With insurers demonstrating a renewed focus on the high street, and customers demanding the personal service that local brokers can provide, there’s never been a better time to leverage the power of a network to grow your business

Not too long ago, it seemed that hardly a week went by without a new network being launched into the insurance broker space. Since then the market has matured, consolidation has taken place, and networks are less of the buzzword they once were.

The majority of networks have focused on commercial lines and mainly targeted the large, high-volume brokers. In recent years this has changed, with new providers entering the market, bringing the benefits of economies of scale to the smaller brokers.

There has also been a move into the personal lines market, with 1 Answer Network a pioneer in this.

There is no doubt that networks bring strong logistical benefits to the smaller broker. These benefits include access to the kinds of deals, markets and the higher commission rates that those companies with greater business volumes are able to enjoy.

The current market for the traditional high street broker is a tough one, however. Now brokers are looking closely at the value their network delivers to their business – and quite rightly so. Networks will promise you the earth when they are trying to sign up your business, but what counts is whether they will both honour their commitments and continue to develop and benefit the brokers they serve.

All networks will have their own views on what differentiates their offering from the next company’s, and these will form the basis of the discussions and negotiations before the broker signs up to the network.

But the question the broker should ask is: Will the network continue to fulfil its commitments in the years ahead? Brokers need to know that the network’s technology and systems are robust, and that it will continue to invest in its infrastructure and services to enable its members to stay ahead of the market in the service they provide to their customers.

In most cases, a network’s overall offering will be maintained and improved upon. Where the brokers will see a difference, however, is in whether the network has the capacity and expertise to work with them to help create greater efficiencies and earning potential in their business. Accordingly, I would encourage brokers to regularly request updated product portfolios and to challenge their network to ensure they are benefiting in all areas.

In fact, getting the best from a network is not just about what the network provides, it is also about individual brokers ensuring they are getting the most from the arrangement and using the services to their best advantage.

Networks deal with many different types of members, who will require different capabilities. As such, the range of services offered by a network can seem vast. Not surprisingly, quite often brokers will implement the parts of the package that attracted them to join the network in the first place, but fail to review their practices to see where greater use and value can be obtained from it as their business develops. This is where a good network will engage with its members to ensure they are continuing to get maximum benefit from their membership.

Being part of any network is a two-way street, and one that requires regular communication between the parties to ensure that both the broker and network get the best out of the agreement.

The market is changing. We are noticing a real move back to the high street broker by some of the largest insurers, and this is something we see as a real and positive move back to the heartbeat of traditional broker values. But only the focused and proactive firms will really benefit from this move.

A decent network – and we at 1 Answer Network would consider it as one – will not only provide competitive deals but also work with the broker to create greater efficiencies and improve working processes and practices. For those traditional brokers looking beyond the downturn and ready to grow and prosper, now is the time to consider your business model and what a network that is able to both enhance and develop your business’s potential can bring to your bottom line.

Paul Muir is managing director of 1 Answer Network.