Technology has been slow to satisfy brokers. In a three-part series Amanda Swinburn enlists technology consultant Ross Hall to find the systems and check out their usefulness
The broker market has never seen such a glut of new technology systems as exist at present. They range from administrative and accounting systems to customer relationship management aids, to quotation engines.
But much of this software is still at the pilot stage, or in some cases - such as that of Acturis - the product is being marketed to gain further investment, with a launch date that has yet to be set.
According to independent technology consultant Ross Hall of Garol, many brokers make the mistake of buying expensive systems without looking at the long-term costs, or investigating which products really suit their business.
"It is a frustrating world as there is no clear leader," he says. "The pace of change in the insurance world will always work against it - products always move slowly and it will be hard to find a breakthrough product.
"This is probably one of the biggest investments a broker will make and they need to be more serious about researching their product."
Hall says the product the broker is selling is key to deciding which software to opt for.
He explains that those in the commercial world can tolerate a slow system if it will provide them with a lot of customer information.
However, when it comes to high volume motor business, brokers should be looking for clear keyboarddriven screens, which can flip very quickly from one page to the next, without having to wait for the screen to load.
24 7 Broking
LAUNCHED: October 2001. Working at Park Place company Insure Direct.
WHAT WAS PROMISED? Multi-functional, with a claims management system. Also includes value-added services, such as Alliance & Leicester banking and BT Cellnet. Full-cycle electronic data interchange (EDI) available.
COST: A monthly user charge, with a licence fee of £95 per month. There are no upgrade costs. User training, data transfer and support desk are included.
ACCESS to insurance products: In excess of 200 products and 27 product providers.
EXPERT COMMENT: "This is still in the pilot stage and it remains to be seen how well it will work. It does not appear to have attracted many paying customers because there are a limited number of insurers on board at the moment."
USER COMMENT: Thomson Rudd Group account handler Marian Smith is currently testing the system. She says: "When I first saw the 24 7 system, I was not impressed because it was slow and kept crashing.
"But now I think it is the best thing on the market and its potential as a selling tool is phenomenal. It is now 95% there and I think it will be ready to go in the next few weeks."
COMPANY VIEW: "New products are being added constantly and the panel of providers is growing."
LAUNCHED: More than two years ago in the US. Riskclick is now being targeted at UK businesses.
WHAT WAS PROMISED? Software focused on risk management, which provides e-business technology and allows all those involved in the commercial broking process to interact online. Tracks all documents and records.
COST: $50 (£34.60) per month per user, for an average of 1,000 users.
EXPERT COMMENT: "While this product appears to be rather expensive, it performs the functions necessary for a commercial broker - it allows ease of communication and aids risk management."
COMPANY VIEW: Riskclick chairman Howard Green says: "The way the product is charged is different than for other software products.
"We maintain and host the software and the company does not need a data centre.
"We believe brokers need front-office technology and the provision of this can make them more efficient and more competitive, which means the systems pay for themselves."
LAUNCHED: Spring 2000
WHAT WAS PROMISED? Cox Insurance's application support package for brokers is now up and running on about 90 sites and deals with affinity groups are being struck. Quotations, policy issue and documentation can all be handled online from the desktop, with documents printed at the point of sale. It offers quotations from a panel of insurers.
A new version of the system for small brokers has been launched. Brokersure.go provides brokers with access to a panel of insurers for motor, travel, car, rescue and legal expenses cover, with full back-office administration. Car rescue and legal expenses products are also offered.
COST: No charge, but asked for commitment on a given volume of business on a certain period of time. The company overrides commissions.
ACCESS TO INSURANCE PRODUCTS: There are nine insurers and 17 products live on motor. There are now 90 live users, not including Cox users.
EXPERT COMMENT: "This is slow in relation to its traditional counterparts because it is browser-driven and these are necessarily slow. Therefore it is not ideal for a busy brokers' office. But for those looking for an e-commerce add-on to what they are doing, it will be a good choice".
COMPANY VIEW: Brokersure managing director Michael Whitfield says: "We give brokers guidance on how to get a fast connection and 90% of our brokers follow that advice."