No substitute for the personal touch

IBM launched the first personal computer 25 years ago this month. At a cost of $1,565 per computer, sales were predicted to be 250,000 within five years - in fact, four years later, one million had been sold.

Since then our appetite for technology has gone from strength to strength and we are all desperate for the fastest and most user friendly advances.

The launch of the PC changed our lives, as have the technologies that followed – for example, the internet and the BlackBerry. We can research anything we want to buy online before making a commitment and can check blogs for products that haven’t lived up to the hype.

Brands can be launched, reputations torn to shreds and pop songs reach number one all via a small box with a screen. But what computers can’t do – and it is imperative we remember this when advising on and selling protection products – is replace the reassurance a customer gets from face-to-face or verbal contact with a financial adviser.

With the internet and email we can communicate with the other side of the world in an instant. How many personal letters do you get every week, filling you in on news from family and friends? And how much of your business do you transact via fax? Your dealings with clients and providers are likely to revolve around the computer, whether it’s to write letters, send emails or process applications. Anything can be bought at the click of a button and, love it or hate it, people can also buy their insurance online.

The amount of broker business transacted online is likely to rise as we become more comfortable with it. But although computing has revolutionised our business we can’t rely on it as the answer to everything, particularly when it comes to clarity and the customer’s need for trust and reassurance.

Non-disclosure is a big problem for the protection industry and although the use of online systems to submit business increases levels of disclosure, it can’t do it alone. People must take responsibility for the information they provide online. A computer can only work with the information it’s given.

Although the evolution of technology has been a positive thing we shouldn’t underestimate the power of face-to-face communication. A computer or an email can’t compete with the reassurance a phone call or a meeting can bring when discussing the need for a protection policy.

The thing is to get the balance right. We must accept that computers are the way forward and use them in the most appropriate way for our customers and our own businesses, but also to recognise their limitations. There’s no substitute for the personal touch.