Katy Dowell reports on the CII's attempts to head off internal dissent over its proposed new governance structure
The CII is facing a rebellion from members over proposals to centralise its governance structure. Across the country CII members are concerned that regional hubs' financial budgets may be culled and that the CII's head office in London will dictate how the hubs operate.
The CII says it is not attempting to remove power from its regional bases; rather its moves are an effort to bring some professionalism to its hierarchy. But, with regional presidents keen to hold on to power and maintain local influence, could the CII be about to face its toughest internal fight to date?
In response to complaints about its governance structure the CII commissioned Lord Hunt of Wirral to find methods of revolutionising the institute's internal structure. Lord Hunt recommended that the CII strengthen accountability and increase membership engagement in an attempt to rejuvenate the CII's image as an old boys' club to a body capable of representing its 90,000 members in a skilled manner. But, as with the move from Labour to New Labour, change has provoked criticism.
There are grumbles in the regions that the CII is verging on becoming too London-centric - an accusation often aimed at Biba as well. "When he came to Glasgow, Peter Hales [current CII president] was gob-smacked by the amount of people who showed up to listen to him. There was a feeling that he had disregarded Scotland as an underprivileged relative of London," says one Scottish insurance source. "There is a feeling that CII strategy is driven from London, and doesn't take into account some very important regional buoyant markets."
Concerns have been raised that regional membership fees could be diverted towards London, and some regional groups could loose funding. "Could these institutes end up missing out on some funds?" asks one CII insider. "It is likely that money will be more carefully looked after, and that could mean that money goes elsewhere."
Unlike Biba and the ABI, the CII is not a lobbying body. Local power bases, although important, are not so important to its London governance structure as some would presume. The CII exists as a training and education establishment, existing to bring an element of professionalism to the industry. Brokers often speak about how, 30 years ago, no one could climb up the company structure without a CII qualification. But, they argue, somewhere along the way this has been lost.
But with corporate governance becoming increasingly important it is not surprising that the CII wants to be more careful with its cash. "[The governance reforms are] all about making sure every penny is tracked properly," says one leading broker. "We shouldn't be making a big thing about it. These things are necessary for a 21st-century business. Why do we need so many local institutes claiming expenses for first-class train tickets?"
Another CII member adds: "There are lots of people trying to get institute funding, but the proposed changes will mean they will no longer be able to get that money so easily. So they won't be able to claim back first-class train tickets to pointless meetings, for example."
Furthermore, although funds may be diverted through London, there will also be some re-investment into the regional committees, by way of professional support.
The CII says it will invest in the regional hubs by appointing business development managers who will aim to bring further professionalism to the committees. The intention is that this will help to boost the industry's image while also attracting young professionals to insurance.
Lee Gladwell, group sales and marketing director for the CII, says: "Our main office is in London, but local regions will still play a key role. We will still be a members organisation, but promoting professionalism."
Without professionalism, say sources, the insurance industry will become a sector void of fresh talent.
Those in favour of change believe they will have to become more prominent within the CII hierarchy. One source says: "Those who want change need to stand up and say so. They need to get involved with the CII. At the moment it is only the people who are in favour of the old boys' club that are participating. Scrap the dinner circuit and bring in fresh blood."
Grant Ellis, chief executive of Broker Network, agrees: "People who want to see some changes need to put up some time to help drive that change through."
Removing total power from local bases, say modernists, is "necessary". However, the traditionalists will, undoubtedly, fight back. The CII is to tour the UK in an attempt to persuade its members to support its proposals. Whether the traditionalists will be happy to do so is unclear.
There is no doubt that the CII has to progress, and that the industry needs to adapt to a 21st-century school of thought. However, its attempt to persuade sceptics to adopt a new CII may be tougher than some originally thought. IT
The CII is becoming too London-centric.
Regional committees could miss out on funding, which will be diverted to London.
The CII's professional qualifications are being watered down.
The CII's response
The CII is to extend its London committees with members from the regions invited to sit on the proposed new council.
The CII says it will invest in regional development managers. It will also more carefully track how money is being spent.
The CII is to ramp up its qualification standards, using regional managers to help local committee's attract young professionals to the industry.