Technology trials

Uninspired, underdeveloped and unproductive – that was the verdict a broker panel passed on broking technology earlier this this year.

Speaking at the Steadfast Convention, leading industry members voiced their collective disappointment, with Angela Whitbread, Managing Director of Whitbread saying broking technology was simply “not good enough”.

“We’re being let down by technology that’s years behind the international market.”

Ausure Managing Director Troy Brown agreed, saying: “If you look at our industry, the structure of the technology and the vested interests of the insurers have really stifled innovation.”

“The number of clicks you have to go through to get a simple task done is atrocious. With the technology that’s out there, the ease of use we could have, it’s just embarrassing. Brokers are growing weary of waiting for the penny to drop.”

This weariness had significant consequences in April when Steadfast members voted to move to a single software solution platform after negotiations between the cluster group juggernaut and technology provider Ebix Australia failed to produce desired results.

The stumbling point for the two parties revolved around the lack of electronic interface between the Ebix-owned WinBEAT system used by the majority of Steadfast members and the Steadfast Virtual Underwriter (SVU) transaction platform. WinBEAT does however interface with the Sunrise Exchange and iClose platforms (both owned by Ebix), along with a number of third-party platforms.

Steadfast CEO Robert Kelly says industry software supplier BA Insurance Systems (BAIS) has stepped in to design software to bridge the gap between WinBEAT and SVU.

However Ebix Managing Director Leon D’Apice says brokers are wholly satisfied with the products the company provides.

“It’s impossible to speak to every user but we consistently keep in touch with brokers to ensure our products continue to be relevant and useful.”

With the number of products and systems currently on the market D’Apice says staying ahead of the curve by providing innovative solutions is the key to success.

“Our goal is to produce solutions that connect seamlessly with other platforms and products brokers are using,” D’Apice says.

“We want to cut down the clicks and increase integration. ”

Custom solutions

Insurers such as CGU have also heard the growing call for better technology and updated their sales platform offerings to include social collaboration to stay ahead of the curve. It’s a move that CGU CEO Peter Harmer says is part of a larger technology strategy for the insurer.

“The rapid adoption of technology is shifting the balance of power towards customers,” he says. “Mobile and cloud technology enable us to better understand our partners and customers and connect with them.”

Meanwhile brokerages such as Whitbread have found similar success in engaging third-party software outlets to design custom software solutions for their company’s needs.

“We had a consultant assess our needs and create a platform that is tailored specifically to our company. After searching the market for software that wasn’t delivering what we were after we realised we need efficiency,” Whitbread says.

“The current processes are time consuming and a lot of other industries and companies are doing much better than us.”

Technology doesn’t have to be broker-specific to help brokers.

Despite bounding advances in electronic filing and storage, business software provider Technosoft CEO Keith Kendall estimates around two in five brokerages have not yet moved to paperless systems.

He says despite advantages in economy, productivity, accessibility and security, some brokerages retained paper-based filing systems out of habit.

“You’ll have someone at the head of the business who can ask for a file and have it appear on their desk but not know how much time and disruption it has caused to get that file,” Kendall says.

“I would say someone will buy these operations out if they don’t keep up with it.”

Time-travelling technology

For SME brokerages frustrations primarily focus on the technological ‘step back’ many brokers must take when utilising current software. Recently one major insurer admitted to having not updated its system since the mid-eighties.

Damian Petruccelli, an account manager at Arrowsmith & Petruccelli Insurance Brokers, says: “The touchpad era is here and unless the large organisations that are focused on CRM (customer relationship management) technology transform their rationale in only working with the masses and become more proactive in our industry then we will be forever clicking in and out of programs (intranets, Sunrise, web, apps) unnecessarily.”

The power of cluster groups to sponsor the development of member-specific software is also at the forefront of discussions. Petruccelli says cluster group leaders should provide effective software solutions for their members.

“Associations should be playing a bigger role in consultation with younger brokers and also working with the likes of EBIX to deliver better solutions. Funds afforded to the brokers as overrides et cetera should be converted towards an IT development fund for the greater good of the group and members within it,” he says.

Mark Laudrum, Managing Director of Ardrossan Insurance Brokers, says the lack of adequate technology is a stumbling block for many SME brokerages.

“Brokers need the tools to do their jobs efficiently and effectively for their clients,” he says.

“It’s no longer simply an optional extra to have software; it’s a necessity that other markets have explored and embraced, and a great opportunity for the insurance industry.”

Global perspective

As global insurance technology develops Australia has been left relatively unmoved by the trends sweeping Europe, Britain and the American markets.

Canadian broker management systems company Keal recently released figures indicating 64% of surveyed brokers placed investing in technology for productivity improvements as a top priority.

The study concluded that innovations in broker technology in Canada are thriving, although the challenge has moved from creating software to integrating the new technologies available from insurers, third-party software producers and broker management systems (BMS) into a single uniform platform brokers can work within. The Insurance Brokers Association of Canada (IBAC) has taken ownership of this new challenge by creating a Data Exchange initiative aimed at creating consistency in processing for broker members.

Across the pond, the British market is currently experiencing an influx of broker-specific technology as software companies take advantage of the opportunities available in the market. The growth in possibilities has made collaboration with software companies far more accessible to brokerages and enables greater custom software production.

Technology is also creating increased opportunities to harvest data to increase the accuracy of risk management models. By participating in social media data mining or health monitoring has given British brokers a competitive edge over their international counterparts.

Laudrum says, when reflecting on the strides made by international broking counterparts, the Australian industry is at risk of further alienating itself from the global insurance market.

“We’re living increasingly digital lives, why should there be a disconnect between the sophisticated software we use on a day-to-day basis and the ones we employ to earn a living?” Laudrum says.

“The insurance broking industry has a great opportunity to take responsibility of its needs and revolutionise the way we conduct business.”