Steve Wellard explains why the CII is the most relevant insurance industry body around

A market that is undergoing fundamental change needs strong leadership and a fixed reference point delivering objective standards for both technical guidance and ethical expectations. It also needs an independent body that addresses the issues of the day and devises innovative and relevant solutions.

In the insurance market, this role is increasingly being filled by the CII, which has been at the heart of the industry for over 100 years.

The CII's role extends way beyond exams - though its market-standard qualifications are the acknowledged benchmark of knowledge and application. And it has given itself a key role in industry ethics.

The organisation is shortly to embark on a series of roadshows chaired by Lord Hunt of Wirral to bring issues relating to the FSA's 'treating customers fairly' (TCF) initiative, professionalism, integrity, ethics and conflicts of interest further into the spotlight.

But one of the CII's major achievements over the past year has been the launch of faculties dedicated to providing members with a specific market focus. The Faculty of Claims (created in conjunction with Cila), the Faculty of Insurance Broking and the London Market Faculty have all quickly established themselves as centres of excellence for their respective communities. Such has been their success that plans are well advanced to launch a Faculty for Underwriting and Risk and a Faculty for Life and Pensions in 2006.

Supporting the individual is the cornerstone on which the CII operates and one clear measure of its success is its increase in membership. In 2002 it had 66,400 members; today the figure is above 83,000 and rising.

There has also been a steep increase in the number of students sitting CII exams and the CII, working with the market, continues to improve the relevance of its qualification offering.

It is worth remembering that CII membership designations can be gained only by qualification - they have to be earned and are therefore recognised and respected across the market, and much prized by members.

The CII is also an international organisation helping to raise standards and improve professionalism around the world. It has healthy representation in over 100 countries and in the past year has created strong alliances with like-minded bodies in Singapore and Dubai.

Range of partnerships

In the UK the CII has developed its 'by the market, for the market' philosophy via a range of partnerships with leading organisations such as Biba, the IIB, Lloyd's and Cila, with which it co-hosts the annual UK Insurance and Financial Services Conference.

It has also forged an alliance with the highly-respected Cass Business School in London to devise an MSc in insurance and risk. This qualification is in response to calls from the market to boost technical knowledge and thought-leadership at the most senior levels.

In another move to meet the needs of companies and students, in January 2006 the CII, in conjunction with City & Guilds, will be offering a wide range of its examinations online, further extending the reach and impact of its educational offering.

In addition to the exams themselves, the CII is also helping the industry meet the challenge of maintaining competence through its online ed Assess facility.

Assessment options

This allows individuals to continue to develop by gaining new knowledge, while in-built assessment options and supporting management tools allow employers to identify gaps and manage training.

Importantly it enables employers to demonstrate their regulatory compliance, commitment to training and competence. The broker Assess element, developed by the CII in conjunction with Biba, has proved of particular relevance given the onset of statutory regulation at the beginning of 2004.

The institute is also reflecting the regulatory imperative with the overhaul and relaunch of its continuing professional development scheme to further assist members to embed professional standards. It is working to define a job competency framework to help raise standards further.

It is in this area - helping the market to create an acknowledged insurance profession on a par with accountancy and the law in terms of public, peer and official respect - that the CII is continuing to make great strides.

In 2004 it unveiled its Code of Ethics and Conduct, to which members automatically subscribe. This articulates the values and aspirations of professional practitioners and shows customers what to expect from their dealings with CII members.

The code is of particular relevance given the arrival of the FSA's TCF initiative. By subscribing to the code, CII members give themselves a route map to compliance with TCF.

The CII's presence in the life market was notably increased in 2005 when the Society of Financial Advisers, a CII body, merged with the Life Insurance Association to create the Personal Finance Society.

With 25,000 members, this is the leading professional body for its sector.

The CII has also overseen the recent launch of the Society of Mortgage Professionals.

Pan-market role

The CII has always been proud of its composite nature, reflecting the wide range of disciplines and markets served by insurance and financial services organisations.

External commentators and customers often don't distinguish between the various elements of the industry in the same way as those within it, making the CII's pan-market role even more valuable.

Indeed, it is the CII's breadth of experience and depth of talent which gives it such powerful foundations.

It offers exams and services relevant to everyone in the industry, whatever their job specification and seniority level. It offers career-long support, reflecting market developments and spearheading fresh initiatives.

Many challenges lie ahead for the insurance market in terms of regulation and the need to develop products that meet the needs of customers in a risk-laden and uncertain world.

But it will be able to look forward with confidence if it enjoys a solid base of technical excellence and uncompromising professionalism such as that offered by the CII.

- Steve Wellard is marketing director of the CII.