Commercial Insurance Distribution Channels on the Internet

If you worked for a UK Insurance company just twenty years ago or anywhere else in the world for that matter, you would not have heard the term Internet distribution channel, except perhaps in the idle chat of the IT department boffins and analysts in the company cafeteria.

There were only two main distribution channels, or ways of moving insurance products to the market and the Internet as a serious sales and marketing contender would have to wait another ten years to appear.

At the time, the main channels were the direct channel, which meant producing insurance products that could be sold directly to the public from a call centre, thereby cutting out the costs and expense of managing a middleman, and the broker or intermediary channel.

The broker channel was further sub-divided into insurance brokers, agents, tied agents, consultants, sub-brokers, managing agents for Lloyds and the affinity corporate market.

Both channels offered different propositions for the same products dependent upon the way a policy was sold.

At the time only personal lines insurance products such as car and home insurance were available via the direct channel.

It was also considered that commercial insurance and business insurance were too complicated a product to sell direct over the phone, would take up too much time and would require a bank of approved underwriters with scripts to man the phone lines, as no commercial insurance autoquote systems existed. Consequently nearly all commercial insurance was sold via the intermediary channel.

This dual path situation for the sales, marketing and deliverance of insurance polices continued until Insurance finally became a product that could be bought and sold on the Internet. The earliest offerings around the turn of the Century were for personal lines insurance and there was barely a mention of Commercial insurance, save for the odd contact us button.

Ironically as personal lines insurance developed over the Noughties and became a much larger channel of distribution, the two previous direct and broker channels re-established themselves online, this time in much closer competition.

However both the insurance companies and the insurance intermediaries were caught napping as a new distribution channel emerged on the Internet; the aggregator or price comparison site, and in record time accounted for over 90% of online Internet insurance sales.

The public love to compare prices and the fact that most personal lines products could autoquote without the intervention of an underwriter, meant they could all be aggregated into an online insurance price comparison site, such as we see everywhere in the media today. This is a testament to the comparison sites success as a channel in its own right.

Commercial Insurance in the meantime was still in its infancy as a channel on the Internet, until very recently.

The inertia was mainly due to the reluctance of the large general insurance companies to standardise and autoquote for commercial products. They felt the risk was too high and underwriters resisted the change.

The change came about by market forces as the Broker channel started to sell commercial products using its own web-enabled back office systems.

This meant that online business insurance brokers could collect information about a businesses insurance requirements on a website form, and pass the data to its internal systems. These back office comparison systems are composed of a panel of insurers and providers that provided autoquotes.

Straight through processing to an insurance company could be carried out by the existing EDI or electronic data interchange mechanism.

The single broker business and commercial propositions soon became the target of the price aggregators and the large and now very rich comparison sites, who started to offer online insurance comparisons using broker panels in 2009, which rapidly became popular with small business.

The large composite commercial insurers were forced to respond and last year released a string of autoquote products into the Internet channel including packages for shops, offices, pubs, commercial let property, tradesman, professionals and commercial liability to name just a few.

The fact that it is nigh on impossible to watch television for more than an hour or two today, without seeing an advert for a builders public liability and tools policy from a dotcom is proof that the Internet has finally arrived as a commercial insurance distribution channel.

The Role of the Commercial Insurance Broker

Business come in all sizes, and the role of the Commercial Insurance Broker will vary in some respects with the size of the client company and the amount of insurance expertise it has available among its own staff.

The approach to commercial insurance of a small engineering workshop in a side-street will not be the same as that of a huge multi-national corporation which may number an insurance company among its subsidiaries. The essentials of the broker’s task will be the same, however, for the largest company as it is for the individual: to use his knowledge of insurance and of the insurance market to help his client to arrange a sound insurance programme which, to the maximum extent possible, meets the client’s particular needs.

The Business Insurance Broker will handle the insurances of a small company in a manner very similar to those of an individual. The relationship is likely to be a personal one wit the directors of the business, and they can be considered, in a way, as individuals who have a different, and more extended, set of insurance needs because of their involvement with the company.

The first essential will be for the insurance broker to ensure that his clients have the compulsory commercial insurances which they need for their business to be carried on legally.

Employer’s liability cover to protect the workforce must be arranged, and motor insurance is also likely to be a necessity. If the business has plant or machinery which must have a periodical statutory inspection, it will be usual to arrange for this to be done by a specialist engineering insurer under the terms of an engineering inspection contract, with or without insurance.

Fire insurance will be very important, as will consequential loss insurance to protect the firm against loss of earnings during the period following a fire until it is fully back in business. Then there will be all the other insurances which a business needs – public and products liability, theft and money insurance, goods in transit and perhaps marine insurance, all-risks covers, fidelity guarantee and possibly others. The broker may also be asked to provide insurance covers for staff, a group life and pensions scheme, or personal accident or permanent health insurance for example.

The range of insurance which may be needed, and the variety of problems which may be associated with them, place great demands on the broker with an industrial firm as his client, and make it much less possible for him to be a specialist in one or two types of insurance only. The individual may be happy to consult a broker for life or motor insurance only, but the industrial company is likely to want a single source of advice for all its insurance problems.

The larger the client company is, the less it will be interested in buying standardised commercial insurance covers or packages designed for small business insurance, and the more it will want policies which match its own specific needs. This calls for a very deep understanding of the client’s business on the part of the broker, matched by creativity in designing insurance solutions to the problems posed. The Commercial Insurance Broker’s negotiating skills may also be called upon to persuade an insurer to accept what may be an entirely new approach to a particular insurance need.

The problems of a small spread of risk may be overcome because the company is large enough to be rated on its own past record rather than as a member of a trade which is rated as a class in an SME business insurance package. When it reaches this size, a company may be interested in extensive self-insurance, and these days it is part of the broker’s role to help such clients develop appropriate self-insurance plans and to advise on risk management measures to ensure that the risk that is being retained is reduced as far as is economically possible.

Commercial Insurance Quotes and What it Takes to Get Them

Running a business with insufficient insurance coverage (or none at all) is dangerous! If you have recently started a business of your own, or you have recently experienced changes to a business you have had for years, then it is time to look at your insurance needs. So what is holding you back? Are you apprehensive about asking for commercial insurance quotes, because you are unsure of what it takes? Well, it doesn’t have to be difficult, as long as you remember that the key to getting a commercial insurance quote – or any insurance quote – is information. Having enough information, and having the right information, is crucial for an insurance agent to give you a realistic quote. More so with businesses than for private purposes, since businesses vary so much from one to another. It all depends on what you want to insure.

All businesses need commercial liability insurance, to provide coverage in case of damage to a third party – even if they don’t need anything else. A simple commercial general liability insurance may be all it takes, but even this requires some information for a proper quote to be given. It may be information about what you produce/offer in your business, the physical location of your business, and access to it. If clients must climb up a rope ladder to enter your office through a tiny window in your medieval stone tower, then that might affect your liability premiums a little. You should expect to provide this sort of information for a quote to be given. Commercial liability insurance can also be part of commercial motor insurance. In this case, the insurance agent will want to see drivers license numbers of anyone who will be driving the company vehicles. This is in order to pull information to assess the risk of letting these people drive a car, and thus deciding what the premium should be.

This was just an example of what information you should be ready to present, when asking for commercial insurance quotes. If the thought of talking with a commercial insurance company on the phone or in person intimidates you; you will be glad to learn that there is such a thing as online commercial insurance quotes. This is really a great way to get started with the process of buying insurance, because it allows you to gather your information and present it at your own pace, instead of getting stressed out from the feeling that you have to “perform” in front of an insurance professional. You may still need to schedule a meeting or two down the road with an agent, but by then you will already have presented your business and your needs, and can relax a bit more. This approach certainly works for me.