In the virtual world there is but one reality for brokers: adopt new technology or die

Have you got an iPad yet? How about an iPhone or BlackBerry? A netbook? If the answer to all these questions is ‘no’, then chances are you’re no great technology fan. So how about this one: have you got an electronic trading system for commercial lines in place? If the answer to this is also ‘no’, then, as a broker, you have a very big problem.

So it is with some surprise we report this week that, according to initial findings from our annual broker research, only 40% to 50% of brokers are using electronic trading systems for most or all commercial lines transactions (page 11). What are they using for the rest? Carrier pigeons?

It’s a simple truth: technology drives efficiency, and those brokers that don’t adapt to it will be driven out of the market. They might go bust, they might be snapped up by a tech-savvy consolidator, or they might just slowly wither and die. There are no other options.

If independent brokers and smaller firms are to survive, they have to adopt the latest technologies. Of course, personal service will always give them an advantage – but if their antiquated systems mean they are days slower and pounds more expensive than the guy over the road, they will not make it.

Even the most reluctant of insurers has now grasped this message, and those slow to move to e-trading are this year scrambling to get up to speed. But if that doesn’t convince you, have a look at Towergate. Never knowingly behind the curve, chairman Peter Cullum has repeatedly said that online trading system PowerPlace is his biggest area for growth, and he reckons £1bn of premium could soon be passing through its virtual hands every year.

Technology isn’t a threat. Nor is it an alternative to personal service and good old-fashioned broking: it’s an enabler. Brokers that recognise this will still be around to judge if our vision of the technological future (on page 6) was correct. IT

Ellen Bennett, executive editor