Feb 28, 2013 2 min read

What are UK insurers telling us about their ethical performance?

What measures of ethical performance are UK insurers reporting on at the moment? I’ve had a look at the websites of leading UK insurers and found these, which I’ll review as a ‘critical friend’.

Employees signing off receipt, understanding and acceptance of business ethics code annually.

This metric has an aire of thoroughness about it. Not only do employees have to sign off receipt of the code, but their understanding and acceptance of it as well. It comes with three years of performance data, plus explanatory notes. So I feel informed and almost wondering about how they will do better next year…but not quite. With three years of performance, I can’t help but wonder what impact all that ‘signing off’ has had. Do staff feel the company has a more ethical approach to its business? Do customers view the company as more trustworthy? Signing off is all very well and good, but it becomes little more than just a process if it doesn’t then achieve something for your business.

Employees completing bribery and corruption training

This is a metric that has become widespread in the last couple of years, following the Bribery Act coming into force. It has some value, but is undermined somewhat by its all-company perspective. The effectiveness of anti-bribery training is significantly increased when orientated around the risk to bribery that particular categories of staff face: for example, contract managers and purchasing managers. So it’s a metric that both informs and obscures. It’s also an input metric, so it tells us about the effort that has been put in over the last three years, but not what has been achieved as a result.

Roll out Code of Conduct guide and (company) policies to all markets

This metric is undermined by a lack of ambition. Rolling out a guide to your staff seems too akin to ‘doing your job’. It may have some value as an individual’s performance measure, but it has little value as a company wide target.  It is also imprecise: does ‘roll out’ mean just making sure it’s delivered to all staff, or its receipt confirmed, or having them understand it as well? Overall, it’s not a metric that’s going to challenge, inspire or inform many people.

I have to admit that after spending an hour checking out the websites of numerous UK insurers, only these three metrics came to light. There was a lot of talk about acting ethically and several codes of ethics were on display, but there was very little about how well firms were fulfilling all this talk about ethical commitment, or how it was helping their business prosper.

I went on to look at some European insurers and found a Norwegian insurer reporting on how clear a picture their employees felt they had of the importance of their firm’s ethical guidelines to their day-to-day work. An outcome metric at last! It was a good score, so I hope they continue to track both its ups and its downs.

UK insurers may of course have management information systems replete with business ethics metrics, ready to satisfy the curiousity of their boards and regulators about the extent to which their firm is achieving an ethical culture. However, I found no indication that the above three metrics were the tip of a measurement iceberg.

If you do know of any other ethics metrics being reported publically by insurers (here in the UK or elsewhere), please please please let me know.

Duncan Minty
Duncan Minty
Duncan has been researching and writing about ethics in insurance for over 20 years. As a Chartered Insurance Practitioner, he combines market knowledge with a strong and independent radar on ethics.
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