The quest to make insurance a profession

Crescens George - Chartered FCIPD

Is insurance a profession or an industry? That’s a question often raised, but the fact is that, unlike ‘real’ professions more readily perceived as such by the world at large, the possession of qualifications has never been a statutory requirement for individuals in insurance.

At the core of the claim to be a ‘professional’ is the idea that the practitioner has the skills, knowledge, behaviour and insight to deal with complex situations in their area of expertise. It’s this aspiration that defines the scope of professional development for any practitioner. 

The need for professional development is even more critical when it comes to people working in a knowledge-based sector, such as insurance. Yet then, how many of the few hundred thousand people working in the insurance sector are professionally qualified? It’s certain the numbers are shamefully low!

The retail boom experienced in the early part of this century not only took off in the high streets. It whetted the appetite of the insurance and the banking sector too. Hence the insurance industry's transition from a professional entity to a retail one! 

Add the emergence of computer systems to the mix, and there you have all the ingredients to develop a mind-set that expertise is something that can be created by merely following processes and steps from a manual.

In the race for market share and highest GWP, I think we ignored the social dimension of our industry i.e. the need for professional development. 

Customers trust professionals! They know that professionals will adhere to standards of quality and ethical behaviour, to exercise independence and discretion in addressing clients’ issues. But has this changed with customer experiences of call centre staff who are merely reading call scripts? 

Internet price comparison sites may suggest a lessened need for professionals, as their specialised information is now open to all. But if the customer still suffers the same difficulty in making decisions, if the application of the knowledge in concrete contexts is still complex and uncertain, the need for professionals will persist. 

To this effect we must rejuvenate our efforts in educating our people and thereby raising the credibility of our industry. The ideology to lead change in this direction to help create qualified professionals for the industry has to be self-driven and encouraged from within. 

Some insurance companies have a long track record in providing this encouragement to qualify, but that’s not entirely the case for insurance brokers. Many brokers do not have the resources to drive an in-house training facility, and often look at third party training providers. They often compromise by choosing a training provider who is not from the insurance industry, and also purchase unnecessarily expensive training courses. 

Not only that, but insurance brokers ideally need training that is predominantly geared to their own experience and the business environment in which they operate. 

The ideal training method for brokers is for ‘brokers to train brokers’. Or to be more precise, to employ training expertise with courses and tuition catering for their specific needs written specifically for the broking fraternity, and that have been tested in a broking environment with proven results.