The concept of forming industry consortiums is older than most carriers' legacy systems. Typically, technology consortiums form when companies that are dissatisfied with the IT options that are available to them-and the lack of association muscle to change the status quo-come together to share ideas and to shake up the market.Although consortiums usually form under the umbrella of a unifying theme, they unfortunately can be torn apart by bitter infighting. My favorite example of this is the Integrion Financial Network, a consortium of 16 major North American banks and IBM Corp. which formed in 1996 to develop the technology backbone to support online banking. The banks invested a reported $4 million each for ownership in this for-profit company.

At that time, banks believed their fledgling online banking programs were in danger of being controlled by technology companies, specifically bank processors and software companies such as Microsoft Corp. and Intuit Inc. The Integrion banks partnered with IBM to develop a platform that all members could use to support online banking transactions, bringing huge volume that could save each bank substantial processing fees, they believed.

However, the consortium became bogged down by its inability to deliver the technology quickly to its members-and reported disagreements among its membership on setting priorities. Eighteen months after it formed, only two banks were "live" on the Integrion platform. After limping along for several years, the remaining three banks pulled the plug on Integrion in February 2000.

I'm reminded of the Integrion experience with the creation of the Toronto-based Insurance Technology Group (see "New IT Advisory Group Targets P&C Insurers," page 5). ITG's agenda is much different than Integrion's, but the group will only be successful in providing its members with useful research and information if it encourages its carrier members to speak openly about how their technology is supporting their business goals.

Carriers historically have been very reluctant to tell us about their IT initiatives for fear that their competitors will use that information to gain a competitive advantage. My bet is that they'll be even more reluctant to speak when the competition is sitting across the table from them. Nevertheless, carriers should investigate what ITG has to offer, because the only way to learn-and to succeed-is by sharing information on what works and what doesn't.

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