Public perception of behaviour and ethical conduct has never been more prominent in the public mind than now, and this focus has been sharpened by the new regulatory attention on personal responsibility. The CII has played a prominent part in supporting members with ethical support and content -- this article looks at what's new and showcases some of the material available
Do you recall those occasions when you felt under pressure to do something you did not think was right? Or when you saw someone accept a gift from a supplier that seemed a bit over the top? Do you recognise situations like these? They do happen and it is likely that most of us will come across something like them during our career. So what do you do? It is easy to turn a blind eye but that does not make them go away or stop them occurring again.
Think of it another way: what is it that you are expected to do in such circumstances? It is probably not the first time you asked yourself that question. Yet, what is important to remember this time round is that the answer needs to change. Insurance is entering a new era of personal responsibility and it is going to change how we gauge ourselves as insurance professionals.
Nearly all of us work in a corporate environment and a lot of what we do at work, and how we do it, is guided by what the firm requires of us. At the same time though, it is individuals who make decisions, who weigh up options and who question a colleague's behaviour. So responsibility for ethics in a work environment has both a personal and corporate dimension, working in parallel, each feeding into the other.
For several years, a lot of attention has been focused on the ethical responsibilities of firms, particularly in financial services. The spotlight is now widening, to encompass how well individuals are performing when it comes to 'doing the right thing'.
In one sense, there is nothing new about this. The Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) has always had a code of ethics, which members must adhere to. And the regulator has always had integrity at the top of its list for how people in regulated firms should behave. So what is bringing about this new era of personal responsibility?
It is happening because the public is becoming less willing to accept reassurances to 'just trust us -- we're good people'. We may know insurance is full of good people but surveys confirm that the public is not so trusting of insurance firms.
So why is trust so low? Clearly, members of the public are experiencing outcomes from their insurance that raise questions about their providers. And they are sharing those experiences, so the reputational impact is now much wider. And while the public's understanding of insurance is certainly a factor, it is far from being the only one. Insurance may be full of good people but some of those good people are not always making good choices.
We all make mistakes from time to time and learning from them is part of how we develop as individuals. However, the public wants to feel that insurance is trying to do better, trying to learn from those mistakes, trying to 'do the right thing' more often.
Clearly, the recent financial crisis has had a part to play in this. No one wants to go through that again. The mood is of business needing to do better and to show that it is doing better. And the public sees this in terms that are both ethical and practical. Customers of financial services see good customer service in terms of 'doing what they said they would do'.
That means honesty.
Helping people make better choices
Putting ethics into practice can seem like a challenge at times. We have a sense of ourselves as good people but not all of us can point to those things in our work that are important in ethical terms. And let's be honest, gauging what is 'the right thing to do' is not always easy. When it is clear, it can then be tricky to decide what exactly to do to make sure it happens. Insurance people are just as exposed to such dilemmas as other business people; perhaps even more so, given the particular nature of the products and services we offer.
Helping people to make better choices, to give voice to what they think is right, to set a good example to others in their firm, has been behind a lot of the ethics resources that the CII has been producing in recent years. The CII has always had a code of ethics but now it is accompanied by a detailed guide on how to put it into practice. There is a free online ethics course, tailored to the particular needs of insurance people. And a range of ethical guidance papers have been produced, exploring wider ethical themes such as culture and whistleblowing in an insurance context. Ethics also features in a number of the qualification syllabuses.
These resources help you demonstrate not just that you are knowledgeable and experienced in insurance, but that you understand that other vital leg upon which all professionalism stands -- ethics.
The vanguard of higher ethical standards
Ethics have also been a key component of the CII's Chartered initiative. More than 22,000 members now hold Chartered status and they represent the vanguard of higher ethical standards across the insurance sector. It should be Chartered members who set the right example, who are the person colleagues turn to for advice, the person who can explain what 'doing the right thing' means.
Being Chartered means being trustworthy. And to make sure that Chartered members are able to do 'what it says on their tin', the CII is looking at how Chartered members equip themselves with the knowledge and skills to 'do the right thing'. With the insurance sector facing so many changes, the need for the ethical leadership that Chartered members can provide has probably never been greater.
You may be thinking that 'doing the right thing' is something you are already familiar with and be wondering what more you can learn. And that may well be the case, which is great, but remember that times are changing. When it comes to ethics and trust, something more palpable, more certain, is needed now. After all, you may know you are an ethical person but you are going to have to be able to demonstrate you have that knowledge and skills, to prove you are able to tackle those tricky insurance decisions.
And the same holds true for Chartered firms: being able to deliver on the expectations associated with the title. Clients are relying on ethical behaviours being hard-wired into how their people think and work; not just a printout of an ethics code left in a desk drawer. Our ethics toolkit helps Chartered firms focus on the key steps to bring this about.
The CII is not the only one thinking in this way. The regulator has emphasised personal responsibility and the evidencing of ethical capabilities within its Senior Insurance Managers Regime. The introduction of certification in a few years time will only emphasise this even more.
All this is good for the insurance profession. And we will all learn something along the way; something that help us make a better decision next time round, steer a colleague to a better decision, answer that demanding customer who wants more reassurance that we do 'exactly what it says on the Chartered tin'.
Ethical toolkit for Chartered firms
As part of the support structure for Chartered firms, the Chartered Insurance Institute has provided a free ethical toolkit designed for firms to test and develop their people covered by Chartered membership. This helps support the ambition of chartered firms to aspire to higher standards across the sector.
Did you know?
The Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) has a free online ethics course open to use by all members. See CII website. We are undertaking a review of exam content to ensure culture and ethics are included in the relevant section.
Practical guide: There is a free practical guide, which provides support and case studies on all five of the CII ethics duties. Both CII and Personal Finance Society versions are available on the website.
Local Institutes: The CII regional managers are undertaking presentations. Contact your local RMM.
Ethical guidance series
The CII has been developing a series of ethical guidance documents for use by members and their firms.
Building a culture of integrity: www.cii.co.uk/27326
A practical guide for small firms: www.cii.co.uk/39598
Speaking up -- a guide to whistleblowing: www.cii.co.uk/31018
Changing the story: www.cii.co.uk/32573
The latest addition is:
Developing a culture of personal responsibility in a regulated environment: www.cii.co.uk/39598
This guide is a must for those trying to navigate the new Financial Conduct Authority Senior Managers regimes, including the Senior Insurance Managers Regime in particular and how this plays into a new focus on individual responsibility.
Coming soonom the Top; and marketing and ethics. There is also a host of thought leadership content on the CII Knowledge section of the website.