Professionalism could prove the most potent weapon in improving the public's perception of the insurance industry. Niall Boyd details how the CII's examinations overhaul is playing its part.
Some might say it is a given that the public's perception of the financial services sector — insurance included — has worsened. The market's reputation has been in decline for years, and the credit crunch has simply exacerbated this problem.
It doesn't matter that insurance is largely innocent of triggering the credit crunch; the public will tar all financial firms with the same brush. So, our task, as insurance professionals, is to win the fight for hearts and minds.
And professionalism is our most potent weapon. If we can persuade the public that insurance is a bona fide profession — with all that entails in terms of knowledge, competence, standards, ethics and integrity — then we will go a long way to repairing its reputation and enhancing its performance potential.
There is growing awareness within the market of the need for action. Many firms have signed up to the Aldermanbury Declaration, which aims to establish common professional standards among providers, brokers, loss adjusters and service providers alike.
Conceived by an industry-led task force, the declaration intends to drive up the professional standing of insurance by enhancing public confidence, sharpening competitive edge and increasing the profile of the sector among talented individuals looking for a challenging, rewarding and respected career.
Research undertaken in support of the declaration confirms that the public views qualifications as the cornerstone of professionalism. All comparable professions have a bar to entry — rigorous qualifications — alongside tough expectations regarding behaviour, discipline and continuing development.
Hierarchy of qualifications
The established professions also provide structure and focus for career development via a hierarchy of qualifications that complements and enhances workplace training. Often these lead to chartered status, which itself is highly valued by the public —independent research by You Gov shows that the chartered title is most closely associated with professionalism.
The Chartered Insurance Institute's 'qualifications framework' provides the market with an evolving, flexible menu of learning options to suit the needs of companies and individuals. And next year will see the completion of a root-and-branch review of subject provision and coverage, which began in 2009, to ensure this framework remains relevant and of real practical value.
A growing awareness of the need to broaden the pool of practitioners that help to shape CII courses and exams, as well as the need to remove some of the anomalies and duplications that have evolved over time, made this review process essential.
Having constantly evolved to reflect change, the CII's qualification model should now provide an answer to qualification needs across the industry — embracing the various disciplines associated with the London market, commercial and personal lines. It caters for all job roles in broking, underwriting and claims and is suitable for all levels of staff, from new entrants to experienced professionals.
Extensive market consultation conducted by the CII has resulted in 19 new and enhanced units being introduced between 2009 and 2011, with the aim of the enhanced framework being increased clarity, ease of navigation and relevance. It is designed to make the learning experience better for the candidate — and their employer — by providing greater choice of subject.
The selection of units makes them the building blocks of career development — whatever particular course that career might be taking. And the shape and nature of the market is reflected in the three-tier qualification framework now on offer comprising more than 40 different subject units.
A CII survey of students that have completed the advanced diploma in 2010 confirmed the value of such qualifications: 60% felt a vocational qualification the most appropriate for a career in insurance; a figure that rose to 79% for those without a degree.
The roll-out of the new units comes alongside updated learning materials, tools and techniques, while the CII is also piloting an enhanced examination methodology that places even greater focus on the candidate's ability to analyse and apply the information learnt; evidence of further reading; and the use of relevant workplace examples.
This methodology is more demanding, but it supports a thorough understanding of the subject and the ability to apply that to practical situations. Employers and students have provided positive feedback about the changes. They say the refreshed and expanded subject choice has given students more options with increased relevance to their career.
From a market perspective, the changes play an important part in supporting the Aldermanbury Declaration's aim of improving training and development within the sector and helping individuals become more confident and trusted professionals. Having undertaken wide consultation to revise the units offered, the CII believes it now has in place qualifications that will play a major part in increasing professional standards while helping to attract and retain talented people.
It is undertaking a sustained and ongoing period of market consultation — with practitioners placed at the heart of designing the learning programmes — to ensure its qualifications remain relevant to the market's needs and enjoy the active support of leading practitioners and firms.
Company case studies & CII feedback
At any one time, Zurich has at least 400 people studying for professional qualifications with a formal policy in place to encourage individuals to undertake technical studies, help fund them and provide study time. Stephen Nash, claims & underwriting technical training manager, believes the changes being made to the CII qualifications increase their relevance. "The qualifications have to be appropriate to the job that is being done," he says." The introduction of more case study and scenario-based learning into the syllabi is a positive move as it will make the qualifications more applicable to the day-to-day business environment."
At any one time, approximately 800 out of Towergate's 3500 staff are studying, with the company having launched a new job role and competency framework with qualifications at its heart. All underwriters are expected to hold a diploma — and underwriting managers an advanced diploma. Similarly, in broking, account handlers are expected to hold a diploma and senior account executives an advanced diploma.
Towergate believes that applying this framework underlines its commitment to its chartered status and improves professional standards at all levels. Fiona Andrews, group head of people development and reward, says: "This reflects an ethos within the company. Support comes from the very top with Peter Cullum and Andy Homer, both chartered title holders, encouraging the staff about the merits of embarking on the route to professional qualifications."
Three-tier qualification framework
• Certificate in Insurance (Cert CII) — developed for those new to the industry and seeking to develop essential knowledge of the market, key disciplines and key products.
• Diploma in Insurance (Dip CII) — to develop technical and supervisory knowledge and skills. Increasingly seen as a valuable qualification in its own right as well as a stepping stone to the Advanced Diploma.
• Advanced Diploma in Insurance (ACII) — the professional-level qualification, previously known as associateship, focused on the application of knowledge in management roles, which can lead to the award of chartered status.
Will a CII review boost support for the Aldermanbury Declaration?
Niall Boyd is head of product marketing at the Chartered Insurance Institute
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