Sue Jakobek, Managing Director, Placing Platform Limited

The current lockdown in the UK, and wholesale adoption of remote working by the London insurance market in the last month, has caused considerable debate amongst brokers and underwriters about how they should operate in the future. Who would have thought that the London insurance market – famed for its face-to-face trading and physical proximity, could turn so quickly to operating remotely and placing business electronically. There is undoubtedly a great deal of value in being an ecosystem that London does not want to lose, but it can and has changed how it works and some of those changes may become more permanent.

As PPL approaches it fourth birthday in July, the market has made steady progress in its adoption of electronic placement. All the data points positively to a robust upward trend and that trend has increased sharply in the last month. March 31st was a record week with the volume of trades reaching over 5,600 risks placed – around 2,000 higher than the previous weekly high. The number of unique users on the platform has risen by 40% since 14th March and 102 broking firms placed business on PPL in March.

Even more importantly, the experience is proving to be positive with brokers commenting on the good response times from underwriters, and more brokers starting the process from quote. The activity stats also show some interesting trends. For example, users are active earlier in the day and later into the evening – there are no longer spikes around box hours, as people are adjusting their day to support the needs of home and family.

There is also a steady flow of new companies – both underwriters and brokers, joining the platform, with two contracts agreed in March and another 16 in the process. And that brings new users. For the last two weeks of March, 550 new users were set up and 214 users registered for training sessions. In comparison in 2019, we averaged 336 new users per month and 136 users accessing training.

We know that PPL needs to be better. In terms of the platform itself, we have been working with the market to define the next version of the platform; what would users like to see improved in the look and functionality of its platform.

We have other priorities in terms of both improving the current platform and how it is used. It is still mostly a stand-alone system, not integrated into brokers’ and underwriters’ back offices. That of course is the case of any platform that needs plumbing into a policy administration system or a broker’s back office. We have been working hard on developing APIs to improve this and in Q2 will be going live with our Quote API. The next stop will be Firm Order.

Improving the user experience is where we are focussing 80% of our energy, delivering agreed platform updates throughout the year. The fact that process and functionality improvements are decided by market practitioners themselves means that they are relevant to the people who are using the platform every day. For example, in February of this year we released the new facility calculator functionality to make it easier for brokers to work out underwriter lines. Facilities now represent approximately 25% of all risks placed on the platform and this addition will save the broker time.

The very essence of a successful marketplace is that it is many-to-many, it delivers choice through critical mass. PPL has over 150 brokers and around the same number of underwriting firms on the platform, offering the widest possible selection of business partners and risk classes – all absolutely vital if you want real market choice for your electronic placements.

Liquidity and choice are the crucial success factors for any market – actual or electronic, and in four years PPL has achieved critical mass.  It is the key foundation stone for enabling the efficient digital placement of complex risks. The focus for everyone now should be on getting all the information in properly at the very beginning of the process, so the entire market can benefit from better data throughput at every stage of the value chain. Collaboration is – as always, key. The key to ongoing progress will be the market continuing to work as a team, with the participation of all the market firms, both brokers and underwriters.

These are extraordinary and tragic times. There is no doubt that while the onset of the pandemic was frighteningly fast, the economic consequences will be with us all for a long time – and returning to ‘normal’ will be slow and many things may have changed forever. As we work towards new ways of working, unbundling the parts that can be done remotely and those where human interaction is imperative will be critical. It is still too early to understand definitively what will change – but open and active debate will be a vital part of finding out.

This article for appeared in Insurance Day on the 26th April  –