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Professional Perspective

Adapted from Lord Hunt's speech on professionalism in the insurance industry

Adapted from Lord Hunt’s speech on professionalism in the insurance industry

It was over a year ago that I was asked to speak about the work we (myself and the Chartered Insurance Institute–the CII) had initiated on ethics and the importance of ethical standards to the framework of professionalism.

To this day, I believe there still remains–and should remain–a significant role for individual professionalism in order to make a difference and this begins with the customer.

Faced with the onslaught of a deep recession, the public needs reassurance more than ever, and familiar challenges are still just as important.

This includes: advice on planning long-term savings and solid pension plans, ensuring families are properly protected and insured, and balancing risk against return.

As such, many challenges hit our industry particularly hard, including financial instability, the global credit crunch, climate change, terrorism, indebtedness, and the emergence of the digital era in the way insurance is transacted.

In fact, every part of our profession, from general insurance to life and financial advice–has faced a difficult time during the past decade in terms of public trust and esteem.

This is why we, as brokers, need to rise to the occasion, demystifying our work and winning the confidence of the customer while remaining professional at all times. One idea might be to join a professional body, which follows a tried and true method.

As a rule, professional bodies have certain distinctive features.

They should be independent and promote the public interest, and maintain excellence in the quality of services provided by their members to customers and clients.

More broadly, professional bodies should seek to do this by setting standards of entry to the profession and by ensuring that professional practice puts customers first.

Professional bodies also should set the qualifications and conditions for entry to a profession in the form of examinations that are not easy to pass and require an initial lengthy period of study.

They set and continuously monitor the training and qualification requirements of professions, practice standards and issue practice guidance, and should have a Professional Standards Board or equivalent. Through this, they can set ethical and conduct requirements.

Also, professional bodies should ensure that members maintain a high degree of competence and expertise via CPD (continuing professional development) and can provide evidence of it, monitor the service provided by members to deal with areas of risk and to assure quality, and handle complaints and take disciplinary action.

Above all, membership of a professional body represents a declaration to the public that the advice given by an individual or firm is of the highest quality, based solely on the needs of the customer, provided by someone not exceeding their level of competence, governed by a code of ethics, and will be monitored, with appropriate disciplinary sanctions being applied to those who transgress.

That is what the public expects and, I suspect, what a good professional should demand of his or her professional body.

In doing all this, a professional body has a clear purpose: To guide the profession in the public interest.

In the coming months we can expect our industry and profession to face a tough time, both in terms of the economic climate as well as possible attacks on public trust. This is why maintaining a high standard of professionalism is so important in periods when there is fragile public trust and confidence.

Lord Hunt of Wirral is past president of the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII), a professional organization for those in the insurance and financial services industry, which is based in London, UK.

© Copyright 2010 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the May 2010 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.

Transcontinental Media G.P.