01 October 2004
The Broker Network only switched its IT systems to Acturis last year but many of its members have now decided to adopt the system as the benefits have become clearer.
In the middle of 2003 members of the Broker Network (BN) adopted a policy of moving to a common IT based system on the shared server or 'ASP' architecture. A small group of members supported by BN's own IT team were delegated to carry out a thorough review of the systems on the market. A number of potential suppliers were short-listed and detailed dialogue and meetings with these suppliers and the selection team followed across several months.
As a result the Acturis Broker Platform was selected to go into pilot with three existing BN members and two new members. The pilot started in mid-November 2003 and by March 2004 was judged to have achieved all of its main goals.
The BN ASP system supplied by Acturis is 100% voluntary and no BN member is forced to take it, but by September 2004, Acturis was already live at 20 BN member offices. A further 10 are contracted and due to go live later in 2004.
Simon Ronaldson, sales and marketing manager at Acturis, comments, "The take-up of the Acturis Broker Platform with BN has been much faster than we expected. We have learned very quickly what a close-knit community BN actually is; the members talk, and if what Acturis has to offer is well received, the message gets around very quickly".
Michael Collins, BN's group chief operating officer, adds, "We were a bit sceptical at the out-set as so many systems in the market claim to do so many things. This is why we chose the pilot route. In the event, the pilot members were positive about the Acturis system and we quickly moved from pilot stage to full implementation of a BN ASP members system - supplied of course by Acturis".
The first member to go live was Hine Insurance Brokers in Didsbury. Paul Hine, managing director, is very clear as to the benefits: "Before moving to Acturis we always felt limited by our system. It dealt with personal lines well enough, but offered us very little on the commercial side. We had been in dialogue with Acturis prior to the BN evaluation process and were keen to be at the forefront of any new initiative".
The central ASP model allows BN to enjoy the benefits of almost unrestricted connectivity. Members' individual client records are secure and confidential, available only to the member concerned and authorised BN staff. However, BN centrally has real-time access to appropriate data where needed. The task of insurer accounts reconciliation is made far simpler on a centralised basis (performed by BN for many of its members). Insurer trading statistics are available at the touch of a button, as is information critical to Financial Services Authority (FSA) compliance. A new facility can be released to all, quite literally, overnight.
BN's chief executive Grant Ellis said, "Sorting out IT is a holy grail for community brokers and their insurer partners. Our strategy was set out in our prospectus and was a key factor in being able to list successfully. As more and more BN members go live onto the BN/Acturis ASP system, the value that BN can add increases exponentially. We are very excited about the future".
Other partners of the BN Group are its underwriting agency, Broker Network Underwriting (BNU), and a unit dealing with business placed in Lloyd's and the London market - namely Broker Network London Markets (BNLM). The Acturis ASP has recently also been installed in BNU and BNLM and this has created synergy between members and the two placing units.
Mr Collins comments, "It is early days for our underwriting teams using Acturis, but the potential is significant. We now have a tailored solution for our scheme products and it is improving our internal efficiency greatly. Moreover, as more BN members trade on the BN/ASP system, the fact that both come from the same supplier will enable us to link our underwriting and London market systems to the members systems directly. This is something we are looking to explore".
Stocks and shares
Following its stock market listing, BN will apply the funds generated to expand its reach and also provide an exit route for retiring members. Mr Ellis says that there would be a Broker Network outlet for every 300,000 of the UK population, around 200 sites in all.
He comments, "As members choose to retire we hope that their business will remain within the BN community. Over the next five years up to half of the outlets will be owned directly. The BN ASP system will be installed in these as well as a good number of the independently owned members. For us, having a partner that delivered what was promised and did not miss deadlines was important. It is important to trust the supplier. Some have in the past had a reputation of charging too much because they have their customers in an arm lock".
What is it like at the sharp end though? David Belgian is managing director at Northern Counties, the second BN member to go live on the system. "Both the initial change and the subsequent service delivery have been very impressive. The migration of data from our old system was first rate, the training well delivered, and the after-sales service has been of a similarly high standard. Not everything was perfect, but we feel we are in a partnership with our IT supplier not at war with them".
Mr Collins adds, "We are very clear that moving to an ASP model was the right choice for the strength of the Network. Adopting the platform remains the free choice of each individual member. They will only take up the option if their peers report good experiences. It does not have to be perfect, but it has to be good, and where there are problems, the supplier must be willing to work with us to sort them out".
He concludes, "Thankfully, that is what our members' experiences have been, so it is a compelling offering for them. All this has opened up a myriad of options due to its connected nature and we are already looking at new initiatives that had not even occurred to us before. Some insurers too have seen possibilities. Broker Network members have joined the "wired world" with this single step, and we are only just beginning to learn how we can exploit that to give our members the best possible competitive edge".
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