Travel agents sell the same products as brokers, but are not restricted by regulation. That's nonsensical, says Andy Cook
It is not fair. Travel agents will be able to sell insurance products and will not be under FSA scrutiny, while brokers selling the self-same products will have to satisfy FSA rules or stop trading.
While, we have come to recognise that FSA regulation will not be much more severe than the GISC regime, it certainly puts the onus on brokers to make sure their staff are competent.
It is the issue of competence that is at the heart of this matter. Travel policies are not simple. Just look at the pickle Lloyds TSB got in last Christmas when a front page story in The Sun recounted the tale of a woman who had a six-figure claim turned down because a pre-existing medical condition was not explained clearly.
Since two thirds of travellers see medical treatment as the most important aspect of travel insurance, sellers have to be very careful in recording and explaining what is and what isn't covered - especially when travellers may have had medical conditions that could affect cover.
Travel policies cause consumers the biggest headaches. There are more complaints made to the ombudsman about travel policies that any other type of policy.
But travel is a lucrative market. The ABI says it is worth about £600m a year, with 60% - that's 12 million policies - bought via travel agents and tour operators.
Just last week, analyst Defaqto warned that the big travel agents were ripping off their customers by £250m per year in the sales of travel insurance by offering policies at a 500% mark-up.
It seems nonsensical to allow people who are primarily trained to sell holidays to sell the travel policies that cause the consumer so much grief.
I'm sure the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) is a fine organisation that will monitor the competence of its members in the sale of travel policies. But the FSA has missed an opportunity to do what it is there to do - protect the consumer.
The move adds credibility to the argument that the FSA is woefully under-resourced to take on the general insurance market.
The FSA's Eleanor Linton, speaking at this year's Biba conference, mentioned that 75,000 firms could be covered by the regulations, including vets, doctors and other secondary intermediaries.
In a week that saw the OFT take an interest in the claims management market and produce a report saying that it would be keeping an eye on insurers in the employers' liability market, it appears there is a mismatch between how the government views the general insurance business and how it sees the more powerful lobbyists of the travel industry.