Talking ’bout Ethics

By | March 7, 2005

Getting people in the insurance industry to speak with the media can be tough. But when the subject is ethics, it’s near impossible. It’s easier to get President Bush to talk about a tax hike. Barry Bonds about steroids. Brad about Jen.

People in the insurance industry are not unethical but many are uncomfortable talking about ethics. Why the aversion to talking about ethics … and does it matter?

For one, there is no organization in the property casualty industry focusing on ethics. The CPCU Society is as close as the property casualty industry gets to a group where questions of ethics are regularly confronted. Indeed, people from the CPCU Society have been the most willing to talk about ethics. (See this issue’s Parting Shots on page 58 written by CPCU Society President Don Hurzeler.) Other officials and groups hem and haw and look the other way when the subject is raised.

As great as the CPCU Society is, the property casualty industry has no vehicle for promoting ethical standards like the life insurance industry has with IMSA, the Insurance Marketplace Standards Association. IMSA helps companies implement strategies that promote ethical behavior. IMSA people are familiar with the hard work of developing and maintaining appropriate standards of conduct. As IMSA’s Brian Atchinson says, “It’s not, ‘just add hot water and you get instant standards.'”

We talk about ethics at Insurance Journal. It starts at the top with our publisher, Mark Wells, and chief operating officer, Mitch Dunford. The editorial department has its own guidelines to supplement the company-wide rules of honesty and fair dealing. We’re not perfect at IJ but we are encouraged to discuss whether something was the right decision, if we need a new policy for a new circumstance, and how we can become better.

The comfort level of people speaking to the media about ethics may not say anything about the state of ethics in the industry. Then again maybe it does say something. Maybe people are reluctant to speak because they are humble and do not see themselves as qualified. Maybe people are uncomfortable publicly speaking about ethics because they rarely speak about the subject within their offices. Maybe too few know how to even begin the conversation. Maybe fear of talking publicly about ethics is a sign that the industry doesn’t talk enough about it privately.

Whoa! Yours truly has difficulty putting together a story on ethics so all of a sudden there is a problem in the industry? No, the stakes are higher. The reluctance of the property casualty industry to speak out publicly about ethics leaves others, including prosecutors and politicians, free to frame the debate and, often, the reactions.

The world is changing and maybe the industry’s best practices need to change as well. Maybe it’s time to start talking.

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Insurance Journal West March 7, 2005
March 7, 2005
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