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The global insurance industry, for centuries at the heart of the City of London, is one of the most powerful in the financial services sector. But it has been the subject of intense scrutiny recently from the other side of the Atlantic.
Early in 2004, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced that he was going to investigate allegations of "bid rigging" by insurance brokers. Top of his list was worldwide broking giant Marsh & McLennan.
The allegations concern the commissions paid by brokers to insurance underwriters in exchange for giving them a good deal on a policy.
In October, Spitzer filed a lawsuit against Marsh, naming American International Group (AIG), Ace, Hartford Financial Services Group and Munich-American Risk Partners as participants in the alleged bid-rigging. Since then, Marsh announced it would change its business practices, enabling Spitzer to say he would drop his case. However, he is continuing with the criminal prosecution of individuals in the insurance companies, and Zurich has since become embroiled in the affair.
In the UK, no official investigation has been announced into broker commissions. However, Marsh took the step in November of hiring Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer to look into its use of commissions. Insurance partner Raj Parker led the team investigating, and the firm spoke to hundreds of employees to conclude that no bid rigging had taken place.
Legal activity in the UK relating to Spitzers investigations is likely to be limited to such internal company reviews, unless the Financial Services Authority makes the decision to instigate an investigation.