What will it take to entice this industry to trade online? It was four years ago this month that industry-backed online portal imarket was born and yet the number of brokers using it is still minuscule. The benefits are there for all to see and include increased efficiency, reduced costs, access to 95% of commercial insurers, less hassle; it’s a no brainer for any broker to use isn’t it?
Well, imarket chief Martin McLachlan is refreshingly honest in his assessment of the portal’s shortcomings (see pages 14-15). He accepts that the limited numbers of brokers that use the site are often daunted and frustrated by the technology; that its take-up by software houses has been slow and that overcoming online security implications has been a major headache. Meanwhile, rival technology platforms have been springing up all over the place promising alternative and sometimes better deals in terms of service and aggravation.
Cynics suggest that imarket’s predicament has been exacerbated by an insurance sector that is resistant to change and with longstanding traditional values a million miles away from the risks associated with the digital world. But surely it is time to put the failings of the past behind us and forget the disasters in this area – think Kinnect. You only have to look at the astronomic levels of online Christmas shopping spending to realise that the retail sector has embraced and conquered these dilemmas with relative ease. And that’s without even considering how online price aggregators have swaggered into town and stolen the middle ground to dominate the personal lines sector.
That’s not to say there is still not the time and opportunity for imarket to gain momentum again. There is a new realism within the insurance sector that is awakening to the opportunities emanating from the online revolution sweeping the wider business community. Perversely this realism is materialising into a whole new growing market for insurers – see our cyber crime feature pages 16-18 – but is really more akin to the internal reforms necessary to remain competitive in the way business is conducted.
In the meantime, the message from imarket to frustrated brokers is a simple one – it is listening to the complaints and frustrations and working to improve its offering with new covers on the way. But once all of this has been achieved, its next big issue will be to determine how it intends to differentiate itself from its competitors in the future.
• Also this week see our new weblog section on page 20. Compiled by our new Online Editor Tom Flack, this part of the magazine gives you a window into our website www.insurancetimes.co.uk and will provide analysis of your favourite online stories. This page will also give you a flavour of our online analysis as well as review the many digital innovations happening every day in the insurance market. On top of this it will give you a review of industry blogs, a snapshot into the innovations of software providers and e-trading initiatives as well as include your regular favourites of Going Places, which reflects the market moves of the industry’s key personnel, and our Backchat fun. Both Going Places and Backchat will also now appear online.