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Distribution: Growth Spurt

Someone has figured out that e-commerce is 10 years old -- evidently the first online purchase took place a decade ago. In that time, e-commerce has grown into a $140 billion business, the typical online shopper has gotten older (now averaging mid-40s), and online banking has emerged as one of the most popular types of online transactions. So it seems to be an appropriate time for Insurance & Technology>/i> to roll out the next installment in our new Connected Enterprise series about straight-through processing in insurance, with a focus on Enabling Distribution.

It may seem ironic to discuss e-commerce and insurance distribution together since online selling of insurance is generally considered to be a non-event. In fact, 10 years ago industry discussions were dominated by concerns about disintermediation and whether agents would survive in an online environment. And while it is true that online insurance sales didn't happen the way online banking or stock trading have, in fact insurers' distribution models have been transformed dramatically in the past decade -- thanks to, but not exclusively because of, e-commerce. The changes have been driven by market forces (including globalization, regulation, shifting demographics) and a host of new, improved and emerging technologies and tools, including Web services, wireless/mobile, sales-force automation, customer analytics tools, content management, industry standards and business intelligence systems. Web enablement is key to most of this.

What has emerged is a true multichannel distribution environment. Agents might not be as dominant as they were 20 years ago, but they probably are more effective and productive than ever before. At the beginning of the '90s, there was much hand-wringing about whether or not an agent would even use a computer -- now apps are being filed on handheld devices. The Web is providing an essential resource to distributors, customers and carriers in terms of all kinds of product and market information, account status, pricing and coverage options. This, in turn, makes it easier for insurers, agents and marketing partners (including potential competitors such as banks) to take advantage of market opportunities in a quick and efficient manner.

Over the next few weeks we will examine what it takes to support the multichannel insurance distribution organization and strategies for making agents/distributors more effective. Visit to learn more.

Katherine Burger
Editorial Director

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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