After a lengthy bedding in period imarket is finally living up to its promises. John Sullivan reports on the prospects for the technology portal

?It’s been a frustratingly long time in getting there, but perhaps there are finally sure signs that the industry’s attempt at a standardised technology portal for conducting business, imarket, is at last the success it always promised to be.

With 11 insurers, six software houses and 2,600 brokers registered to use the system, it ought to be.

But as the industry knows, even until recently there has been continued criticism of its user-friendliness.

In recent months, though, and following broker feedback, a new trading portal has been introduced which has meant improved forms for comparative quotes.

Furthermore, Biba’s full range of member schemes is now available through imarket.

So does this mean that the system is finally the fully fledged commercial insurance portal for brokers it always promised to be?

Malcolm Smith, commercial manager at Groupama, one of the founding members of imarket, is optimistic about the prospects for the portal as things stand.

As far as he is concerned, there have been three main criticisms levelled at imarket by brokers in recent times: that they couldn’t obtain comparative quotations; that not all insurers were providing full quotations on screen; and that brokers didn’t find it user friendly in all cases.

So have these issues really been addressed as far as he is concerned?

In many ways, yes they have. “Things have changed. The software houses are linking up through the imarket portal. I’ve had dealings with Acturis and one broker has recently linked in with us this way and is now providing us with high volumes of Tradesmen’s business, to the extent that we’ve had thousands of policies in the last couple of months,” he says.

Another improvement in the way imarket works, Smith adds, is that quotations from all insurers now all come up on screen in less than a minute, which is definitely what brokers want. “Also, imarket is changing the forms and making them easier.”

Future of imarket

So do such changes really mean that the wider success of imarket is only a matter of time? Well, as previously, the answer for this lies very much in the hands of the software houses who link into the system.

“We are hoping very much that as other software houses come online and brokers come on board it should become the common market portal we’ve all been hoping for from the beginning,” says Smith.

“It’s been a long investment and a struggle, but it’s horses for courses really,” says Paul Upton, chief underwriting officer at managing general agency Evolution Underwriting.

“The industry has always felt a moral obligation to stan-dardise processes, but different people have different systems. imarket is one of a number of solutions available in the market, but it's not the end state

Paul Upton, Evolution Underwriting

“A widely accepted view is that a lot of the sets on imarket were too long, and it’s true that old habits die hard. In my view it will always be more relevant for smaller package type business.

“A lot of brokers have done tie ups with composites for sub £5,000 business, and that will always be done in the traditional manner.”

He is in no doubt that for certain classes of business in certain sectors it works.

“How far up the premium scale you go and how complex a risk can you handle with imarket is more open to question. I suppose it will always remain in the more commoditised sector. Just look at how much of the business there is done anyway, where you’re often dealing with a call centre, where you might have to wait half an hour to get what you want. When faced with a choice of doing business that way or imarket instead, then it’s easy to see why brokers would want to use imarket.”

Vivek Banga, director of e-commerce at NIG, is pleased with the progress imarket has made with regard to the issue of comparative quotes, as he says that’s the direction everyone is moving in. He adds that using imarket makes it easier to achieve integration with other software houses, so that “an Acturis broker can get an NIG quotation from an imarket engine”.

Comparative quotes

But has imarket really the support it needs to be a real success? “I think enough people are on board,” he says. “All the software houses are there and the insurers are there.” However he says that the “real tipping point” will come when the issue of comparative quotes is really sorted out once and for all, as this is what brokers really want.

At the moment if a broker is using a particular software system then they may not be able to get the comparative quotes they want by using imarket. However, this is not to say that such difficulties can’t be ironed out in time. “In personal lines it happens all the time, so there is no reason to believe that we will not reach multiple quotes for packaged business,” says Upton.

How soon then can we expect to see such comparative quotes fully incorporated into the system – weeks, months or years? After all, the industry has been already been waiting for imarket to really deliver what brokers want for years, and there is a feeling out there that people aren’t prepared to wait for ever.

Banga see the prospects for imarket as encouraging, believing that complete comparative quotes for packaged business will be reached “by the end of next year”.

Perhaps, though, as Upton remarks, we shouldn’t be overly obsessed with the prospects of imarket and imarket only.

As he says, “the industry has always felt a moral obligation to standardise processes, but different people have different systems, and here at Evolution we have our own bespoke system. So I see imarket as one of a number of possible solutions available in the market, but it’s not the end state”.

Banga agrees that we shouldn’t get overly fixated on imarket. “From our perspective we’ve taken a view that there will be multiple technology-led routes to market and we should have the choice as to which route to use as brokers.

“And from our standpoint there are multiple routes we use. We invest in an extranet and in imarket and some brokers have their own systems which link up with us. The market is evolving and there will be multiple routes. Maybe in time there will be one single system, but it’s too early to say what that will be at the moment.”