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GOLD COAST, Australia-Gross written premium in Australia is increasing, but brokers' share of the market has dropped, according to the regulatory Insurance and Superannuation Commission.

Don Gruber, Insurance and Superannuation Commission assistant commissioner, told the National Insurance Brokers' Assn. national conference on the Gold Coast last month that ISC statistics show the percentage of business brokers place has dropped to 28.5% from 33.7% between 1994 and 1996.

Over the same period, insurers' gross written premiums grew 14.5% to $18.03 billion Australian ($11.17 billion) while brokers' volume dropped 3.4% to $5.14 billion ($3.65 billion).

Despite the reduced volume, broker numbers are growing. On June 30, 1996, 1,004 brokers were registered in Australia. The number grew to 1,021 by June 30, 1997, with 71 licenses lapsing and 88 new ones being issued.

In a separate presentation, economist and social commentator Phillip K. Ruthven, executive chairman of Ibis Business Information Pty. Ltd. in Sydney, Australia, estimated non-life written premium will grow to $22 billion Australian ($15.61 billion) by 2001.

Mr. Gruber said premium volume growth areas are in compulsory insurance, such as third-party personal injury and workers compensation. Brokers are not heavily involved in either area, as state governments regulate premiums.

NIBA has set up a CTP subcommittee to coordinate the states' positions and seek ways to improve broker involvement and also is seeking involvement in organizing states' workers compensation programs, said Alan Bishop, NIBA president.

Alan Mason, chief executive of the Sydney-based Insurance Council of Australia, told brokers the ICA supports broker involvement in workers comp but that it is "up to you to argue your case with employers."

Mr. Gruber warned that for brokers with premium volume of less than $1 million Australian ($710,000) a year, the future is bleak. "It's not clear to me how they can be viable at that level," he said during the presentation.

He said statistics show the top 20 brokers in Australia account for 52% of brokers' premiums, the top 100 comprise 69% and the top 200 account for 78%, which leaves little for the remaining 821 brokers.

Mr. Bishop, who also is principal of EBM Insurance Brokers Pty. Ltd. in Perth, Western Australia, in his opening address to the conference, acknowledged that brokers are under threat, particularly smaller brokers. But he said some were "hell-bent on self-destruction" by failing to adapt to change, and instead being motivated by seeking the cheapest rates.

"This sacrifices the long-term stability of the industry," Mr. Bishop warned.

"Creativity and innovative thinking are required daily, not just when an account is up for renewal."