The Tentacle

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Save the broker

From Insurance Age June 2015 Edition.

James Sharp wades into the conflict of interest debate and recalls an adventurous dining experience that reminded him of the increasingly endangered insurance broker

I dined recently with my wife and daughter in an Icelandic/Asian fish restaurant in Reykjavik. An innocent enough activity on the face of it, unless one arrives determined to order endangered Bluefin (tuna) for your main course.

We had never experienced Icelandic/Asian fishy fusion before, but, fortunately, they had an eight-course tasting menu. So, naturally, we went for that.

The waiter rattled through the list of ingredients, telling us what to expect. This went well enough until we got to the fourth course, then, OMG whale!

Now, I’m not a totally unreconstructed sort of bloke, my wife spent 17 years at the BBC making children’s programmes and my daughter numbers a fair few Australians amongst her circle of friends. We are really quite enlightened folk. Nevertheless, we had the whale.

So, what has this tale of gastronomic guilt-tripping got to do with the conflict of interest debate re broker ownership, previously enjoined between Tony Cornell and Sian Fisher?

Well it appears to me that on the one hand Tony prefers that brokers be left to ply the oceans all idyllic and unfettered. Not unlike a pod of whales. Whereas Ms Fisher – appropriately enough given her surname – argues for pragmatism and the unbiased commercial exploitation of whatever swims.

Despite the shame of my Icelandic degustation, I am rather more aligned to Mr Cornell on this one. Surely, it is a very fundamental conflict for insurers to own brokers, for brokers to own generalist MGAs and for anybody to own a network other than via a co-operative model that excludes both insurers and larger brokers alike.

Okay, there may be some wriggle room around the specialist MGA or broker scheme, as there is some apparent squirm with the moderately populous Minke Whale, hunted sparingly for reasons of ‘scientific research’. However, but for a widely accepted ban and more diners of good conscience than not, there would already be no whales; as, alas, one day, there could be no brokers.

Whether broker conservation is to be achieved by broadly agreed self-restraint or by legislation is a conversation we can have. The only problem is, unregulated, some people will eat anything.”

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