For insurance to operate successfully there needs to be a willing buyer and a willing seller. For most types of insurance this is straightforward.
Many general insurance policies are just like commodities. There are relatively few differences between policy terms and conditions.
Policyholders increasingly demand good service and customer satisfaction is high on everyone's agenda. Price is all-important and, other than inertia, by far the most important influence on which a company gets business.
So what makes an intermediary or insurer successful in this climate? They need to get pricing and service right but above all else they need to be able to market and sell effectively. Gaps in the market need to be exploited, new policy covers created and customer loyalty developed.
It could be argued that the insurance industry is good on all counts. It is very competitive, innovative, flexible and customer-focused.
Room for complacency? A critic might well conclude "no". They might suggest that the industry has perhaps reached a cost equilibrium concentrating on competing for existing customers rather than developing the market.
This is clear when disaster strikes. All too often there is a double disaster. Storms and floods result in massive damage and disruption but the second disaster is the enormous number of people who have no insurance protection and no money to cope with the event. This second disaster is one climbing the political agenda.
Social and financial exclusion is taken very seriously by Government. A Policy Action Team was set up by the Government to investigate and produce recommendations for action to reduce financial exclusion. The remit included "increasing the availability of insurance services to deprived communities".
Attention has focused on two areas; home contents insurance and a regular savings and protection policy.
The insurance industry had to explain why one in four households, some 6.5 million in total, have no home contents policy.
Research studies provided the answers. There is no problem over availability but appropriate policies, marketing effort and premiums seen as too high are issues. There are solutions – mainly "insured with rent" schemes. ABI-commissioned research found an increase in the number of schemes and take-up of policies over the last three years. The research concluded "Insured with rent schemes are one of those win, win, win situations. Tenants, housing providers and insurance companies all gain".
It is also a real challenge for the intermediary market.