It has taken longer than expected. It has cost well in excess of £10 million to get there. But according to those involved in its implementation, Polaris is alive and well. Brian Binnegar reports.

Polaris was touted as the technological future of the insurance industry. Then, as costs spiralled and delays proliferated, doubts crept in. Now, as more and more companies use the system in day-to-day business, its true capabilities and potential are becoming clear.

Polaris as a company was set up about five years ago with the aim of increasing the speed and efficiency for insurers getting their products into the market place.

Polaris software includes ProductWriter, which enables insurers' point of sale products to be read straight into brokers' software. To do so, a second item of Polaris software must be embedded in the system, namely Run Time Environment (RTE).

The pre-Polaris method of providing brokers with premium rates involved a manual process which was very slow, with much duplication of effort.
It was expensive and most software providers required at least six weeks' notice of rating changes. Polaris was instigated by the larger companies mainly to speed up the process of getting rates to market, and reducing the costs associated with delay.

Norwich Union now has a team of 12 using the ProductWriter toolset, and expects all of its personal lines products to be available in Polaris format by the end of the year.

Unfortunately, not all insurers are so advanced. Moreover, many brokers and intermediaries are uncertain as to exactly how the project will benefit them.
Polaris received a major fillip when the Automobile Association (AA) decided to integrate RTE into its system. The AA insurer panel members followed suit, encouraging others to take the plunge. AA business systems manager Colin Horton explains: “Most insurers agreed with Polaris in principle, but their commitment was tempered by the costs, and uncertainty as to exactly how Polaris might fit into their plans.”

Since its start he adds, not a single AA insurer panel member has fallen by the wayside because of Polaris. Motor business was first and home cover has since followed, with two live products being launched this month. “The motor installation allowed us to break the back of the learning curve, so that now implementation is straightforward,” says Horton.

Steven Bow, managing director of CSC's retail insurance division, says that software providers' initial reluctance stemmed from the days when Polaris objectives were not entirely clear. The current climate of co-operation took time to build. “It has taken a while, but we are heartened by the progress made over the last 18 months.

“When originally introduced, Polaris was regarded as a total panacea for the broker market ills, able to solve every problem at once, but over time the plans have become more practical,” he says.