A survey of U.S. agents and brokers shows that one-third of accounts saw either flat or lower premiums in the fourth quarter of 2003. The Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers (CIAB) survey is the latest indication that premium increases are waning heading into 2004. Another indication of market softening, on accounts which saw rate hikes, those increases ranged between just 1-10%. The softening was seen regardless of account size with 35% of small accounts, 32% of medium accounts an d38% of large accounts which had been hardest hit by increases formerly reporting prices held steady or dropped in the last quarter of 2003. There were also reports of some loosening of terms and conditions, and several brokers predict that as competition creeps back into the market, underwriting conditions will ease further. "As pricing eases, underwriting standards will also ease," one broker says. "Market availability and appetite will increase as competition for the dollar sets in. Seen it before, we’ll see it again." Brokers remain concerned about insurer insolvency, notes CIAB president Ken Crerar. In fact, between third and fourth quarter 2003, 50% of brokers said their concern over insolvency increased. "If lack of underwriting discipline exacerbates the already serious reserve problems some carriers are facing, it could have a major impact on the marketplace," Crerar notes. While price relief was seen across multiple lines, a few troublesome areas remain, with construction risk, directors’ and officers’ (D&O), broker errors and omissions (E&O) and umbrella coverage being difficult to obtain and expensive. And medical malpractice continues to top the list of coverages subject to hefty price increases.