Lord Hunt discusses what it will entail for the insurance industry to become the insurance profession

' We see and hear the word "professional" bandied about a great deal, but what does it mean? Is it possible to define what professionalism implies for the financial services and insurance arena in particular?

Defining "professional" is not straightforward. In some instances, a professional is merely someone who gets paid for doing something. A professional footballer, for example, needs no professional qualifications, merely the required combination of inherent ability and intensive training.

Then there are traditional professionals such as doctors, lawyers, accountants and others in white-collar specialisms. These people are paid for what they do, and they most certainly need particular qualifications if they wish to work within established parameters.

We instinctively understand the unwritten general code of professionalism. Thus, if you contact me on an important business matter and I do not return your call without good reason, I am being unprofessional. If you are thwarted in a business deal because a rival has unfairly exploited personal connections, you can rightly accuse him of unprofessional behaviour.

Calling someone a professional can be a huge compliment - it is accepted shorthand for certain admirable qualities. For example, if as an actor I insist on going on stage to play my role despite having just received bad news from home, I am a true professional. But what of the last defender who cynically takes the legs from under the attacker who is bearing down on his team's goal. That is a professional foul - but is it good or bad?

Insurance and financial services must grasp the nettle of professionalism for a number of reasons. Here at home we need to restore public confidence and boost our standing with consumers. We need to persuade the media and other commentators - including politicians - of our technical excellence and our adherence to objective ethical standards.

Internationally, we need to bolster our position relative to our competitors and, at the European level as well as domestically, we need to respond to regulatory imperatives and achieve compliance and fitness for purpose.

We should not forget that professionalism is also an end in itself. We should want to be professionals, not merely because of material reward or public standing, but because professionalism embodies self-respect, integrity and the desire to be the best one can be.

The building blocks of professionalism in our sector are learning, qualifications, continuing professional development, compliance and maintenance of ethical good practice. Yet true professionalism comes from within. It is not simply a matter of ticking boxes and acquiring certificates. It implies a lifelong commitment to high standards in every area of business life.

As the first independent chairman of the Professional Standards Board of the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII), I am delighted to see individuals pursuing professional status. With the help of support services and guidance provided by the CII, there is every opportunity to complete the transition from an industry to a recognised profession, with all that entails for career development, and the ability to deliver the products and services customers require.

We owe it to our colleagues, we owe it to our customers - and we also owe it to ourselves. IT

' Lord Hunt of Wirral is chairman of the financial services division of national law firm Beachcroft Wansbroughs and chairman of the Professional Standards Board of the CII