Spring is always a busy time in insurance. March renewals, end of many companies' financial years, conferences and exhibitions. In the meantime we are all expected to get on with our day jobs. At the CII, April is our big exam month, with approximately 12 000 exam sittings across the country - so it's a pretty stressful period all round.
The UK Broker Summit's invitation to a couple of days in a luxury hotel is therefore a welcome relief. For the CII, it gives us the chance to engage with 50-60 of the country's top brokers in a reasonably relaxed atmosphere, and to get a grip on their business drivers, particularly in relation to our main theme - professionalism.
To set up these sessions nicely, we had a thoroughly depressing presentation by Professor Roger Fagg, an economist who can see doom, gloom, despondency and despair written all over our economic future. Whether it was reduction in bank lending levels, increase in levels of savings, import generated inflation - he was a laugh a minute. The only positive thing he said was that he thought inflation would reduce and that there wouldn't be any rises in interest rates this year. Stagflation was considered very unlikely. Cue inflation, interest rate rises and a lengthy period of stagflation.
Suitably cheered we started a series of 3 round-table sessions.
Brokers are a fairly frank lot! Ant Gould, our new Director of Faculties (probably best known to you as Incisive's ex Editor-in-chief) and I hosted 3 workshop sessions, looking for guidance on how we add value to the Chartered award, over and above the kudos that the qualification bestows upon successful applicants. The problem is that if you ask some successful, forthright people for an opinion, they tend to have one, or in some cases, two or three.
"Get the FSA to reduce our fees - if we become Chartered, then they should recognise that we are a safer bet than other less qualified brokers"
"Give Chartered brokers a discount on exams, learning materials and other CII products and services"
"Make it more difficult to achieve Chartered status - so that only a select group will attempt to qualify"
The most common theme however was about us raising awareness of the Chartered qualification and what exactly it meant. We have loads of research that shows that consumers and SMEs recognise Chartered as a high level of qualification and that they trust the advice from Chartered practitioners over the advice of non-Chartered. Unfortunately a consumer-oriented campaign to promote Chartered Insurer / Broker status, would cost more than our annual revenue.
Brokers believe that if we are to see an industry wide move to a more professional footing, then the insurers need to be made aware of Chartered status, what it means and be willing to provide some form of competitive advantage to Chartered brokers.
So that was the main message and one upon which we can and will act. There are a small number of Chartered Insurers who "get it" - we have a large number of insurers considering applying for Chartered Insurer status and we believe that their commitment will drive brokers to seek Chartered Broker status.
This would be in footie terms "a right good result" - all our evidence shows that we would attract better talent to our industry, enjoy higher levels of trust from our customers, get that parity of esteem with accountants, lawyers, doctors etc. - that you all keep telling us you want - and an industry-wide move of this nature would create financial dividends from which we would all benefit.
On a slightly lighter note - I made the mistake of going to the Brazil v Scotland game at the weekend. Men against boys - the pesky Brazilians insisted on controlling the ball first time, passing the ball to each other and creating space, before ripping our defence apart. 2-0, could have been 6, definition of insanity "keep doing the same thing, expect different results". Hmmm.
Chartered Insurance Institute corporate development leader Alasdair Stewart