Insurance Times speaks to BrokerFest 2020 speaker and broker Erskine Murray chief executive Tom Bartleet about how technology poses the greatest threat, and opportunity, for brokers
We are starting a new decade 2020; what are the major changes you expect to see in the market in the upcoming year?
“I think this year we are going to see a new tightening in the insurance market in terms of conditions, particularly property and professional indemnity. I expect it to be the decade of technology, with an increased use of technology across all the industry.”
Is technology driving these changes?
“People are going to drive the changes. All of us in the market want to deliver more for less. I think there will be a competition, and brokers will use technology to enable this delivery.”
How will the role of the broker change?
“I think the role of the broker will become more advisory and less transactional.
“Technology can do the administrative part of the role much better than humans can. But I don’t think technology will be able to replace the human interaction or complex understanding of both risk and exposure.”
Last year, we saw huge consolidation in the broker market - do you think this will continue? What drove last year’s merger and acquisition (M&A) activity, in your opinion?
“There is still excess capital looking for a home in the world and looking for a return in a low interest rate environment. I think M&A will continue while economic growth remains subdued; M&A will be the driver of growth. Because of consolidation, we will see more capital attracted to the industry.”
You predict more M&A next year. What would you say are the biggest opportunities for brokers in the upcoming year?
“The biggest opportunity and threat for brokers is technology. Two sides of the same coin. The brokers who embrace technology to enhance their offering will be the winners and there will be opportunities for that. And those who don’t will be the biggest threat to their business.”
Except for technology, where else do you see an opportunity or threat for brokers?
“I think consolidation is also both an opportunity and a threat for brokers, but mostly an opportunity for those who are non-consolidated because people like choice.”
Which players would you say are the biggest threat for brokers?
“The biggest threat is an external entrant being able to deliver the same or better service at a significantly reduced cost. Big tech is not yet an external threat to brokers, but in the future, it almost certainly will be.”
When insurtechs first appeared, there was a lot of talk about disrupting the industry, but now the talk is about collaboration. Insurers are collaborating with insurtechs. They are not seeing them as a threat anymore.
“I wouldn’t say that threat is gone. I think the collaboration is more likely to be successful than not.”
Do you see more collaboration between insurers and insurtechs this year?
You talked a lot about technology, that it could be both an opportunity and a threat for brokers at the same time. So, compared to other industries, how far would you say is the insurance broking industry in terms of digitalisation?
“I would say potentially a bit further behind, but I think the reasons for that is the product is actually quite complex, even in the SME world; more complex than most people imagine in order to understand the detail. Also, the distribution chain is quite complex and therefore while broking is behind digitalisation, it is mainly because of its complexity as an industry.”
We had the general election last year, with the Conservatives winning the majority. We have more certainty in the markets. We still don’t know what is going to happen with Brexit. If we leave the European Union (EU) with a deal, but then do not have a free trade agreement, what would that mean for brokers?
“I think the devil would be in the detail. And I think, for brokers, we are nothing if not adaptable. We will adapt. We will be able to provide our clients with continuity even if things get challenging. I also think that brokers are successful when our clients are successful. What we need is certainty and our clients to have the confidence to invest and to grow. Therefore, certainty and economic growth are fundamental to the success of brokers.”
Would you say that Brexit might have different impact on small brokers versus bigger brokers?
“It will certainly have different impacts, depending on the client type and the international exposure. If you are an entirely domestic UK broker, then the impacts will be entirely down to the macroeconomic impact of Brexit. If you are a global broker with clients with global placements, then the complexity of insurance will be more paramount than for a local UK broker.”
Explore these topical issues at BrokerFest on 11 February 2020. Taking place at etc.venues County Hall, in central London, BrokerFest is a one day event designed to help brokers do better business. A limited number of free delegate places are available for brokers. Find out more here.
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