03 November 2006
Christmas Insurance Brokers has been using imarket for the past year. Andrew Tjaardstra travelled to Burgess Hill to talk to its co-managing director Roger Christmas.
Christmas Insurance Brokers has been managed by David and Roger Christmas since their father Brian handed over the reins in 1991. Then the firm had a gross written premium of less than £1m of mainly personal lines. It has since remodelled itself towards commercial lines - now 70% of business - more than doubled its book of business, joined the Broker Network and started using imarket.
Roger Christmas says: "When the General Insurance Standards Council fell through, we knew what was coming in terms of regulation because we had gone through it on the independent financial adviser side of the business. We are not compliance officers and we knew we needed help to interpret the new rules. So, we looked at joining a network, and agreed to join the Broker Network in October 2002, with membership starting in 2003".
Apart from passing the handling of the client money account to the network, the main changes for CIB since joining have been enhanced commission rates - which have improved margins despite Broker Network taking a proportion of the commission - and greater access to underwriters.
Christmas says: "Before we joined we couldn't speak to an underwriter. One told us that despite being profitable, they was only going to be able to do business with us if we provided it with £250,000. We were speechless".
Since changing to technology provider Acturis in September last year, CIB has tapped into the benefits of imarket. Christmas says: "What is the point of having access to something if you don't use it?" imarket has streamlined CIB's commercial business with 40% of mainly small-packaged risks traded through the system at the firm.
He explains that the firm uses imarket for small traders of between one and six employees, with junior staff concentrating on these risks - freeing up time for senior staff to concentrate on larger ones. He adds: "If we didn't use imarket we would be charging customers more money and eating up more time".
If you are considering taking the imarket route, Christmas has some advice. "You have to get used to the system to understand its quirks. For example, if a builder asks for a quote, some descriptions are different for each insurer. If it is a certain type of builder you need to know which one to select. Sometimes, what you are looking for doesn't always come up but you can revert to a manual process. It is not viable to do a full fact find on a commercial combined product".
Despite the limited number of insurers available on imarket, Christmas feels CIB is able to offer a comprehensive service. He says: "If there are three insurers who have provided terms for a £300 premium we feel we have given sufficient advice".
Although this business is not as profitable, he explains why it is important: "We are not going to go to five insurers manually on a sub-£500 premium piece of business. We want to offer a service to smaller-end clients because these companies expand. There are marketing opportunities to capture client risk information and to compile a database of similar companies and how many have expanded. Existing clients will improve business more than direct mail or cold calling".
Before imarket, Christmas says the risk data had to be rekeyed into several different websites or sent off to insurers. The broker was also experiencing delays with quotes and documentation from French giant Axa. Now, a customer can leave the office with all the documentation produced at the point of sale. If alterations need to be made to the policy, the broker can insert manual overriders and the insurer will issue new policy documents.
Graham Bell, who has good access to Lloyd's, has recently joined the CIB team. It has a good relationship with Aspen, which covers some of the broker's children care home risks, a niche market where it is competing with the likes of Bollington.
Christmas is looking to acquire in the area, although there is a lot of competition. One merger possibility is with fellow Burgess Hill Broker Network member Bennett Dawes. CIB's clients are based in the South of England and Christmas says it is not keen to buy outside its region: "We know our competitive edge, however, our market is very small".
CHRISTMAS INSURANCE BROKERS
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