As the world deals with the coronavirus pandemic, Sian Fisher tells Luke Holloway how the CII is adapting to help members and reflects on what the profession can learn from the crisis
The outbreak of the global Covid-19 pandemic has been unprecedented. When the UK government announced the nation must stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives, the CII was swift to ensure staff were safe and insurance and personal finance professionals were offered relevant guidance.
"We are not the profession, the profession is our members," says Sian Fisher, CEO of the CII. "They are the ones doing incredible work out in the market and helping customers at an especially difficult time. We can only help the public through our membership, so it is hugely important we keep that connection strong, whatever the circumstances."
In recent years, the professional body has been forward-thinking in its approach to agile working and modern flexible learning, which has proved vital given the current lockdown in the UK and across many countries where the CII operates.
"The main thing for our students is that this happened very close to one of our main exam sittings in April. We have exam centres all over the world, so we had to move fast to let members know that they could move to the October sitting, which the vast majority did," says Ms Fisher.
"We are also offering free digital study texts and revision aid updates to our personal finance students who are unable to sit their assessment before August. And throughout the ongoing situation, we will continue all coursework and assessment-based qualifications as planned."
What would be unforgivable would be if you navigated a crisis that causes huge disruption and problems for so many people and businesses, then you come out the other side of it and nothing has changed for the better
One key aspect of the CII's work is delivered through local institutes across the UK, affiliated institutes overseas and personal finance and insurance societies, which provide support, content and a touchpoint for members.
"Of course, these activities have been curtailed because of mass event cancellations," says Ms Fisher. "But it has been amazing to see the amount of content that has now been moved online, including our centralised continuing professional development (CPD) programme, podcasts, webinars, articles and blogs -- all rapidly deployed to keep members up to date with information and learning.
"Although we cannot replace the physical and social aspect of events, our institutes still remain a community," she says. "We have also switched our member publications such as The Journal to digital-only until at least the end of the second quarter of 2020."
Ongoing dialogue with regulators, trade bodies and the government has also been important during the pandemic.
"We are here to aggregate the voice of our members and to represent the sector. We are able to feed through information to regulators and government about the impact their actions have on professionals and the public they serve. We can offer feedback on how the regulator could do things differently or, if there are unintended consequences to regulation, we can voice that as quickly as possible.
"We hope this then helps those working in the sector to focus on serving their customers and providing value to clients," says Ms Fisher.
So, what lessons can insurers learn from the outbreak of coronavirus for the future?
"As a profession, we are not good enough at managing expectations," Ms Fisher explains. "We are usually well aware of the difference between unlimited, full cover and what is provided by normal products in return for a relatively low price.
"However, there is often a mismatch between customer expectation as to what their policy will cover and their willingness to pay the appropriate price for it. In the middle of that, as a profession, we can get caught in that expectation gap.
"Perception becomes reality. If we allow individuals and businesses to misinterpret what their insurance products are capable of delivering or expect every one of our customers to read lots of technical information to know exactly what is and is not covered, clearly that is not going to be a good thing," says Ms Fisher.
"Our profession has a purpose and somehow we have got to rebuild the concept of that purpose for insurance and financial services in society. We must then work out how our sector delivers that, while getting the public to appreciate and understand that again.
"What would be unforgivable would be if you navigated a crisis that caused huge disruption and problems for so many people and businesses, then you come out the other side of it and nothing has changed for the better," she adds.
Ms Fisher points to the work of Pool Re, a proposition put in place by insurers in partnership with the government as a response to the major potential threat of terrorism. The scheme was put together quickly and through vast collaboration, showing the extraordinary work that can be done when the profession comes together.
"We have a huge amount of knowledge as professionals about risk and building financial resilience. We must find the best way to deploy that knowledge to the benefit of the whole customer, putting them in the best position relative to their risk and circumstances," she says.
"I would also like to highlight the fantastic work done in response to the pandemic by organisations such as Insurance United Against Dementia and The Insurance Charities at a time when people are most vulnerable. I would encourage our members to support these wherever possible.
"As we pull together to overcome this, we need to build a holistic solution, so if anything similar were to happen again, as a profession we are ready."
Luke Holloway is editor of the CII