When asked at a dinner party what do you do, don't mumble a lie, be proud to say you are in insurance. It's time we circulated our own positive press, says Andy Homer
Early in my career, bored by questions at parties about what I did for a living and the subsequent barrage of complaints about motor insurance premiums, I began to tell people that I was a gynaecologist. As you might imagine most men did not want to take the conversation further.
However, I had my come-uppance at one party, when a woman cornered me in the kitchen and began to seek my expert opinion - I fled with my vol-au-vent before she called the authorities to arrest me for impersonating a doctor. After that experience I changed my story to "used car salesman" - a much better way of bringing silence to a dinner table.
Today, I merely tell the truth and I'm proud to say that I work in the insurance business and that I am a chartered insurer. In fact I do my best to tell A-level students and undergraduates that our profession is exciting and interesting - because it is. The closer you get to the customer, the more interesting it becomes (something I have found out recently with a career switch into broking).
But it is a tough job getting graduates to believe ours is a profession worthy of more then a minute's attention. Being a doctor (the hours and the pay are lousy) or a lawyer (yawn, yawn) or an actuary seems sexier. I can't believe I wrote that.
You see, we don't speak about our profession as being involved in the major construction projects in the UK; designing solutions to provide protection against terrorist attack on our economy; investing billions in the stock market; determining compensation claims for victims of crime or industrial accidents.
Rather, the vocabulary we use to describe our business is arcane and a barrier to understanding. We talk about product features rather than customer benefits. Our reputation is based upon the few claims that are paraded on BBC Watchdog rather than the thousands of claims that are paid daily, and within days of notification. We sometimes make a drama out of a crisis. And when we meet at conferences we engage in ritual industry bashing. Come to think of it, is this article industry bashing in itself?
OK, what to do?
First, if you are involved in claims work, tell stories every time you can about when you got it right - the car replaced, the holiday saved, the home restored.
If you are involved in underwriting, speak about the businesses you are helping to grow and which create jobs. If you are involved in broking, describe the way you helped a customer to stop pouring money down the drain by giving loss prevention advice.
Tell real stories about real life and how insurance helps to oil the wheels of the economy.
Proclaim high standards of professional integrity - support competency and qualifications and chartered status. Make it clear we have no room in our profession for liars, cheats and forgers.
I have a dream that every broker currently under the age of 30 will be a chartered insurance broker within a decade. Just a dream - but what better way of expressing your personal commitment to a marvellous profession.
And for brokers over the age of 30? There's no reason why they shouldn't rekindle their interest in examinations either. Too many of us think that we can give up on professional education because we are too old. Not so. Indeed proving professional competence will be necessary for all of us, qualification or no qualification.
So, the next time you are at a party you could try the used car salesman defence, but better still come out of the closet and let then know the truth about what we really do.
And if you don't go to many parties? Get out more.