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Bluefin, an insurance broker sold by Axa UK last year, was fined over £4m by the UK’s financial watchdog over falsely holding itself out as “truly independent”.

The Financial Conduct Authority said in a statement on Wednesday that it was fining Bluefin, now owned by Marsh, for the way it promoted its advice and the insurers it recommended to customers. Although it said it was an independent broker, it actually had a policy of trying to push business placed with Axa, the FCA said.

Customers, meanwhile, were in the dark, and were led to believe they were dealing with an independent broker, according to the FCA’s findings.

The watchdog found that Bluefin — which employs 1,500 people and arranges £500m of insurance per year for its clients — did not have proper systems in place to manage the conflict of interest posed by its ownership by Axa.

“Insurance brokers must promote a culture in which they act in their customers’ best interests and provide them with the information they need to make an informed decision. This is central to the relationship between the industry and its customers,” said Mark Steward, the FCA’s head of enforcement.

“It is also unacceptable that firms hold themselves out as independent when they are not.”

Axa said in a statement that there was no FCA criticism of Axa. It declined to comment further on the grounds that it no longer owns Bluefin.

A spokesman for Marsh said: “We were aware of the investigation into these practices in Bluefin when we acquired the business at the end of last year. After the transaction closed we reviewed and, where appropriate, improved Bluefin’s practices and policies to align them with our own high, client-centric standards. During this time we have also worked with the FCA to ensure that this case was fully resolved.”

The FCA said Bluefin cooperated with it, and qualified for a 30 per cent discount on a fine that would otherwise have been £5.7m.

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