The UK media is currently awash with advertising slogans from direct commercial insurance companies targeting small business owners in an attempt to make them switch their provider of business insurance.
‘Get 12 months cover for the price of ten’ and ‘You won’t find us on price comparison websites’ are typical of the slogans emanating from these companies, in a language more akin to the selling of car insurance than the traditional professional and almost stoic approach to the selling of business insurance cover.
In the current recession, price has become the determining factor in winning the war of market share for all goods and services and insurance is no exception. Prudent small businessmen and women are looking to cut costs in all areas of their business and the large direct insurance companies are well aware of this.
The large insurers are also aware that the UK market has over five million small businesses of which a fifth are sole traders, self-employed and people working from home, many of whom are familiar with purchasing their personal insurance direct with the provider, either by phone or on the Internet.
There are three types of provider in the current market for business insurance in the UK.
Intermediaries such as insurance brokers and agents, price comparison sites and direct commercial and business insurers.
Each has their own advantage and disadvantages, however whether one distribution channel is cheaper than another is often a subjective view from a particular trade, or dependent upon factors many of which cannot be quantified in price.
Direct Insurance companies claim to be able to offer cheaper polices because the cut out the costs of the middleman. It is certainly true that direct insurers do not have to pay an intermediary for the cost of the lead or introduction, however it is questionable whether this cost saving is actually reflected in the prices offered to the public.
Certainly there are economies of scale to be made by centralising the life-cycle of a policy from sales point to claim and renewal, however all those functions that are performed by an intermediary still have to be carried out in-house by the direct company and these have a cost.
Many large composite insurers often have distinct direct divisions with their own target market and premium rates. The same company may also have a broker or intermediary division or channel.
It is quite often the case that a large broker with a large book of business of, for example, small builders liability, will receive much more preferential rates then the same companies direct channel, because that insurance company wishes to retain that brokers clients.
Commercial Insurance brokers then are often able to offer preferential rates because they have more flexible schemes and arrangements than the direct channel.
One of the main benefits of using an insurance broker or intermediary in purchasing commercial insurance for small business, cannot be quantified in price and is worth the commission or fee that they may charge. That is advice, market and product information and knowledge, access to various markets such as Lloyds and some human help if the worst happens to a business and a claim is needed.
A commercial or business insurance broker is often able to negotiate far better claims settlements than if an individual were to deal direct with the insurer. The main reason for this is once again the insurer wishes to retain that brokers share of the total risk pool and will often pay out to a broker on an ex-gratia basis. This cost of this service is not quantifiable at the quote stage where small business cover may well just be valued for the price paid or the covers bought.
The third major way in which small business owners can purchase cover is by visiting a price comparison website. All the major UK comparison sites have recently begun to offer online cover aimed particularly at the small business sector, with under 50 employees. This is in direct competition with the direct insurers for television and media advertising space, aimed in particular at self-employed tradesmen and women who require business liability insurance and perhaps commercial van cover.
The comparison price proposition is that they can compare the market or at least a small section of it, to find the cheapest business insurance. They often do not provide any assistance in the purchasing decision-making process and the reality often is, that the cheapest commercial and small business insurance can be found in one of the other distribution channels.
It is therefore important that a small businessman shops around and takes some time to compare offerings including premiums, covers and services from all three sales channels. Prices tend to vary immensely by trade across the direct, broker and comparison markets and often it is a case of finding the provider or supplier who is the industry leader for a particular business type or trade in order to make large savings.