It's a fierce fight, as software houses grapple for business Angelique Ruzicka sizes up the competitors.

The competition among software houses is fierce. In May this year, Sirius dealt a blow to Misys by snatching broker Perkins Slade, the largest independent broker in the West Midlands.

At the same time, motorcycle broker Carole Nash rejected Sirius after testing and is in an ongoing dispute with the company. And insureE-com ousted Misys as software provider for Arnold Clark Insurance Services.

In any given year, many brokers change from one software provider to another. Of course, there are also many that are set in their ways and prefer to remain with the software provider they are familiar with.

Andy Jenkins, office manager for broker Russell Scanlan, says: "You can put brokers into two camps. There are brokers that embrace IT and those that see IT as an evil necessity.

"Some will not change because they are quite happy with what they get. But they should really try to go for the next level."

Most brokers agree that in choosing a system you have to go back to the basics. The system must be easy to use and be compatible with the Microsoft Windows operating system. Price and service are also important.

Stuart Reid, managing director of Stuart Alexander, says that the deciding factors for his decision to use Acturis were its cost model and that its connectivity was better than the rest of the competition.

"Acturis gives us the ability to communicate with other insurers and is Windows-based. This is not what Misys can currently give us," he says.

Jenkins agrees: "After ten years with Misys we are steadily transferring our staff to the Acturis system. The problem with Misys was it wasn't Word or Excel compatible and we wasted time as we had effectively to create two client records."

Misys rejects this. A spokeswoman says: "The OASys back office is completely integrated with Microsoft Word and the feedback from brokers is very positive. OASys back office also has the ability to take client data from the system and produce databases in Excel."

Another important factor in choosing software is FSA compliance. Of course, it's the broker that needs to be compliant, but the right software can aid the company in the process.

Misys has been criticised for not helping in this arena. Jenkins says: "We looked at Misys and felt we would have to do too much customisation to be compliant with the FSA."

But Misys has made changes to be more FSA compliant. In June, Misys reported delivery of its FSA Regulation Module ahead of schedule, which it says is designed to ease the compliance process. A spokeswoman says: "The software is already used by over 500 firms and some software houses are not releasing their modules until much later in the year."


Winning new clients and retaining old ones can feed into how well a software house performs financially. Some, such as Software Solutions Partners (SSP), are doing well this year on the back of good results.

SSP is considering a flotation on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) at the end of this year as well as a major acquisition drive.

But some software providers have felt the pinch financially, especially when it comes to improving their systems. Sirius made a pre-tax loss of half a million pounds for financial year 2003. This is compared to a pre-tax profit of £1.9m for 2002. Sirius blamed overspending on research and development and failure to close a number of large corporate deals for the loss.

But Sirius' loss pales in comparison to losses made by insurE-Com. In 2002, the software house lost £4.4m and in 2003 a loss of £4.2m. But earlier this year insurE-com chief executive Jim McGuiness pledged the company would enter the profit zone for 2004. For now the pledge seems on track. After losing £10m over the past three years, InsurE-com has reported growth of 25% for the first quarter.