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Risk managers are logging on to the Internet in greater numbers, and many have plans to upgrade or buy risk management information systems soon, according to a recent survey conducted by Liberty Mutual Group.

The survey of more than 125 risk managers also indicated that their top technology priority in 1997 was developing and maintaining their RMIS. A close second was upgrading computer hardware and training to support new equipment.

On non-technology issues, risk managers listed development of a strategic approach to risk management at the top of their priority list for the year. Building an effective infrastructure of internal risk management departments was number two on that list.

The survey showed that "82% of risk managers have access to the Internet today and that number has continued to increase" as indicated by past surveys, said John F. Ryan, Liberty Mutual's vp of commercial marketing. He unveiled the survey results at the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. conference.

Mr. Ryan pointed out that "over a third of them have access both at work and home. It's not unusual to talk to someone who will say, 'You can e-mail me at home or you can e-mail me at the office.'"

The survey indicated that 34% of risk managers with Internet access spend one to three hours online per week for job-related tasks, while 14% use it for three to five hours. Fifteen percent are heavy users, using the Internet five or more hours per week, and the remaining 37% are logged on less than one hour.

Risk managers are using the Internet primarily to gather work-related information and use e-mail, according to the survey.

The findings also showed that a growing number of risk managers are finding they can order goods and services on the Internet. Twenty-seven percent of the respondents indicated they go online for that reason, compared with 13% that listed that reason when the insurer surveyed risk managers at its Liberty Mutual Risk Management Forum last fall.

When asked what future services were likely to be available on the Internet, 60% of the respondents agreed that the day would come when they would be able to conduct claims reviews electronically, and 59% said it was likely they would be able to hold video conferences with their insurer that way.

The Internet in the future will become their primary business communications tool, according to 48% of the respondents, and 43% said they believe they will be able to renew insurance programs online.

Only 18% said they thought they would one day be able to purchase commercial property/casualty insurance over the Internet, and 12% thought it likely reinsurance could be bought in that fashion.

The survey indicated that 43% of risk managers will be developing a new RMIS this year, with most of those buying a packaged system rather than developing their own. Another 19% will be upgrading an existing RMIS.

Risk managers listed the most important qualities of an RMIS as ease of use, fast response time, accuracy, flexibility in report generation and graphics and the ability to consolidate risk information from different sources.

Copies of the survey are available by contacting John F. Ryan, vp of commercial marketing at Liberty Mutual Group, 175 Berkeley St., Sixth Floor, Boston, Mass. 02117; or by e-mail at msmail.ryanj3@tsod.lmig. com.