For many in insurance, technology has not fulfilled its promise of an industry-wide trading platform. Tristan O'Carroll asks a panel of leading industry players if this is likely to happen

The panel
David Bevan general manager, sales and marketing, St Paul Companies

Manjit Rana technology consultant

Stuart Reid joint managing director, Stuart Alexander

Clive Nicholls Accidentcare

Alex Letts chief executive, ri3k Limited

Mike Dodds chief executive UK systems, Sirius Group

Stuart Reid:I would hope we reach this goal. However the problem remains; who jumps first? We won't know whether system A or system B will be right for us. It is unlikely this goal will be achieved for some time.

Mike Dodd: It's attainable because there is a lot of potential for product develop-ment. However, insurers must start linking into current systems in order to realise this aim.

Alex Letts: Perhaps the question ought to be, will there ever be a successful front-end solution? I believe that this won't happen for some time yet. The problem is that the industry is very diverse. But the chances of a successful machine-to-machine solution across the market are good. The narrower the audience means there is a stronger user community.

Manjit Rana:I'm not sure if there will be a successful industry-wide solution because few businesses want to integrate with their competitors. It does not make commercial sense for rival firms.

Letts: The problem with this ideal is that many firms have been caught out in the past. Millions have been spent on consultancies and many are rightly asking, what have been the benefits? They do not understand the case for integration.

Rana: Did you expect them to understand?

Letts: Yes, they ought to understand. Too many people have hidden behind the jargon smokescreen. The remedy will arrive once the `dot-com boomers' have risen through the ranks and have made the IT director the dominant boardroom force.

Who's to blame for this lack of connectivity?

Dodd: Some insurers are guilty of being out of touch. The technology is there; I don't think the will has been there.

David Bevan: That's rather unfair. In truth the technology is no closer to achieving this than it was ten years ago. Insurers are looking for the situation to improve.

You have only to look at the figures to see how much more business is being transacted across e-systems to see that insurers are not to blame.

Reid: Its time to stop pointing the finger and realise that we are still a long way from getting the technology right.

Rana: The technology is there. Brokers and underwriters must accept that there will be changes in transactions. The ball is in their court.

Reid: As a broker, I don't find transactions effective. Two things need to happen. First the frequency of transactions must be reduced. Second, transactions will become more effective once business relationships improve.

Dodd:You're right. Transaction effectiveness will be improved through better relationships. All the time we are seeing that brokers are benefiting from closer ties with insurers. By ensuring early delivery of commissions more people should jump on board.

Reid:The driver would have to be more commission, not just timely payment.

Letts: I don't agree with this fixation on incentives. Transaction effectiveness is being hindered by broker fears over the size of their role.

Why should commission be the defining issue?

Reid: It's the best way of encouraging a new trend.

Clive Nicholls: From a loss-adjusting perspective there just isn't a big enough margin to encourage brokers in this way.

The way forward is by raising the standard of broker professionalism.

Rana: I agree. The effectiveness of transactions is being limited by the fact that the industry is only at the `machine-to-machine' level of transactions.

Dodd: At the end of the day initiatives won't drive this - people will.

On the future
"Internal politics within the industry has held back the development of technological collaboration"
(Manjit Rana)

"The remedy will arrive once the ` boomers' have risen through the ranks and have made the IT director the dominant boardroom force" (Alex Letts)

On technology standards
"The problem with creating a standard is that you have to fuse disparate elements. I'm not sure the industry can balance it" (Stuart Reid)

"No one wants a top-heavy approach. The industry should set its own benchmarks" (Mike Dodd)