Since its inception, the General Insurance Standards' Council (GISC) has come in for some stick from its detractors. Certainly there are those whose power-base may be eroded as the regulator gains consumer confidence, but should the intermediary be afraid?

For most well-run businesses the answer is no. The GISC is simply reinforcing good business practice in many areas, and trying to create a more level playing-field in others. The harsh reality is that insurance is available from more places than the broker, and the consumer will not accept a lower level of protection just because they choose to use a supermarket.

Ecommerce has started to show some of the cracks in the “insurance professional” veneer. Over the past few months, I have conducted numerous tests on private-lines sites. During that time, I've found policies for nothing (unintentionally, of course), “voluntary” excesses that I never requested and policies that differed between online and paper versions. All of this will dent consumer confidence – particularly if the industry finds itself inadvertently in the middle of a mis-selling scandal.

The ecommerce practice requirements should help to build confidence when buying from an internet site – whether it be a big-budget direct writer or a more modest high street outfit. Once they have been incorporated in to a site's design, the consumer should feel confident that the information they receive is accurate and consistent with the real world, and that they will understand their credit card bill.

The intermediary will benefit as well. The practice requirements should form a central part of the “user-acceptance criteria” in any site design, ensuring that the intermediary (as someone running a business, not a technology company) has a point of reference for making sure the site meets the needs of their business.

Claims that sites will need major redesign are overstated. There will have to be some minor reworking, but in reality the biggest change will be in the way ecommerce is viewed by business. Rather than being a “techie” thing that's allowed to languish in an IT department or be handed to an outside web designer, ecommerce will need to be brought into the fold. The procedures used to prepare, service and manage products over the counter will have to be extended to ecommerce. But then you had to do that when the telephone became a key way of selling to customers in the early 1990s.

In short, the GISC will introduce changes to many businesses, but these changes should be considered positive. In the area of ecommerce, the GISC represents an opportunity to tighten up the service offered to your customers, and bring the tech-heads back into the fold.

  • Ross Hall is founder of strategic consultancy GAROL and is head of the GISC's ecommerce working party. He can be contacted at