The CII’s code of ethics is more than a self-regulatory measure for members; it’s also a public guarantee of propriety
The alleged actions of a broker from Hertfordshire have done nothing for the reputation of a sector already under scrutiny.
When Mark Hazelwood failed to pass on £400,000 of insurance premiums to insurers – leaving hundreds of doctors’ surgeries without vital liability cover for their locum staff – he also left an image problem for the thousands of honest brokers left in the market.
While it’s understandable that a story of fraud captures the attention of the national media, including the dubious accolade of joining the Daily Mirror’s “Most Wanted” online rogues’ gallery, it only delivers another message to the public that those working in financial services can’t be trusted.
The FSA has acted swiftly to ban Hazelwood from operating further, though the decision whether to prosecute him lies with the police.
But while the regulator’s crackdown on errant brokers and financial advisers continues, including the recent letter to chief executives concerning the handling of clients’ money and assets, what should the industry itself be doing to clean up its act? And why does it matter?
The CII’s revised code of ethics, not yet a year old, provides a framework that our members should follow.
The fact that Hazelwood was not an institute member should not have precluded him from meeting the professional standards that many others manage to meet every day.
Sadly, the reality is that the best in the profession will be judged by the actions of the most errant.
Complying with regulations, acting with integrity and in the best interest of clients, providing a high level of service and treating people fairly (in the broadest sense, not just in the regulatory sense) are the overarching aims of the code and are what the public is entitled to expect.
The code’s language is deliberately simple and straightforward, and the duties clear, so there should be no ambiguity about the professional standards that we believe the industry should not only aspire to, but reach.
But a code is a code; the key is promoting it and ensuring that people live by its principles.
It’s very much a personal responsibility for anyone involved in the financial services sector to behave impeccably with other people’s money, security and protection.
You are in a position of trust and responsibility, while the public – as recent examples have shown – can be vulnerable when it comes to advice on financial services.
That’s why we feel the code not only provides a self-regulating measure for our members, but a guarantee of propriety for the public. If our members are found guilty of misconduct, we have the disciplinary process in place to punish them.
The public will judge the profession by the way we handle our own transgressors, and they need to be assured that appropriate action will be taken.
That said, a quick overview of current online conversations – nowadays the first port of call for disgruntled customers – doesn’t reveal an avalanche of gripes with insurance brokers. From that I think we can take solace that there are only a few bad apples in the barrel.
But the adverse publicity that those few bad apples generate threatens to taint the good. It is up to us to ensure that the ethical approach takes hold and flourishes. IT