‘You can have the best product in the world but if nobody knows about it then the consequences are obvious’

Brokers with a multi-quote and buy system on their websites can grow their business by learning more about increasing their online traffic, according to Professional Insurance Agents director Graham Hearsey.

Hearsey told the recent Insurance Times roundtable on differentiation at the Bleeding Heart Restaurant in London that while online consumers want to compare insurance quotes online, brokers’ sales would not be hit if they were able to brand themselves cleverly.

Brokers looking to differentiate their business from the competition should remember that the buying public set the goalposts, he said.

Customers are buying more and more insurance online, and canny brokers needs to recognise this, said Hearsey, noting that PIA had seen a 4,000% rise in online sales of SME professional risks over the past five years through the firm’s online quote and buy system.

Hearsey pointed to Google’s recent £37.7m acquisition of price comparison site BeatThatQuote as a sign of growing interest in online insurance sales, adding that the search giant was so keen to experiment in the market that it was not put off by BeatThatQuote’s 2010 £2m loss.

Alongside the growing customer demand for online insurance, Hearsey said that underwriting software systems would become more advanced. He also echoed consultant John

Meredith’s argument that local brokers needed to develop niches beyond their geographical patches.

“A local broker might say ‘we’re only interested in local’, but they need to step outside that. They can’t just think local. When people go online, anybody can get a quote from your site.”

Brokerbility Information Gateway chief executive Andy Miller said that more brokers needed to set up an online trading website alongside their traditional businesses.

“A lot end up in a halfway house, with some of the old and some of the new, and it doesn’t cut it. If you’re going to be in this world, you need to be in it properly,” he said.

He added that brokers needed a strong online proposition, but also that this did not have to involve a comparative quote system.

Ashbourne Insurance managing director Peter Smits said brokers needed to educate customers and raise expectations of online insurance sales.

“The customer expectation is so low that there’s a proportion that aren’t even interested in service, they just think: ‘They won’t pay a claim anyway, so I might as well be with the cheapest I can,’” Smits explained.

Soundbites

Bigger and bolder
"We all know that the online facilities, which are getting broader and broader by the minute, are going to up their game. While they may be very good at writing £2,500 packages now, soon they will be doing £5,000 and then £10,000."

John Meredith, independent consultant

Digital future
"People of my age will purchase their holidays online without even blinking. Why shouldn't it apply to insurances? The difference is that the underwriting has to be intelligent and the software has to marry with the underwriting. The age group that is coming through now, from 19-45, eventually will not use a local broker, they will go online and purchase."

Graham Hearsey, director, Professional Insurance Agents

Changing landscape
"Marketing and e-capability weren't things a lot of brokers were thinking about five years ago. Customers have become more e-savvy."

Mike Lawton, director of mid-market division, RSA