Twitter just for teenagers? Facebook only for fools? No, we have to embrace new opportunities to meet customer expectations

With a general election fast approaching in the middle of a unique economic climate, the forthcoming Biba conference is aptly themed ‘Professionalism in a changing world’.

I wonder how ready our industry is to pick up on that change – and what the opportunities might be.

History teaches us that recessions are a fertile time for innovation. In the recession of the late 19th century, Thomas Edison was setting up General Electric and wondering if there might be a market for light bulbs!

So what of our own industry ‘light bulb’ as we enter the second decade of the 21st century?

A recent study conducted by AXA shows that close to 90% of brokers have changed the way they communicate with customers over the past three years.

About the same number felt that customers’ expectations of brokers are changing. The common thread is the use of digital technologies and innovative products in building customer relationships.

Customer needs and the market’s subsequent solutions developed in the personal insurance market have changed immeasurably over the past decade. Commercial insurance providers must find ways to embrace technology and be ready to respond to the same revolution that is already upon us.

Has anyone used Facebook or Twitter this morning? Facebook has 430 million unique users across the globe. If it were a country, it would be the third most populous on Earth. Only 11% of tweeters are aged 11-17 – we can’t dismiss social networking as a teenager thing.

The point it is that our industry needs to keep up with progress. Through this media we can advertise, blog, create communities and generally become more open and transparent for our customers.

A recent study shows that brands most engaged in social media are experiencing more financial success than those that are not.

According to brand consultant Interbrand, the business-to-business sector should be critically reliant on the key capabilities delivered by social media participation: content generation, community and relationship-building, and decision support.

Additionally, our industry is unique as it has links with almost all other business sectors. Whether retail, charity or other financial institutions, we need to be ready to test and learn from the innovative solutions developed in other industries to ensure we are at the cutting edge of customer-friendly solutions for our products and services.

Edison said “opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”. Spotting an opportunity is one thing but putting it into practice takes time and effort, and a visionary insight to do things differently.

Our industry, by its nature, is averse to risk but we need to embrace innovation and new ideas far more than at present.

Social media and innovation from outside our industry offer us potential new income. Companies that can identify and implement those ideas that add value and improve the bottom line will be strengthening their competitive edge.

No one can deny that this is a necessity in a changing world. IT

Anthony Middle is managing director, commercial lines, at AXA.