The chance to make a real difference

By Chris Hanks

CII's president says the time has come to re-establish insurance as a credible profession with the right standards, principles and ethics

For years, many in insurance have bemoaned the lack of credibility and respect that the industry has compared to professions such as law or architecture. We have talked about raising standards only to shoot ourselves in the foot with another self-inflicted scandal or mis-selling.

The commoditisation of our products, dumbing-down of service, neglect of training needs and the loss of talented individuals to restructuring or early retirement are wounds that need to be healed. As a result, ours in as industry that does not have the level of respect or confidence from the public that it should reasonably expect.

The financial crisis, regulatory change and reputational damage to other sectors have given us the opportunity to take the centre ground and shape the future of our industry.

That is why the Aldermanbury Declaration is so important. It provides a commitment to a common framework for professional standards which we hope will create a virtuous circle of a more professional business and better outcomes for customers, resulting in improved public trust and confidence.

This is, in my view, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to re-establish insurance as a credible profession, with the right standards, principles and ethics, so that it is able to attract more talented people to pursue a career.

Regaining public confidence will require all of us to do things differently – something that the present leaders in our businesses are grasping. In my year as CII president, my responsibility is to ensure that these leaders understand the values of the declaration and that it becomes embedded in all parts of the industry.

A key element is the declaration’s focus on training and development. We cannot underestimate its importance in underpinning career development. We need to provide access to the right opportunities in order to develop the business leaders of tomorrow. We should always be asking: where are our future leaders coming from? Are we giving them the right training? And how are we developing their knowledge and skills?

Having led the initial talent taskforce for the CII, developing people has been of special interest to me. Indeed, the underwriting academy we established at Allianz in 2002 has been a great foundation for me.

In the last couple of years, we have begun to see the fruits of our commitment in our financial results. Despite the initial hurdles, prejudice and cost, more than half of our underwriting staff are ACII-qualified: I believe that same shift in attitudes is needed across our industry if we are to raise our public standing and reputation.

At the very heart of the CII is our support for skills development in the insurance and financial services sector. We recently published a report, Investing in Tomorrow’s Skills Today, which emphasises the importance of investing in skills through an economic downturn. It calls on the government to take on a new approach to the development of skills to ensure Britain remains competitive.

There is always the temptation to cut back on skills-related spending but employers and professional bodies such as the CII can help enormously. It is a question of making what money there is work smarter and harder to deliver economically valuable skills.

The new era for the British economy provides a new opportunity for insurance to embrace long-term investments and change rather than short-terms gains. Only by embedding a culture of professionalism, and all that this encompasses, will we attain the reputation the industry truly deserves. IT

Chris Hanks is general manager of Allianz Commercial and president of the CII

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