In today's finance and insurance market a greater number of new companies and a more demanding customer means that the need to speed up working practices and processes is vital. Videoconferencing is one technology helping insurance companies respond to new challenges.

In its 1998-1999 annual report the Association of British Insurers noted that the UK insurance industry is one of the largest in Europe with a net premium income earned worldwide exceeding £125 billion. The UK has the largest life insurance market in Europe and the UK long-term insurance industry has over 100 companies actively writing business. And, according to Datamonitor competition within the insurance sector is intensifying.

Video conferencing can make a real difference to companies which want to stay ahead of the competition. Improved communications and efficient sharing of information has led to greater productivity and profitability, more innovative working practices and new customer channels.

Cutting costs

The use of videoconferencing dramatically reduces expenditure on travel and accommodation, allowing companies to meet clients immediately. However, there still remains a tendency for senior personnel to regularly travel to meetings , and this can be a costly exercise when clients are overseas.

Barbara Mitchelmore, management information co-ordinator for Bacon and Woodrow, has been quick to recognise the benefits of videoconferencing. She says: "We originally invested in videoconferencing to enable quicker and more cost effective communication between our Epsom and London Bridge offices. Although just 25 miles apart, it can take as long to travel between the sites as it does to fly to Paris."

Traffic jams and transport strikes now pose no problems for the staff at Bacon and Woodrow, and as the need to travel lessens, so does the accompanying stress. In fact Mitchelmore found that staff are now more likely to attend meetings.

She adds: "We experienced a dramatic change in the way we work. In a videoconference, attention is more focused which has meant that we reach decisions much more quickly and efficiently."

Vital links

The finance industry as a whole has experienced major changes that are affecting the way companies communicate. Whilst everyday customer services such as counter facilities are being transferred to head office, there is still a need to have regional offices to ensure regular contact with the customer. Videoconferencing can provide the vital link that maintains individual customer service whilst minimising branch overheads.

The industry is also susceptible to changing legislation. Budget issues such as IPT tax and regulations to create industry standards all have an impact. The fragmented nature of the finance industry means that videoconferencing is the ideal tool to communicate legislative changes and their impact throughout an organisation.

One company taking advantage is Independent Insurance. Toni Yates, project manager says: "Our videoconferencing systems gives our offices the facility to meet face to face and make informed decisions instantly, without having to travel across the country."

Today's customer is likely to look elsewhere unless given efficient personal service. Independent has found that videoconferencing has given it more effective communications and better and faster service.

No longer cumbersome, with poor quality, the technology is suitable for any application. In an environment where effective communication is the difference between closing a deal or being left on the platform, videoconferencing could be just the answer.