Keep the focus on customers if you want that all-important partnership between insurers and brokers to thrive

The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of a partner is ‘a person who possesses something jointly with another’. Joint ownership, it seems to me, goes to the heart of the broker/insurer relationship. An arrangement that works better for one party than the other simply isn’t a partnership.

Clearly, the most important thing that brokers and insurers strive to possess jointly is the goodwill of the client: goodwill that depends largely on delivery – of promises and a distinctive service. The crux of our smooth-running partnerships comes down to both doing what we say we’ll do from day one and being brutally honest when we know that we can’t deliver – either to the client or to each other.

Honesty, rather than compromise, is an essential ingredient of partnership, especially in these cash-strapped times. It’s unrealistic, for example, for brokers to expect insurers to provide an à la carte menu of resources through an office in every major town. We must tell our partners what it takes to deliver the service the client wants, on the ground and online.

If we keep the focus on the customer, it’s easy to find a common goal. Each client has their distinct needs and, while the smartest electronic platforms are an essential component in handling relatively low-premium business, customisation cannot stand in the way in areas where business is won on the ability to differentiate, and meet and exceed individual expectations.

Our annual performance audit of insurers, which scores key insurers on a satisfaction rating of one to five, shows that across a whole group, an insurer might score 3.93 for casualty but only 3.52 for motor. In 2009, for instance, the overall satisfaction rating of insurers’ accounts services ranged from 88.4% to 68.2% for the poorest performer. We also measure the changes, year on year. We feed back all this data to insurers, discussing how we might improve things.

Then we flip the coin, and ask insurers to rate us too: looking at the benchmarks we’ve set ourselves and monitoring progress. So the blame game is turned into a constructive approach to raising standards.

Joint workshops on sales and marketing and claims also present a chance for us to challenge each other and implement change. For example, we act on insurers’ gripes about getting tough with clients about late notification of claims. Claims inflation is another area where we need to stand shoulder to shoulder, weeding out claims farming and exposing the more dubious practices of no-win, no-fee solicitors. And we’ve been working hard with insurers since the Budget to minimise the impact of the VAT increase.

In this way, brokers and insurers can realise that not only do they need each other but that they are immeasurably stronger when they stand together. Severe economic cutbacks are going to throw up plenty of common threats in the months ahead. The abandoning of flood defences, for instance, will turn vast tracts of the country into effective no-go areas for insurers. We need a concerted lobbying exercise to protect our clients.

Similarly, a common goal links us over the vexed question of paying for the misdemeanours of others in post-credit crunch regulation.

The special ingredients that make a good partnership tick are those that are thrown up in daily conversations about developing first-class products supported by a bespoke customer service. The mutual approach is the only way. IT

Ashwin Mistry is chairman of Brokerbility