As an industry we need to define an ethical highway code, Andy Homer says.

If your manager was dishonest would you leave, blow the whistle, gossip about him, or politely keep your head down?

If your employer was systematically - or perhaps, more likely, unsystematically - sailing close to the wind by, perhaps carrying out dodgy claims practices, predatory pricing techniques or cross subsidising customers, what would you say or do?

While few of us have to tackle such thorny issues, I suspect most readers of this article would take option 1 - quit.

However, recent history reveals dodgy practices in both underwriting and broking sectors of the general insurance market.

So, my question is this. What price the promotion and practice of ethical behaviour in our profession as the basic fabric of what we do and what we stand for?

While utmost good faith used to be a basic tenet, today in too many walks of life, this has become a lofty ambition, almost a concept rather than a principle.

The time has come when our professional bodies, and I include the CII at the forefront, have to promote ethical behaviour as a requirement to maintain chartered status and membership of our professional community.

Defining an ethical highway code and a method of maintaining and applying this code must have a priority. Without this our earnest desire for the public to trust our profession will be no more than a pipe-dream.

This is not to argue that we should not encourage innovation and risk taking - of course we should.

Sometimes the best endeavours of professionals won't be enough and there will be commercial consequences - just think back to the mortgage indemnity debacle of the late 1980s.

A balance has to be struck between conscientious risk taking, strong competition and reckless abandon. How many industry commentators believed that one general insurer's results in the 1990's were too good to be true? What happened as a consequence? Very little.

Currently , we hear about alleged forged documentation in circulation provided by seemingly respectable intermediaries. Yet another scandal seems to be brewing, and it looks to many that our industry never learns from its past mistakes.

Unless individuals take responsibility and professional bodies root out the few bad apples in the barrel, then we can forget the idea of a business in which the public have faith. If there are any members of professional institutes out there who believe that their organisation is behaving unethically, now is the time to speak out. Contact the secretary of your professional institute and let them know.

It's about time that we got our professional bodies to stand up to unethical conduct.

Andy Homer is CII president

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