Anything we can do to get positive news across will help improve our standing with consumers, and professional qualifications will help, says Rick Hudson

This year's CII conference was a lively affair. An impassioned debate between the institute's director general, Sandy Scott, and Mick McAteer from the Consumers' Association on the extent to which the industry deserves the respect and trust of its customers marked the climax of the event.

McAteer may have been in the lion's den, but he didn't pull his punches. He said that the industry must engage with the consumer lobby - if not there would be no compromise and the industry would be shown no mercy.

The reflex response of those within the industry, on hearing such a challenge, might be to form the wagons into a circle and fight to the death.

But that wouldn't be much of a long term strategy, would it? McAteer delivered a timely warning: if we don't find a way past the antagonism and enter into constructive debate, we will be the losers.

This is where Sandy Scott came into his own. He reminded the conference that the much-maligned life and pensions industry pays out £260m a day - more than twice what the government pays out in state pensions. The general insurance industry pays over £40m in claims every day.

These are things of which we should be proud - and we should not be frightened to trumpet our achievements.

We are not averse to justified criticism, but it is only right that we have a fair crack of the whip. Anything we can do to get this positive news across will help improve our standing with consumers.

It's really not an option. The FSA, under John Tiner's new management, is also concentrating on fairness to the consumer during 2003-04. While this may be focused on the long-term sector, we should be equally aware of the implications for us.

Ah yes, you say - but when will we ever see positive coverage of the industry in the consumer press?

Admittedly, it will be a long, slow battle to turn around the supertanker of negative sentiment that exists among opinion-formers. But we have to try.

And we can take direct action to impress consumers by working to raise standards of professionalism and competence throughout the industry. That means acquiring qualifications and committing to a programme of continuing professional development.

We will never top popular lists of favourite brands. We work in a nitty-gritty business that precludes such accolades. But there is no reason why we should not be given professional respect.

  • Rick Hudson is CII president
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