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NETWORKS AIM AT CUSTOMER SERVICE

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Organizers of two brokerage networks hope to put recent challenges behind them and fulfill the networks' potential to improve customer service in the coming year.

The World Insurance Network, an electronic network formed by the world's six largest brokers, and ExcelNet, a global network spearheaded by Acordia Inc. and Bain Hogg Group P.L.C., both debuted in late 1995 (BI, Sept. 11, 1995).

Since then, the networks have faced some stumbling blocks on the road to their goal of improving client services via quicker access to and delivery of information.

WIN, which initially expected to launch its electronic network during the second quarter of 1996, met with organizational challenges that have delayed its expected rollout.

ExcelNet was up and running smoothly until two of its partners were acquired in late 1996, forcing a search for a new partner in London and France.

WIN is owned equally by Alexander & Alexander Services Inc., Aon Corp., Johnson & Higgins, Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc., Sedgwick Group P.L.C. and Willis Corroon Group P.L.C.

The electronic network was formed to improve communi-cation among insurers and brokers, and thereby boost efficiency and productivity.

The network is open to other brokers and insurers to process claims and distribute non-proprietary data.

However, while it had expected to launch its electronic technology initiatives in 1996, it is now looking to do so in mid-1997.

"Basically, it took us longer to get the organizational structure of WIN established," said David Evans, co-chief executive officer of WIN in London. He insisted the delay was not due to the technology or competitors working closely.

Instead, it took months longer than expected to fill key positions, he said. In the beginning, WIN "was a consultant-supported organization with the brokers working as shareholder support. While we had the support of shareholders, most of the people had other jobs to do as well."

Since August, Mr. Evans, who is chief operating officer of Alexander Howden Group Ltd., and Richard Wales, director-group information technology for Sedgwick Group P.L.C., have shared the CEO position. They succeed Michael Heath, a former senior vp and managing director for NYNEX Network Systems Co. in Hong Kong, who was named WIN's president and CEO in March but resigned in August.

Dennis L. Mahoney, chairman and CEO of Alexander Howden Group, is WIN's chairman.

Since September, WIN has "progressed very rapidly," Mr. Evans said.

Indeed, the network's desktop computer software, called WINconnect, is in an advanced testing phase with the six broker owners and six leading insurers, said Mr. Evans, who declined to name the insurers. The testing phase is expected to be complete by the end of March.

WINconnect offers users an array of applications, including: secure electronic mail; a global directory of WIN members and other insurance industry players; and access to online services such as Internet sites and bulletin boards.

While Mr. Evans said Aon's recent purchase of A&A has had no effect on WIN, acquisitions have shaken up ExcelNet. One of ExcelNet's largest partners, Bain Hogg, was acquired by Aon last October. In addition, M&M last week bought Aon's 40% interest in Paris-based CECAR, another member of ExcelNet. Aon acquired the stake as part of its deal to buy Bain Hogg from Inchcape P.L.C.

ExcelNet expects to announce a new partner, replacing Bain Hogg and CECAR, in the first quarter, said Kevin Conboy, president and CEO of Acordia Northeast in Morristown, N.J., and a member of ExcelNet's operations committee.

Formed in September 1995, ExcelNet is a network of six brokers linked through a proprietary risk management information system that lets them give clients data on their international risk, insurance and claims positions at any time. Members also have a reciprocal relationship, placing coverage and servicing multinational clients on each other's behalf, which is facilitated by the information system.

Founding members of ExcelNet are Acordia Inc. of Indianapolis, Dale-Parizeau Inc. of Montreal and Bain Hogg of London. In addition to CECAR, members also include several other brokerages affiliated with London-based Inchcape-Inchcape Insurance Services of Hong Kong, and Boels & Begault of Brussels, Belgium.

With a new parent in Aon and a new affiliation in M&M, neither Bain Hogg nor CECAR need ExcelNet's resources. In fact, Bain Hogg's former chairman and CEO, Ron Forrest, represents Aon on WIN's board.

While a reciprocal arrangement still exists with Bain Hogg and CECAR, Mr. Conboy said it will not continue.

He said the prospective partner has operations in London and France and effectively would replace both Bain Hogg and CECAR.

"The partner we're talking to is very supportive of the (risk management information) system, and once the announcement is made, we'll continue to install the system on a global basis."