The economic downturn has hit general insurers hard, forcing them to invest in new technology to save costs and to improve services. Swiss-based insurer Winterthur Insurance group, through its IT subsidiary Winconsult, has introduced a new software system - Automated Work Distributor (AWD) - to cut costs and improve competitiveness. Manfred Richrath, managing director of Winconsult (Asia Pacific), said the general insurance industry was having a tough time amid the downturn, and he forecast business would decline this year. 'The market competition is so keen and the profit margins are thin. I believe everyone in the industry will need to seek ways to survive,' he said. Winterthur offers life and general insurance business in Hong Kong, and its general insurance arm ranks in the top-five in Hong Kong. Mr Richrath said Winterthur had chosen to invest in new technology to boost competitiveness and was the first general insurer to introduce such a system, which he said would increase working capacity by 30 per cent. The AWD system distributes work and documents between departments, allowing the insurer to minimise the processing steps, reduce errors and give better information and back-up systems to serve clients. The insurer has just completed a pilot scheme of the AWD system and will expand it to all departments in its Hong Kong office. Mr Richrath said the system would probably be expanded to other Asian operations. Asia Pacific contributed up to 1.72 billion Swiss francs (about HK$8.91 billion) of the group's revenue for the year to last December.