I2i-link is an independent industry initiative, created to provide a mechanism for the exchange of messages between intermediaries and insurers regardless of the administration system used. Described as a business to business (B2B) internet portal, I2i-link will focus on those areas of the business process between intermediaries and insurers that could be improved through standardisation and/or automation.

Contrary to initial concerns raised within the industry, this does not mean a replacement of the existing administration system, nor will it remove the need for a local quotation package. All intermediaries will continue to have freedom of choice regarding their preferred systems supplier, as I2i-link will seek to integrate with existing systems while developing an internet-based portal infrastructure which ultimately aims to:

  • Increase the speed to market of insurer rates and products
  • Facilitate communication between intermediaries and insurers
  • Provide an industry-wide standard messaging structure to lower distribution costs.

    Focusing on the strengths

    New developments within the industry are often met with a cynical view as industry commentators focus on perceived weaknesses and threats rather than the proposed strengths. As with any software development of this scale and complexity, there will be concerns regarding integration and implementation. However, we believe people should look at the strengths of the joint venture between six of the largest composite insurers in the UK and Misys, a leading developer of full cycle EDI and internet services.

    Financial strength, a history of successful EDI development and the commitment to work in a spirit of collaboration within competition all contribute toward a convincing argument to accept and support the I2i-link initiative. As the saying goes: “Actions speak louder than words”, and I2i-link has been active since its public announcement on October 16 last year:

  • Discussions with potential additional insurer participants – we hope to confirm at least one new participant in January
  • Open invitations issued to administration and quotation system suppliers to discuss the benefits of I2i-link and establish a working relationship for integration
  • Roll-out of intermediary workshops to gather “front-line” information regarding the present and future requirements of the intermediary channel
  • Continuing negotiations with internet service providers (ISPs) to establish a competitive pricing structure for continuous access to the internet
  • Thorough investigation and “scaling up” of the security infrastructure to satisfy and reassure participants in transmitting data via I2i-link
  • Planned attendance at UK industry exhibitions and intermediary roadshows
  • Responding to industry interest – although in its infancy, www.i2i-link.co.uk already receives an average of 400 hits a day.

    Through the combined experience of the participants and the feedback from intermediaries, I2i-link will create opportunities for intermediaries to enhance their service proposition. Potential facilities include access to claims details, querying accounts or gaining a dynamic price for private motor quotations.

    All of this will be delivered through a desktop component integrated, where possible, into administration systems.

    I2i-link complements the existing quotation system with dynamic access to the latest insurer rates. Using the internet for communication between insurers and intermediaries will bring huge gains in efficiency, as enquiries or requests for information are automated by use of the latest technology.

    Further, I2i-link is not an administration system. Its purpose is to be the central point for managing the transfer of messages between insurers and intermediaries to enable both parties to become more productive and customer-focused.

    Huge potential savings

    Without doubt, Allianz Cornhill, Axa, Groupama, Norwich Union, Royal & Sunalliance and Zurich have invested in I2i-link because they see the potential for significant cost savings.

    And consider these questions:

  • Given a situation where two insurers are competing for business, will the winner be the one that provides dynamic pricing that reflects the current market or the one whose rates are three weeks old and static?
  • Given two intermediaries serving an information request from a client, will that client be more impressed with an immediate, fully informed response or prefer to wait while a phone call is made and documentation sent by post?

    To compete effectively in a demanding consumer and price-oriented market, while maintaining a good level of service, requires careful control over costs and maximum use of technology. It is by enabling insurers to distribute products quickly and easily (our initial target is 48 hours) and to respond to queries with the minimum of manual intervention that low cost operation can be maintained.

    Given that I2i-link will manage the transmission of messages between intermediaries and insurers, there remains tremendous scope for all suppliers to develop and market their quotation and administration systems as they see fit.

    What will sway an intermediary's position as to which system to use will of course depend on things such as functionality, usability and price and, most importantly, the ability to gain the rates that enable them to compete. We suggest that I2i-link enables all suppliers to provide that capability for their customers while retaining their own competitive edge in terms of how it is integrated into existing applications.

    It's time to embrace ideas

    The experience gained from past initiatives has provided the wisdom for the creation of I2i-link. The technology used will be industry-standard and the transport mechanism (the internet) is commonly available. Intermediaries will be free to choose the “always-on” internet access they want and while there is a cost to the intermediary, this is becoming more competitive all the time. I2i-link will work with software suppliers to integrate the proposed services and solutions to maximise their product offering. Intermediaries will receive the I2i-link desk top component free – removing barriers to take-up.

    A criticism often levelled at the insurance industry is that it is slow to embrace new ideas. This may have been a valid assertion in the early 1990s but today's intermediary recognises the value of technology and wishes to exploit it to the maximum effect.

    But the modern intermediary is arguably more professional and business oriented than ever before and will only invest in technology if there is a viable return on this investment. On the basis that intermediaries will seek always-on access to the internet, implement PC networks and already possess an administration system, we see the I2i-link proposition as an irresistible one.

    We know we face significant challenges in bringing together natural competitors in a collaborative initiative. However, we would contend that the vision for I2i-link and the ultimate benefits it will deliver are worth the effort that we are now putting in.