These days, just as in politics, a week can be a long time in insurance. Anyone who has managed ten years in the top job of any insurance organisation deserves a medal, but what do you give David Bland?
Bland, who has said he will retire after ten years as director general of the Chartered Insurance Institute in December, has already been awarded an OBE, which he received in 1998.
An academic by background, Bland came to the CII in 1990. He studied the institute's syllabus, achieving not only associateship but fellowship. He has overseen that syllabus change twice – in 1992 and 1999 – reflecting the pace of change in the industry.
If anything showed the CII's readiness to adapt to change, and to meet challenges, it was the pensions mis-selling fiasco. The sudden regulation of the sector and the demands for a basic-level qualification that thousands of wannabe independent finance advisers needed to take, could have been seen as a mountain to climb – but Bland's CII saw it as an opportunity.
"The greatest achievement since I've been here has been the Financial Planning Certificate. From the summer of 1993 to July 1997, 100,000 people qualified as financial advisers. The industry changed from a trade to a profession. A lot of people said the CII couldn't possibly do that – but we did," he says.
The lesson is relevant to general insurance too. "The really depressing thing is that the industry has only gone as far as regulation insists. While the best employers, such as Michael Bright (Independent Insurance), insist on qualifications, most do not," he says.
Bland believes repealing the Insurance Brokers Registration Act could also undermine many brokers' standing.
"When the IBRA is repealed, the only way we can protect the words 'insurance broker' is by adding 'chartered' to them. I believe the institute will do it, but that will only apply to about 28% of the IBRC-registered brokers. What happens to those who have been called brokers under the act and have abided by a much tougher regime than the ABI code, but who will not be called brokers afterwards?"
The CII has worked closely with GISC and with the rival broker organisations of Biba and the IIB, but Bland is unhappy that proposals from any group will differentiate the professionalism that currently exists. "It is disappointing that there is no obvious way of dealing with it," he says.
There have been other disappointments too. The culling in the industry, particularly among insurers' regional offices, has knocked the stuffing out of the some CII regional institutes. Local institutes find it harder to have a full committee of volunteers, and the mix of people at meetings is more limited. "You still have the brokers and the loss adjusters, but you often have no company people," Bland says.
Membership has also suffered. The number of people losing their jobs, who see no prospect of working in the industry again but are too young to switch to retired membership, hasn't yet been quantified. But it will soon. "Very recently we've seen the membership hit by the very big mergers of companies and brokers," says Bland. "The people who haven't renewed their membership since September 1998 will be lapsed in April and we will lose a few thousand members. New members are arriving in financial services, but the drop in general insurance will outstrip that growth."
Outside the UK, prospects have never been brighter. The CII has been active in its traditional strongholds among the Commonwealth countries, but new opportunities have opened up in China, eastern Europe and the middle east. "The communist world has opened up," says Bland. His own textbook has been translated into many eastern European languages.
Overseas expansion has presented the CII with some interesting challenges. "We've had to get to understand the Muslim insurance market," says Bland. "They believe in the will of God, so if your house burns down it would be blasphemous to have insured against it."
Muslims believe in the strength of the community. The insurance industry has to be based on the mutual model so that communities have the finances to help the individual whose house burns down.
Bland hopes his skills in this field will be recognised in the commercial world. He intends to continue with his academic career once he retires from the CII but he is also looking to pick up some non-executive director positions within the insurance industry. Someone will surely snap him up.