When Paul Robertson of Midway Insurance Services first dreamed up the idea of a schemes service for blocks of flats on the internet, he took it to "a number" of insurers. Almost all of them turned him down with barely the bat of an eyelid.
Now, two years later, Robertson would have every right to feel very smug indeed. His blocks of flats product, Elevations, is receiving the finishing touches for launch on the broker market.
His company has created one of the insurance industry's first, fully interactive schemes products to be made available on the internet.
Only one insurer, Norwich Union, showed an interest in backing the concept from the outset, but now the project is ready to roll, other insurers are starting to sniff around.
"I did approach a number of other insurers at the start," says Robertson, "But I was amazed at the lack of interest. Other insurers have now indicated that they would be interested in coming on board, but we'll have to wait and see."
Midway has the capacity to include other insurers just by plugging them in and doing a little configuration, but so far, Robertson has not decided what stance to take.
Using the internet
"The idea for the site came about just over two years ago. I think the thing that really brought it home was what Direct Line was starting to do on the internet. Two years ago the internet was perceived as a threat to the broker channel.
"At that time there was very little perception of how the internet could work in brokers' favour."
Midway's service is a useful demonstration of how brokers can benefit from the internet. Located on a simple web site it takes two to three minutes to complete the client's details. Once this is submitted, quote turnaround time – even on a slow computer – is under one second.
What will it take for another wholesale broker to deliver something similar? Unfortunately, the answer is quite a lot. Robertson estimates that it has cost him between £250,000 to £300,000 to create Elevations. The bulk of this has gone on paying for the programming expertise to create a system including an impressive back office, quotations capability and internet front-end.
And Robertson was fortunate in having a friend who had the necessary skills.
"I have been very lucky in that my main programmer is a personal friend which has enabled me to keep tight control over running costs of the project," says Robertson.
One of the biggest problems at the moment is that bespoke packages to develop internet sites do not exist to create active web sites for brokers' business yet.
Any broker who wishes to build a similar site will have to configure a specialist business web site building package such as Drum Beat or Hot Dog. These are different to standard web site building packages because they work with an active server.
An active server is one that can execute programs. While ordinary servers simply hold file information such as company details, an active server will respond to information a user inputs.
Suffice it to say, not everyone knows how to configure packages like Drum Beat or Hot Dog.
The first company to develop such a site and offer it to the broker market as a bespoke tool would reap a rich harvest. Robertson would certainly have the necessary skills.
But he does not have any inclination to make this jump and become an active web site consultant himself.
This seems a shame when over a two-year period he must have learned many valuable skills in web site creation that would probably benefit everyone in the broker sector enormously. And, quite likely, make himself rich in the process.