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Moving from face-to-face to online broker-insurer relationships

The article below, by Max Carter, CEO at New Dawn Risk, was originally published in Insurance Day magazine on 26th April 2020.

It is self-evident to state that, within insurance, a huge shift has occurred in front of our eyes. Within one month the move to an online insurance market has been forced upon all of us.  The shock of COVID-19 social isolation means that face-to-face opportunities to organise and plan complex – or even ordinary – (re)insurance placements are suddenly entirely gone.

It is our good fortune that, through the work of PPL (and its competitors) there is a modern and well-tested technology infrastructure in place for the electronic placement of risks, and with that in existence the UK insurance market has moved smoothly online – after decades of prevarication.  This, in itself is cause for celebration.  To put it bluntly, London needed a kick (though perhaps no one considered anything of this magnitude) to catch up and adopt.

Many companies in the London Market undertook trial home-working days before mandatory lockdown was introduced, and most have reported full functionality in a matter of a few days.  As a test of business continuity preparedness, whilst this transition all happened in relative slow-motion (compared to, say, a major terrorist attack shutting down the City overnight), our clients and our regulators should be satisfied that as an industry we can provide business continuity in the event of a disaster.

But let’s be honest, this is only part of the story. The real challenge is for brokers and insurers to rise to the cultural demands of developing and placing new business in the video-connected world. 

The biggest surprise is the almost instantaneous adoption of videoconferencing platforms.  At New Dawn Risk, we had already started to use Teams, albeit with little videoconferencing, late in 2019.  We now communicate routinely with colleagues, seemingly all day long, using Teams as our video chat platform.  This works amazingly well and provides a sense of connection that is close to actually being in the same office. 

Cloud-based IT alongside videoconferencing will largely work well alongside the electronic placement systems that are in place for discussions occurring inside the Market, but, more critically, we need to pay attention to the client-side changes that must be made.  Yes, we can all now reach clients on screen, and we can still email and phone.  But some of the spontaneous relationship building that was possible at events, conferences and client meetings is currently impossible.  Renewals will work where a relationship is already in place, but how do you create the sort of trust that can bring in new business when you can’t ever meet face-to-face?

If we make the assumption that social distancing in some form will be with us for at least a year to come, we are forced to come to the conclusion that a new way of building and managing client relationships is now required. Whether it is via formal regular presentations to clients, or informal LinkedIn groups, it is the ability to put yourself and your skill sets in front of your prospective client’s eyes on their desktop that is going to count in the market going forward. 

Of course, for many people under thirty-five, living life online is as natural as breathing.  If you date online, share your social life online and study online, you are used to building relationships remotely, and this is where I notice real inconsistency of approach, split by the age demographic of users. 

Younger users, on the whole, are completely at home with using technology as a tool.  They are skilled at developing strong personal relationships without the need to interact face-to-face, and I predict that the new online world could bring to the fore a next generation of stars, based on this sort of talent.  It is the older users, particularly with people in their fifties or older, that seem to be struggling.  Don’t misunderstand me; there are many older people in our industry who are as fluent at using new technologies as any twenty-something.  However, there is a worrying number of otherwise extremely experienced older professionals who appear to be finding it tricky to operate in the new paradigm. 

Last week, I heard one peer in his fifties complain that he was really struggling with the technology and that he’d much rather be working out the intricacies of a deal face to face.  This struggle cannot be ignored as being insignificant, as many of these individuals have a wealth of experience, particularly in dealing with the hard market conditions that are now prevalent.  There is a real danger that in these challenging times, experienced brokers and underwriters will find themselves left behind simply because of a lack of experience at building professional relationships online.

One way to address this lack of confidence among older practitioners might be for their employers to acknowledge that this is an issue and arrange coaching and tutorials for those who feel out of the loop.  We may be in lockdown for some time to come, but even if life returns to ‘normal’ sooner rather than later there will be changes that have been made in the way we work that will not be reversed.  Employers need to recognise this issue and ensure that we do not lose the benefit of our most senior, and experienced, colleagues.

The original article can be viewed here.