It seems to make sense, doesn’t it – ‘doing the right thing’. And you’d think that an insurance firm full of good people would get behind the idea of ethics without a second thought.
Yet it often turns out to be not always that easy. There can be hesitations, even procrastinations.
I’ve come across a number of beliefs that get in the way of insurance people getting behind their firm’s push on ethics. Here’s 5 of them.
No. 1 There’s no point – it’s recovered by regulations now.
Not the case. Sure, there’s lots of regulations affecting insurance firms, but remember, they’re increasingly being written in ways that requires judgement. Take the frequent references to fairness and integrity for example.
And regulators don’t spell those things out for you – it’s something that they expect firms to have worked out for themselves. And that’s where a good ethics programme can add a lot of value, in showing people the ‘why’ as much as the ‘what’.
Bear in mind as well that few insurance people are lawyers. So if you’re on the phone to a claimant, or sitting in front of a client, there’ll be no time to check if you’re handling that tricky decision in line with rule 9.4 or procedure 3.4.
No. 2 Customers are not interested
Sure, customers don’t talk about ethics, but what they do talk about are things like fairness and trust. And they talk about those things when it comes to insurance.
A report back in 2013 asked consumers of financial services to describe ‘good customer service’ and 2 of their top 3 responses were ‘honesty’ and ‘doing what they said they’d do’.
So let’s be clear: customers are interested in ethics; they just talk about it in their terms. Hardly a surprise really.
No. 3 We need to agree a definition first
Sometimes people want to have everyone agree on what exactly ethics means before deciding what to do about it. Well, the meaning of ethics has been debated for a couple of thousands of years now, and it’s not looking like any sort of agreement has been reached amongst the philosophers yet.
So don’t set yourself such a mountain to climb from day 1. You may not have the language to nail down a precise definition of ethical, but you do have a well developed sense of what ethics feels like and what sort of results it should produce. That’s enough to get you started.
No. 4 We shouldn’t impose our ethical values on others
On the surface, this seems to make sense, but to be honest, if you think about it, it’s a recipe for forever doing nothing.
Of course there are differences in what any two people think of as ethical and that’s to be expected. There are also a great many more similarities. And that is my point: just because you may not agree on absolutely everything when it comes to ethics, it doesn’t mean that you can’t then focus on the huge overlap in what you do agree on.
No 5 There’s no time for it – we’re too busy
The fifth and final belief when it comes to doing ethics is perhaps the most common one. Our agendas are too full of other priorities, or our schedule always seems to be too busy. Well, here’s a story to challenge that.
I was once running an ethics workshop at a broking firm, and the discussion was a bit slow to take off, until someone mentioned business hospitality and then the whole meeting just went hyper. All sorts of information was coming out of the woodwork, about skiing holidays and the like. And the HR manager who was listening in, you could see his eyes going out on stalks at what he was hearing. This was a very real and present problem at that firm, just waiting to be addressed.
So don’t think of ethics as something to be added into already busy agendas. It’s already there.
And that’s a point that regulators are trying to drive home too, when they keep pointing at ‘ethical culture’. A firm can’t not have an ethical culture: it just has to recognise it.
Let’s be clear: there are beliefs that could stop insurance firms bringing out new products or new services. It’s great that they overcome them; they need to overcome the ones for ethics as well.