Dot.com fever has taken over the economy. It seems that announcing a multi-million pound investment in e-commerce does wonders for the share price, even if profits are a long way down the line – if ever. The media is dominated with adverts for .co.uk and .com, but often what is offered doesn't quite live up to the promise.
So what is the average Intermediary who doesn't have a seven figure marketing budget supposed to do?
When the Direct Writers started to gather momentum in the early 90's many announced the death of the Intermediary. All customers would abandon their local offices and start dealing by phone. There were casualties, and there will be more in the Internet era. But the important thing to remember is you stayed in business. If you pay close attention to your customers you stand a good chance of still trading five years from now.
In the US, some analysts are starting to wonder if so-called "virtual banks" who service their customers only across the Internet or from call centres can continue with that business model. As more traditional banks get online so the difference between the virtual and traditional bank shrinks and starts to work back in the favour of the traditionalist. Virtual banks may be convenient to manage your finances, but the convenience of a branch you can walk in to and pay in cheques or seek professional advice from plays in to the hands of the traditionalist.
The same lesson can be learnt by the Insurance Intermediary. There will be short-term upsets that see some businesses leave the high street – voluntarily or otherwise. In the longer-term as the Internet becomes "just another channel" to the consumer, the Intermediary may find the balance returns to their favour and feared market shrinkage will be less severe, just as it has been with the Direct Writers.
There will be no hard and fast rules which will guarantee you survive and your competitors don't, but brand will be key. Your brand communicates to your market what the customer can expect from you, in terms of products, service, location and price amongst other things. Intermediaries who want to succeed will have to pay much closer attention to their brand and look to invest in building and protecting it in their chosen market space.
Other parties will also have their part to play. Insurance Companies must improve the service they offer to their Intermediary channel, while software houses have to start making e-commerce more accessible to the smaller business. However, they cannot be used as the sole excuse for closing the office doors for good.
Electronic Commerce is going to eat in to the market and there will be casualties. However, if you are willing to focus on your business and to ride out the storm there is no reason why your business should be one of them.
Ross Hall is the founder of the strategy consultancy G A R O L. He can be contacted on 020 8902 0618, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org