By: Rudi Bedeker and Jason Judge, Joint MD’s, Concourse IT
COVER: I have noticed that in the past brokers have simply seen technology as replacing paper when actually it should be used as an enabler for so much more. Can you give us your perspective as to how technology is developing in the broker space?
Rudi: Initially, in the eighties and nineties, technology only replicated what you did on paper. So where you had to complete paper forms to get something done, that was simply replicated into a computer environment. You still went and completed that form but it was a paperless environment. Therefore, the first step was really to go paperless, with technology saving cost and time. Then obviously, as people move more and more into the technology space, things evolved and we started talking about automating processes, and workflows, etc.
Jason: It was a natural outflow that, when people went paperless, they realised that this technology can benefit them in many ways. Over the years we’ve seen the emergence of the internet, collaboration and online cloud systems. All those types of platforms have really enabled people to get together from remote geographic locations, and collaborate online. Especially with COVID, never has it been more important that technology is an enabler of collaboration, communication and workflows. So it is now really about making that technology work for you in an environment that is unprecedented. Who would have thought that everybody would be at home for over a year, and still trying to work? So this type of enablement that technology has brought to the table has been absolutely critical. If COVID had happened 15 years ago we would all be much worse off.
COVER: Between increasing regulations, trying to cut costs and reducing time spent on tasks, we are all looking towards technology. How do you see that coming through in requests from brokers?
Rudi: Starting off with the cost aspect, I think the automation, workflow and the evolution of technology has reduced input costs for the brokers quite substantially. Historically, in the 80s and the 90s, you were kind of required to have everything on a desktop or on a server inside your premises, and the associated costs of backups etc. But as technology has evolved, and we move more into cloud technologies over the past 10 years, those kinds of costs have been reduced drastically. Then the other aspect of the cost, is the human cost. As with any automation in any industry, it takes less people to get the work done because there’s automation, because there’s workflow, etc. So from a broker’s perspective, where the system start-up overhead has probably been one of their biggest overheads, technology now takes away quite a lot of that cost as well. I also think that as the whole industry has evolved and, along with brokers and others in the value chain, been placed under more pressure from a regulatory perspective, additional overheads have emerged. Technology has definitely played a massive role in reducing those efforts and overhead costs.
Jason: From a regulatory point of view, what we’ve seen over the last five years, is that they are trying to, in many ways, regulate what a lot of people feel as natural in doing. So, for the sake of argument, making sure everybody’s got the same copy of the data creates this huge data dissemination challenge where we are down to daily data dissemination now. The fundamental reason behind this is because of the need to make sure everybody has the same version of the truth. A great assistance here is cloud computing and everybody needs to be involved as part of that process to access the information and contribute to the process. So it is a catch 22, the regulator comes along and says we want this and then we have to decide, as a technology enabler, how do we provide that to the markets? It is therefore very important that everybody keeps up with this ongoing evolution of technology.
COVER: That brings me to a statement by Rudi that your platform, Nimbis, is a filing cabinet in the cloud. Maybe you can tell us a little bit more about that?
Rudi: As Jason alluded to earlier, the impact of COVID over the course of the last year has really made everybody look at business differently. A year ago we would all be sitting somewhere in a boardroom talking to each other across a table, now we have all adopted these online technologies to assist us with these kindsof conversations and meetings. I think everybody out there, the whole intermediated market, has had to take a relook at their business, from insurers to administrators to brokers. The large insurers have people working from home and collaborating and it’s working. The same for all the brokers that typically would have been in some form of an office setup, they have had to be able to work remotely and still be able to access everything. In that context, we have had many discussions with brokers over the past year around having access to a central place from anywhere.
Not just because of what has happened in the past year, but over the past couple of years, as this industry has evolved, you cannot be office bound anymore. It has become a very volumes driven kind of environment. So for the broker on the ground, being able to be out and mobile, and still have access to everything that they need in terms of their office, has basically brought about this concept of an office in your pocket, or your filing cabinet in the cloud, where brokers can access everything that they need to run their business, from any mobile or internet enabled device. That is literally everything related to their client, the client details, client files, the quotes, policies, documentation, as far as communicating with the clients from the system while on the move and receiving communication back into the system, I think all of those requirements have become even more accentuated, specifically over the past year. As it’s a cloud computing environment, as far as the Nimbis system is concerned, it has opened up a new world to a lot of the brokers that they have not necessarily previously had access to or even thought about.
I had a discussion with a broker earlier this morning, who said she’s never thought about a business in this kind of context, where all of a sudden, you opened up to a lot more potential avenues of products for your customers from a bigger variety of product providers in a centralised space. That has really opened up the market for them because, if you think about it, ultimately, depending on where you sit in the value chain and where you are involved as an intermediary, it is all about getting the new clients on board and to sign up on a product. The more options there are available, the more likely it is thatyou are going to have an option that you could sell to aspecific client profile.
Whereas, historically, looking at this specific broker as an example, she was tied to a specific insurer, with specific products and a filing cabinet in the corner of her own office. Now, all of a sudden, her office is on her phone, and the world has opened up in how she now has a multitude of insurer products. In the past the specific product might not have suited the needs of a specific client. Now she has an alternative option that she can give to that client. It really is empowering for the industry as a whole and it’s very empowering for the brokers on the ground, because they are under a lot of regulatory and administrative pressure and overload. They need to be able to bring a very cost effective solution with a very low cost of entry to the table. So, a much wider range of options has been very empowering for the brokers and the other product providers, from insurers to administrators.
Jason: Another thing that’s very important about this strategy, for us as a company, is the barrier for entry into the market for new brokers. If you have a look at an individual who decides that they want to get into the insurance market, then traditionally there was a lot of setup cost that they potentially could have. So if they were going to work through somebody else, as a sub-broker, yes there’s going to be less. But if you were trying to set up a brokerage, then there would be all kinds of IT costs that you would have to have up front. Servers, computers, networks, internet connections at your office, and so on. You could even potentially have had to go and have an office somewhere allocated in your house. With Nimbis and the MyNIMBIS initiative, we have a very low barrier to entry into the market. Bringing people onto this platform is very low cost to them and the only equipment that they need to worry about is potentially a laptop or a tablet that they can operate the platform on. Going from that point on if you look at all the regulations that they have to then adhere to, such as daily backups and making sure that the data is disseminated to the correct insurer. You name it, there’s tons of stuff the platform takes care of for them, automatically. Bringing new people into the market now becomes much easier for them, because they have this sort of filing cabinet in the cloud through Nimbis, which they can leverage off.
As an added benefit now, if they are then collaborating with an administrator, or a UMA or an insurer that happens to be working on the platform as well, it takes away all of that other sort of legacy type of communication that they had to do. When they wanted to incept a policy, how did they do it? Nine times out of ten it was an email with a filled in application form which the administrator or the insurer had to then capture again. Because they are collaborating online now, the broker can actually do what they’re good at, which is collecting client information, providing them with information, and then that information gets automatically sent to the administrator without, and this is the important part, without any duplication of information.
Nobody has to sit there and capture it again, into whatever system the administrator is using. That whole workflow of the broker comes online, if the administrator is online as well, and they can review and approve those policies almost in real time. So what we’re doing through the MyNIMBIS initiative, if it is used in its full sense, is taking on the direct insurers, because they have this capability built in house, you phone their call centre, or the call centre probably phones you, let’s be honest, they take your information online, they fill it in, and then they’ve got underwriters, or they’ve got systems that automatically approve all of this stuff already. By the end of the telephone call, you can have a policy number and can be under cover, the traditional intermediated market could never compete with that really, because they didn’t have those type of systems that enabled it.
With this initiative we are saying, Mr. Broker, capture the information on the platform, talk to your insurer or administrator, whoever it happens to be, they can do the underwriting for you. Within a very short period of time, you can have a policy, which you can provide to your clients, almost in real time and compete with the direct market. Then there’s just one story that I want to tell you and I’m probably stealing Rudi’s thunder here. The idea really is that the broker goes out to see his client, who happens to be a farmer in the back end of beyond and he has got his tablet there, he sits down with the farmer and they capture all the details online, submitting that to whoever the underwriting department is.The underwriter can then review the policy, they can comment on it, they can request changes. While the broker is having a nice visit with the farmer, the underwriters can approve it online and the broker will get the policy documentation on his tablet, which he can email onto the client. It’s ultimately about the broker being able to deliver a good experience
Rudi: Ultimately, it’s about speed to market, speed of distribution. You know the quicker you can get your product out there as an insurer, your new product idea, your amended product concept, the quicker it gets into the hands of the brokers, the quicker the broker can get a quote on that product into the hands of a client and, finally, the quicker the deal is closed. The legacy processes have not been very conducive to that speed, or multitude of options, whilst collaborating, whilst sitting in front of the client and actually getting their option to them immediately.
That’s essentially what the game has become. If it’s going to take you 24 hours to get the quote to a client, chances are that he’s gone somewhere else already. Furthermore, in terms of the concept of collaboration, it doesn’t even require that all the role players are actually full utilisers of the NIMBIS system. You can have somebody logging into the system from an insurer who might be using their own mainframe platform, to collaborate for that instance on the Nimbis system to get the quote approved or to get something done on the system and all you require is an internet connection, username and password.Because it’s a cloud hosted system, insurers have eyeballs on all the risk of the underwriting on a 24 hourly basis, as required by regulation.
COVER: What I’m hearing is that, through this collaboration process, you can draw any part of the ecosystem into your brokerage, expanding and exploring other opportunities through the same system.
Rudi: Hundred percent. As a broker you might have different relationships with different product providers, needing different levels of collaboration. The system will control that, to make sure that you don’t accidentally go and do something on the system, that places an insurer under risk that does not have that agreement in place with you.
There you would require somebody higher up the value chain to get involved and do their bit in order to get the product issued and underwritten. I think the best example is probably domestic type products versus your agri and your commercial type products, where there is much stricter controls from an insurance perspective.