Anyone putting together a list of the life offices that have made the most progress in the use of technology generally – and e-commerce particularly – over the last couple of years would be sure to find Skandia fairly near the top.
Its U-Select desktop software is an invaluable tool for IFAs for asset allocation planning and is not just available for use with cases placed via Skandia. Multi Fund Shop is one of the more successful business-to-business fund supermarkets.
I looked at it a few months ago and Skandia has made some excellent advances in the facilities offered by its IFA extranet service and the use of the service has increased.
It has also seen a significant increase in the use of its IFA extranet service. It is, therefore, not surprising that when it chooses to launch in an entirely new product area, in this case with the Skandia Protect range, it comes with the benefit of substantial e-commerce support available from day one.
This includes recognising that advisers should be remunerated for the cost saving they are creating for the insurer by submitting business electronically. All cases coming over the extranet receive an extra 5 per cent commission.
The new online service at www.skandiaprotect.com is split into two areas.
General information, product details, case studies and a wealth of other information is provided on the product itself, including an extensive glossary. A library of information dedicated to critical-illness cover can be found within the public area.
The company seems to have gone to a lot of trouble to make the site useable for as wide a group of users as possible.
For example, special facilities are available for users with impaired eyesight. Video down loads are available for users with high-speed internet access and audio-only alternatives are offered for those with slower connections. In addition, special hard copy documentation can be requested using bigger fonts, Braille or even audio-only guides.
I found this awareness of the difficulties of potentially disabled clients very encouraging. I cannot recall any other office having made such facilities so prominent.
Making so much of the basic information about the product available in the general site allows advisers to guide their clients thro ugh it.
For example, if you are talking on the phone to a client who has inter net access you can guide them through the imp ortant issues by both viewing the site simul taneously from different locations.
In the dedicated area for Skandia Protect within its IFA extranet, advisers can access a range of additional tools not available to the public. These include detailed illustrations taking into account exact occupation and hobby details covering everything from aerobatic displays to whitewater rafting.
It also provides every conceivable var iation of commission surrender imaginable – even where the amount of the premium is already known – the ability to restrict commission to a monetary amount or to give up any such fixed amount.
The service allows users to combine quotes for mul tiple benefits within a single arr angement so that a plan could to be created to have split levels of cover for differing periods and with differing add-ons.
Products can be extensively modelled by adding and removing additional cover sections at will, with each section being clearly identified.
You do need to remember to click on the button to get a quotation to upgrade the cost each time you have added a section as this does not happen automatically.
Having tailored the cover you require for the client, the system will then generate an intelligent form. This will have all the necessary sections for the risk defined in the illustration and contain validation to avoid any errors.
It is worth remembering that insurers currently have to return up to 40 per cent of applications because of minor points that need clarification. Avoiding such errors will help IFAs as well as life offices.
Having completed the elec tronic application, this is prin ted for signature and mai led to Skandia, as would be a traditional proposal. But the company tells me it is looking at moving away from a paper-based signature in the future.
The entire range of additional questionnaires needed to set up a plan for financial underwriting, illness, pastime or occupation are also available as downloadable PDF documents from the site, as are the necessary trust forms.
To make life easier, if you display one document within the service, it automatically offers you a list of all other associated documents that you would expect to need to process an application.
An online underwriting guide allows you to identify the exact medical evidence requirements for any case simply by entering the age, sex and sum assured.
Further support for the IFA business process is inc luded by way of a reasonswhy letter-generation tool. This is very similar in its des ign to the service offered over AssureWeb, so it will be particularly easy to use for anyone who has previously used that service. Another nice touch is a notepad facility against pages in the extranet area. This allows advisers to create free-form notes against individual pages for their own guidance. Whenever users log on to the same pages again using their personal ID and password, these notes will be displayed at the side of the relevant pages.
This is an attractive site with some innovative features. Quotations are also available from The Exchange eXweb and Assure Web IFA. Skandia tells me it should be ext ending this to include the Misys M-Link service shortly.
I would hope the company will extend the new business services to portals in the not too distant future.
If I have one gripe it is that 5 per cent is really way under the level of additional payment that should be made for online submission. I would hope that this enhancement could increase in the future, even if it means cutting the level of commission on paper-based submissions.
After all, why should those advisers who refuse to use technology to reduce costs for providers be subsidised by those who are? This aside, there can only be a handful of offices which have put as much resources into supporting IFA e-commerce at the launch of a product over the last year or so and Skandia deserves full credit for joinsing this limited group.