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Way to build up net gains

The e-commerce revolution is reaching financial services and making a big impact.

Consumers can search for and compare financial products online. Insurance prov iders and IFA service providers are building their online business offerings.

The internet is enabling the customer to access higher-quality information and is requiring IFAs and product providers to think hard about how best to attract clients.

Royal & Sun Alliance has recently started internet processing of new business applications and we have learnt some valuable lessons in the run-up to the launch.

One of the first steps for a life insurance company has been to enable IFAs to handle new business applications over the internet.

The case for going electronic is compelling. Industry research findings show that processing new business applications electronically rather than using a paper-based approach sho uld make a significant contribution to a predicted threefold increase in the speed of processing new business from submission to completion.

It should also mean a 44 per cent reduction in the resources needed to process new applications electronically and reduce provider/ IFA communication costs by 66 per cent.

Much of this saving is possible because the information is verified at the point of entry, meaning that little time is spent by insurers chasing incomplete or incorrect forms.

Insurance companies have been producing electronic pricing applications for a long time. However, true e-commerce is about enabling business transactions to happen online.

The building blocks for this have already been put in place by Origo, whose members have agreed data standards for building and transmitting electronic applications.

Simultaneously, an implementation team of technology providers such as Focus Solutions has developed software to enable this on agreed XML-based standards.

Demand from the marketplace prompted many insurance providers to go online and, as a result of the demand, Royal & Sun Alliance first went live with its new business application form on IFA internet service provider AssureSoft&#39s AssureWeb portal in late September.

Together with Norwich Union and Legal & General, we were the first insurance companies to go live on AssureSoft. We are glad we made this decision and think that we have benefited significantly from it but we advise taking the following steps to ensure success:

Keep all applications forms simple. Overcomplicating them will cause problems bet ween IFAs, insurance pro viders and con sumers alike.

Try to go live on the web as soon as possible to learn the lessons early in advance of the next wave of demands from the market.

Choose your partners carefully. We chose to go live with e-business solutions provider Focus and IFA service provider Assuresoft. Focus and Assuresoft have worked together since April and, in our opinion, have a proven approach to delivery of web applications. Focus&#39s electronic data capture tool (goal:proposal) was also chosen due to its independence and usability across other service pro viders The Exchange and Synaptic.

Launch and learn. Consider the project as a learning process for all involved. It is not sufficient to set up the service electronically and then let the users learn from their mistakes. Make sure that all involved, including technology pro viders, insurance providers, service providers and the IFAs, are briefed fully so they can use it to the maximum benefit.

Be committed and ensure all your partners are committed too, not just to delivery but also to future service support.

Avoid branding forms – this is a post-sale activity, not a pre-sale one.

Follow the industry standards as set by Origo where possible to ensure reuse for other service providers and channels.

Having gone live in late September, Royal & Sun Alliance plans to use the same technology to broaden its offerings. We also hope to use the same technology but via different sales channels such as call centres. Having learnt the lessons, we are not limited to one information service provider and are working with Misys, The Exchange and Synaptic.

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