When Direct Line promises to revolutionise the insurance market all over again, this time via the internet, you'd think the industry would take it more seriously than they did 15 years ago.
Astonishingly, it seems many aren't – and unfortunately it looks like the broking community that will once again bear the brunt of the damage.
Whether brokers will be able to counter Direct Line's aggressive web-selling strategy (see page seven), depends entirely on just one thing: do they regard this as merely one of many vital issues confronting them, or as a matter of life-or-death?
The chances are that unless they have the vision to place it at the very top of their business agendas, then Direct Line will pull off an amazing double – out-thinking the establishment twice in the span of an average director's career at the boardroom table.
Unfortunately, most brokers' ambitions appear restricted to achieving a web presence, detailing what they do and offering phone contact details. In today's interactive networld, this has all the pulling power of a geriatric wallflower at an Ibizan rave.
A much better response has come from the Institute of Insurance Brokers, which last week unveiled the first details of its scheme to sell insurance products over the internet. Director-general Andrew Paddick believes that this is the future for brokers. "Ultimately, if they're not trading 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, they're nowhere," he says.
"Ultimately" is, in fact, just around the corner. A quick look at the American insurance webscene – the best guide to what happens here within two years – reveals that brokers are making the weather there, every bit as actively as their insurer partners.
Interestingly, and contrary to popular belief, Paddick believes internet selling can benefit the local vendor. He sees his scheme as strengthening brokers' local ties against the power of national brands' competition.
More brokers need to wake up to what's going on. They should consider the following four facts: one-in-three people will be on-line in 2003; 1.3 million went in search of on-line financial information last year; by 2002, £1.2 billion of financial purchases will have been made on line; and most importantly of all, these are facts Direct Line is already acting on.
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