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BIG MAY NOT ALWAYS BE BETTER, despite the consolidation trend in the insurance industry.

Amid all the merging and acquiring in the quest to be king of the hill, we hope the brokers and insurers remaining don't lose sight of their customers' needs.

Those that keep this focus have an opportunity to bring their new strengths to bear in terms of enhanced customer service, market leverage and lower pricing. Those that overlook the client as they strive to get bigger risk losing business to more focused or more nimble competitors.

In the wake of the mega-mergers between Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc./Johnson & Higgins and Aon Group Inc./Alexander & Alexander Services Inc., there are certain to be layoffs, early retirements, and consolidation of offices and teams for various lines. As in past mergers, there may be new edicts to use new affiliates wherever possible, to the exclusion of prior business relationships.

But there also may be new services and products, more resources to solve problems, broader geographic reach, more clout with underwriters and lower prices.

As we report in this week's issue, many buyers are taking a wait-and-see attitude to the brokerage mega-mergers.

While some are hopeful the new behemoths will provide them with more and better services, others are skeptical they will benefit as much as the companies' shareholders, if at all.

But buyers-especially current customers of the combined firms-that expect to reap the rewards of these mega-mergers, rather than pay the price, have to make their wishes known. They should not expect any service enhancement to be automatic. If they wish to benefit from the innovation, resources and leverage that supposedly come from such combinations, then they will have to insist on it.

As the punch line of an old joke goes, "Yesterday you were a prospect, today you're a client."

If the giant brokers cannot deliver as promised, there are plenty of companies waiting in the wings for a chance to prove that big is not always better.