Andrew Paddick's much-trumpeted internet venture, Insureright has finally arrived. On Wednesday a sell-out 800-strong crowd of brokers was due in Birmingham to hear the details. Now all they have to do is decide whether or not to sign up.
But rival trade body Biba has attempted to undermine it by revealing details of its internet tie-up with Cable & Wireless that will launch at Biba's annual conference in two weeks.
Insureright enables brokers and intermediaries to sell insurance through their own websites. Brokers can link from their existing websites or by building new ones. It will cost less than employing a new member of staff, even if the broker paid only the minimum wage. And Paddick has dangled an extra incentive in that those who sign up early will effectively get an equity stake in the company. If it is successful they could all be dot.com millionaires.
Biba, on the other hand, is offering its members a free service giving them 20Mb of webspace, a domain name, a minimum of ten email addresses, a day's training in website production and all the tools they will need. It also says it can offer a fully web-ready PC to any member for just £500. The C&W package involves Business Freenet and new free web service for smaller businesses.
The two rival systems don't compete head-to-head. Insureright uses the Polaris system for broking risks. That immediately gives brokers access to about 30 insurers already providing Real Time Environment (RTE) products. But where Polaris is unable to come up with a new product quickly enough, Insureright has built in product builder software to enable new policies to be put together. "If Polaris does not have an RTE product and cannot develop one in time, we have the capability to develop our own products," says Paddick.
Insureright aims to open itself to any insurer wishing to trade through the internet channel. It will not have a selected panel of insurers but will allow brokers access to the wider market.
The software has been written by Maven, a firm already working with the Irish Brokers Association and firms such as Legal & General. And the site is hosted by Planet, a mammoth internet processing company owned by Energis, the company created by floating the National Grid.
The system will have a central website of its own, which will include a massive encyclopaedia of insurance that will allow consumers to get answers to simple questions and enable brokers to compare detailed policy wordings. The Research Department has provided much of the information.
But the central website will NOT sell insurance and will NOT deal directly with customers. Instead it will flag up to the surfer which Insureright intermediaries are near them and which offer the kinds of insurance they seek.
The rest of the system breaks down into the parts the consumer can use (sales and service) and the parts the broker can use (professional and commerce). Both can change policies and personal details on-line with the bulk of changes accepted immediately. More complex changes will prompt the consumer to contact the broker.
Paddick says the system can be tailored to each broker so that the customer can buy insurance in different ways or be prompted to answer different questions. But it will be quicker than some other online operations because it is tied in to external systems, such as DVLA and the national postcode database. Basic motor quotes will be available after five questions with customers encouraged to answer more questions as they might lead to a cheaper quote.
Biba says it will be adding more ecommerce solutions once the system is up and running. Members will be able to tap into Biba's technical info and its main site but there will be limited trading capability at the outset. "We thought people should get in, get on and get trading. It's a nice simple, straightforward, get on with it approach. And there's no investment required," says Biba's Mike Williams.