Brokers have waited a long time for imarket to appear Now that it has Michelle Hannen asked a selection of brokers to road test it and give their opinions. This is what they said.

Perkins SladePerkins Slade tested imarket for four weeks in January and February this year, generating quotes for small commercial risks through the system.However, the company is not currently using imarket. Operations director John Wade says that this is because, while the technology and processes behind the system work, there is currently not enough content on imarket to make it an effective and time efficient way of transacting business."The problem at the moment is that each insurer has different products on it," Wade says. This situation makes generating a range of comparable quotes on the same risk impossible. "It needs content. It needs all the insurer partners to provide a consistent range of products," he says.He also believes that the development of imarket is being hindered by acceptance issues within underwriting teams. He cites an example of a risk entered into imarket, which fitted the profile of three insurers' products on the system. One insurer failed to respond, one replied with a quote by telephone and another responded with a quote through imarket.In order to audit the system, Perkins Slade staff presented the same risk to the same three insurers over the telephone. In each case, Wade says, the telephone quotes were cheaper.He says Perkins Slade will continue to test imarket, and hopes that by the third quarter of this year the system will have enough products on it to be a valuable tool.THE LAST WORD: "It's easy, it's straightforward, it's simple. The technology works, the process works. I think there'll be predominantly a desire to use it," he says. "Am I a supporter? You bet."

LRG Insurance ServicesLRG has been trialling imarket since the start of 2004 and commercial account executive Kevin Foot is among three account executives currently using the system on a daily basis. He says that LRG, which is a member of the Willis Commercial Network, primarily uses the system to place SME business with premiums of less than £1,000. But while he describes the system's useability and functionality as "perfect", like the other pilot brokers he says imarket needs to have more products from a wider range of insurers. "We need more markets," he says. But LRG has not experienced any problems with the price of quotes it generates through imarket. He says the company has not assessed how imarket prices compare with those generated through other channels as the company "doesn't sell on price".He also says that says LRG is currently using the system alongside its traditional routes to market, and he says this approach will continue once the range of products available through imarket increases. "If we have a personal relationship with an underwriter we would contact them directly," he says.THE LAST WORD: "We find it very easy to use," says Foot, who describes the system's useability and functionality as "perfect". But, he says: "We need more markets".

Ryan InsuranceRyan Insurance has been testing imarket since the start of 2004, but has not placed any risks through the system. Central services director Trevor Ward says that while he is supportive of the imarket concept, in practice, he, too, has found that there is not yet a sufficient range of products on the system to warrant Ryan's staff using it."We all need the insurers to be faster to get more products on it," he says. "It's hard for Ryan Group to promote this internally because there's not enough benefit for staff at the moment." Ward says the price competitiveness of imarket is also an issue, as better rates have been available offline for each risk the company has tried to place through the system.The lack of software intergration is also a problem, he says, as brokers currently have to re-enter client details stored on their back office systems into imarket. "Data should be extracted from client and policy records and fed through to insurers." He cites the example of trying to place a tradesman's liability policy using the system as another instance of double keying.In response to the query, Ward says he received details of one auto-rated product, and was asked to 'click through' to three other insurers' websites to obtain a quote - a process which involved re-entering the risk details into each separate site.Ward says that Ryan is currently using the system to access insurer literature.He says that ideally, the company would like to use imarket primarily to place small commercial package business. "As and when we see something that we can use we will."THE LAST WORD: "In theory I'm very much in favour of the principle and the philosophy," he says. "It's very user friendly and easy to navigate. But I'd be disappointed if we didn't have a much wider range of products, particularly the auto-rated package products, by mid-2004."

Hammond Frey MarringtonHammond Frey Marrington (HFM) has been piloting imarket for two months, but managing direcor John Hammond says the firm is yet to place a policy through the system, and is instead currently using it to obtain policy wordings and insurer documentation. Hammond says that this is primarily because HFM mainly does commercial combined business, which imarket is not geared up to do.He recently tried to place a small commercial package policy for a hairdressing salon through the site, only to find that hairdressers were one of the few trades for which there were no products available, and like the other pilot brokers, feels the system will be more useful once it has more content."It needs a bit more work on it," he says. "It's an evolving situation but it's a bit frustrating."Hammond says one of the other downsides of the system is the need for multiple log-ins. He says that after logging into imarket, brokers have to log in again, with different details, to each insurers' website in order to obtain a quote. "It's a bit clumsy," he says. "I realise the insurers have got security aspects to consider, but this should have been put to bed a long time ago."He says that looking into the future, a claims service would be a useful feature.THE LAST WORD: "It's not too bad, but I have a feeling it could be done better. I've got hopes for it being quite a useful tool but I wonder how it will be when you get more insurers involved."

POLARIS ANSWERS BACK: Phil Nunn, marketing and strategy manager.

On content:"Presently we have some 800 services available via imarket. Our early approach was to ensure we provided a range of services that would help us properly test the infrastructure (the click-throughs, the emails and the XML messaging), which has been successful. All our insurers recognise the importance of now 'populating' imarket with a sufficient range and number of services - focusing on those brokers that tell us they want and which offer benefit for brokers and insurers alike."One of our key objectives for 2004 is to deliver more content. Previous broker feedback, particularly on individual insurer initiatives, has included the comment that while the service or process is great, it is too time consuming to train staff to use it for just one insurer. Therefore, as insurers develop and offer services in 2004, Polaris will work with them where appropriate to help ensure a 'minimum' number are able to offer a certain service."Not all insurers who offer the same service may fulfill the request in the same way. This tends to reflect current capability and where they place their focus in terms of competitive advantage. It is not the aim of Polaris imarket to inhibit this. We expect ongoing broker feedback to help guide insurers as to how common products and services could be fulfilled."

On software integration:"A major benefit we want to achieve with imarket is 'connectivity'. It is a key enabler to our aim of an efficient and effective channel. Polaris' standards for data, messaging and business processes will ensure that broker and insurer systems can 'speak' to one another and their users engage in a commonly understood business process for the transaction being undertaken."At present, brokers may enter data a number of times in a process. Stories of re-keying five or six times are not uncommon for a commercial quote request. As a stand-alone solution imarket will reduce this to 'double-keying' only. To eradicate double-keying though, we need integration. It is our stated aim (announced at the roadshows) to have integration agreed with the software providers by June 2004."

On premiums and insurer response times:"Any difference in premiums is not intended. It may be that now they simply reflect the need to bed-in the services. We would encourage any broker who experiences this to take it up directly with the insurer concerned. This will help the insurer identify any issues and iron them out."Response times is a recognised issue for insurers and brokers. The challenge on response times is an individual matter for each insurer and it inevitably touches on the capability and competitive advantage we mentioned earlier.But it is the aim of insurers to make sure imarket service levels at least meet their already stated level for the broker."

On using other routes to market:"Brokers (via the road shows) made clear their concerns on the use of technology. They are wary of losing the 'human touch'. In areas such as commercial underwriting, brokers value the insurer relationship and they do not want to see technology contribute to the commoditisation of commercial business. Insurers are aligned to this view."The challenge this provides to insurers is how to make sure that the new imarket-based service is recognised in all their branches at once.The temptation is to centralise service fulfilment because the volumes going through make it easier to organise teams to manage the transactions.It is a double-edged sword, but insurers are optimistic that as usage of imarket services increase then so will the quality and speed of responses improve."Of course, some insurers for some products are seeking to automate responses. A number of the smaller commercial package risks are likely to become fully automated over time."THE LAST WORD: "The imarket infrastructure is up and running and we are adding brokers at a steady rate. We will have some 600 broker businesses authorised by March. Brokers will be patient initially, but we know it is critical to the success of imarket that they start to see added-value services, as quickly as possible. We hope to make important announcements in this area in the near future."