are all aware that in the real world the size of a broker's account can influence an insurer's attitude, but having received an absolute assurance that the risk was unacceptable full-stop, what are we to make of AXA's action?

Answers on a postcard please to Peter Hubbard, Keeper of the Keys.

John Pieri
John Pieri Insurance Services