Polaris’ Martin McLachlan says all the tools for virtual documentation are in place, so let’s use them.

In recent research by the WWF with Allianz, the UK was shown to be the best performing country among the G8 nations in terms of limiting greenhouse gas emissions, putting us Brits right in the vanguard of the whole climate change debate.

Some reason for cheer you might think, although it is also blatantly obvious that, in the very biggest picture, our efforts are but a drop in the proverbial ocean in terms of what’s really needed to reverse global warming. After all, according to the Rainforest Action Network, more than an acre of forest is lost every second and that has to be a major concern given that the tropical rainforests suck in vast quantities of carbon dioxide and are one of the greatest sources of the fresh air that we breathe.

All this got me thinking about things closer to home. The financial services industry is a major UK employer providing jobs for around 350,000 people. That’s a lot of office space that needs heating, lighting and air conditioning and, dare I say, a lot of commuting to get there and back. That’s well before we even start thinking about visiting customers at home or abroad or attending regular conferences in Glasgow, Monte Carlo, Baden Baden or Bermuda.

At an even more basic level, our business remains an absolute slave to paper. If you consider the global nature of our activities, how many pieces do we send whizzing back and forth, and in and out of vans, trains and planes? Here in the UK alone I understand that every year we issue around 43 million motor and home renewals alone. Add to that the policies themselves, adjustments, envelopes and all our communication, marketing and financial paraphernalia and you start to get the picture that the insurance business must be felling trees at a pretty mind-blowing rate.

Of course, I realise that many insurance companies now have laudable recycling initiatives. But maybe there’s an argument that it might be better not to create the waste in the first place – because that’s an awful lot of paper.

“Many insurance companies now have laudable recycling initiatives, but maybe there’s an argument that it might be better not to create the waste in the first place.

Martin McLachlan

Of course we can do better. More than 65% of the population now has internet access at home and more than 50% has broadband services, so it is surely not beyond us to rely more on virtual documentation for customers to access when they need it. I realise that computer servers can bring some of their own problems, but just think – no more drawers full of unwanted and outdated documents for customers, and huge savings in time and effort for insurers and brokers. It’s quick, efficient, negates duplication and we’re pretty much there already. We just need to point policyholders in the right direction. Surely this could really begin to make a difference and will also free up valuable and scarce resources for what really matters to our businesses – looking after our customers.

While I am on the paper trail (sorry, no pun intended), when, oh when, is the industry going to get its act together and finally do away with the hard copy cover-note? ECN (electronic cover-notes) are not even new anymore, and now that the law is finally about to confine paper certificates to the scrapheap, perhaps it is time that the industry woke up to the potential. It’s easy really and just think what a good job it will be doing for the future of the planet.

I know that this little piece of rhetoric has little hope of changing the world, and it has covered but the tip of the iceberg. But let me leave you with this single thought: going green is as good for business as it is for the environment. It really matters to people and is no longer confined to a few worthy tree-huggers. According to a recent survey, no insurer or broker has yet claimed the ‘greenest mantle’ within this hugely traditional business of ours.

Now that must present an opportunity for someone.

Martin McLachlan is chief executive of Polaris