It’s time to embrace e-commerce

Why is the group risk sector the only market that cannot embrace customer-friendly online solutions? asks Cheryl Brennan, risk manager at Enrich

This Christmas just gone, if we so wished, we could have bought our presents, chatted to our friends and family, booked our parties and bought our groceries, all online. I’m sure it won’t be long before we will be able to order the Christmas dinner online too.

But advances in e-commerce do not end here. The majority of our day to day requirements can now be met through internet based solutions. Using the financial sector as an example, as consumers we can search for, compare and purchase insurance, apply for loans and manage all of our banking online. I therefore have to ask the question, are we close to a time where the group risk market is the only market that cannot offer simple, customer friendly, online solutions?

There has been some progress with some insurers now able to offer e-quotes, e-renewals and online access to general scheme information and underwriting tracking. But not many insurers offer this and for those that do, these capabilities are typically limited to the most straightforward of cases where the registrations are below 100 and the risk is viewed as ‘clean’. This type of business can be few and far between.

In particular, during the general renewal process, obtaining and manipulating client data is undoubtedly one of the most time-consuming and highrisk processes in our market. Data is often transferred in a range of formats and can be unclear and left incomplete.Yet, despite there being a clear need to address this issue in our market for the sake of efficiencies and reduced risks, the advances in this area are extremely limited. We have moved from the paper based data approach of many years ago to processing renewals using Excel spreadsheets. But as the rest of the world moves onto more superior platforms, the risk market seems to be tuck in a time warp.

One of the barriers to our progress is the lack of consistency of approach in our market. Each provider has their own specific processes and requirements and their own systems present and manipulate information in different formats. Furthermore, each is faced with a unique set of constraints.

If we are to move to a more sophisticated approach that will truly benefit the customer then we must move to a common and consistent approach to all standard processes in this market. Only then can information be held and transferred seamlessly.

For example, I can change my bank and transfer my direct debits at the touch of a button, yet it takes me days, if not sometimes weeks, to transfer scheme information from one insurer to another.

Whilst an individual insurer’s onlineplatform may enable the insurer to obtain data and manage processes more effectively, it must be considered that it is highly likely that one client may have various policies with various insurers. Therefore, unless insurers start to work closer together and adopt some level of consistency, any advances in technology will only be of benefit to one party: the insurer.

Furthermore, online solutions need to be available not only to the advisory market but to the end user, the client. A market in which clients can view, access and amend standard scheme details without the need for lengthy emails through various parties will be one that benefits everyone.

The advisory market should be adding value to its clients through specialist advice ranging from benefit strategies, innovative scheme design, employee communications, legislative changes and competitive financial negotiations.

At present our market is too tied up in unnecessary paperwork and processes that are issued, checked and re-checked many times. There are clear costs associated with this that if not met by the client are absorbed by both insurers and advisers.

A more efficient and superior approach to our business transactions would enable us to deliver higher quality and valued services and products on a more competitive and affordable basis to our clients.

Surely it must be time to take this market forward and offer solutions that nable both employers and advisers to manage their benefits at their fingertips. I want to see this market offering solutions that range from online quotations to web based data uploads, online account production and payment, contact management, policy documentation, underwriting applications and tracking and membership management. This should be offered to all clients, irrespective of size and complexity.

It’s time to move this market forward and embrace the world of e-commerce.