Acquiring skills and knowledge does not stop with exams, and in a rapidly changing business environment, Societies allow members to keep their continuing professional development up to date on a sectoral level.
Personal Finance Society
It is 15 years since the launch of the Personal Finance Society (PFS). Since its establishment, through the merger of the Society of Financial Advisers and the Life Insurance Association, the PFS has evolved into the sector’s leading professional body with a membership of around 40,000 at the end of 2019. This growth rate in membership is extraordinary, with numbers having almost doubled since launch.
In 2019, the PFS offered a comprehensive continuing professional development programme with full-day events delivered every month in 27 locations across the UK plus webinars and good practice guides. This has resulted in improved qualification levels in the profession with 53% of the membership qualified to level 4 diploma today, compared to only 18% at a similar level in 2005.
In the last decade, the PFS has also increased its engagement and influence with government, regulators and consumer groups. Recent initiatives include the creation of The Pension Advice Taskforce resulting in the creation of Pension Transfer Gold Standard. Inaugural President of the Personal Finance Society, Brian Steeples of Turris in Glasgow, said: “The whole sector should be proud of just how far it has come in such a short space of time. Qualification levels is a stark indicator of how financial advice has moved from an industry into a more trusted profession.” Keith Richards, CEO of the Personal Finance Society, said: “Financial advice is now recognised as an essential public service by government and regulators.
“We are expanding our pro-bono programmes and increasing the reach of our My Personal Finance Skills programme in schools nationwide as a way of both educating students about personal finance, but also showcasing the rewarding careers available in the sector.
“It is encouraging for the future of our profession that we are beginning to attract new generations of advice professionals with a clear benchmark and role within a Chartered profession.
“In the next 15 years I am certain that we will see further growth in the numbers of advisers and, together with innovative Fintech solutions, will finally start to address the advice gap.”
Qualification levels is a stark indicator of how financial advice has moved from an industry into a more trusted profession
During 2019, we launched the Society of Claims Professionals and Society of Underwriting Professionals, as well as relaunched the Society of Mortgage Professionals. This takes the number of our Societies to five with the already firmly-established Personal Finance Society, which grew to around 40,000 members in the period, and the Society of Insurance Broking.
The Societies are already creating communities by attracting both members and those from outside the immediate world of insurance, for example, those at law firms and assessors who work closely with our profession. We are achieving this by providing tailored solutions based around areas that they are interested in and, most importantly, help them do their jobs better to the benefit of the public. There are, for example, more than 20,000 people who work in claims handling in the UK alone, but there is currently limited professional dialogue between these individuals. The Societies will consequently work to encourage a diverse and inclusive membership with everyone eligible to join irrespective of whether they hold an existing qualification from the CII or elsewhere.
Building the foundations
During 2019, our focus has been on setting firm foundations for the Societies, by ensuring that our operational delivery systems were working flawlessly. This has entailed making sure that we are issuing new pieces of online content each month; we are communicating with our members in a timely, effective and regular manner; we are talking about issues affecting our members; we are representing the interests of our members in the press; and we are active and advocating on behalf of the sector. We have in effect been building a springboard for future success.
Owning sector issues
Now the launches are complete and robust internal processes are in place, it is time for the Societies to start taking ownership of key issues in insurance, working within the CII’s wider strategic objectives of raising professional standards, encouraging public trust, and creating better outcomes for customers and clients.
One of the biggest factors influencing public trust is how we treat vulnerable customers. Each Society, driven by the individual nature of their sector, must decide how it can start to take ownership of that as an issue and make effective positive change through its members.
As a professional body we achieve that by improving the skills and knowledge of our members, so this is now about identifying those key issues and responding to them in an effective manner that provides the insight and guidance our members need.
In the broking sector, we will be focusing heavily on the value of professional advice. Insurance is a profession where consumers can access products and services directly more easily than ever before. In light of that, the role of the broker will evolve. We will talk about how brokers are part of a broader risk management spectrum, and how being correctly advised on products and services will make sure that customers have the right protection in place, so if things do go wrong, you will have a qualified professional in your corner. Much like a lawyer or accountant, a broker can provide invaluable business support and guidance. In a sector that is all too often driven by cost, we will demonstrate the value of using a skilled and knowledgeable professional.
In claims, we are focused on changing the perception of the sector. One of the CII’s Public Trust Index findings is that amongst those members of the public who have been through the claims process there is generally a good perception of the sector. The lack of trust in claims tends to come from people that have never made a claim. Therefore, there seems to be a disconnect between perception and reality, so we need to look at how we improve public perceptions of the claims process. We will be championing good examples and talking about how the claims process has become more holistic. It is not just about writing a cheque anymore; this is about supporting individuals and families through traumatic or difficult events and achieving the best outcomes for our customers.
In underwriting, our work will focus around the role of technology, automation and digitalisation. The underwriting sector is facing some of the biggest risk from automation, with computers capable of making far more accurate risks decisions than a human in a split second. This is having a massive effect on the future role of individuals working in underwriting, which we believe will increasingly become about effectively guiding and helping our members through a time of change. Our research indicates that members of the public are happy to see large areas of insurance automated, but still want to retain the ability to speak to a human if things go wrong. We believe the underwriter of the future will become more of an overseer, focused on managing and improving systems and processes, and making sure that the right decision has been reached. So, the skills and knowledge requirements of an underwriter are going to change significantly, and we need to ensure that we can support our members through that shift.
In the mortgage sector, we have identified three key catalysts for change: increased competition in the market; the changing nature of products and services; and the drive towards professionalism. In recent years, more than ever, there has been a growing expectation amongst the public that mortgage advisers should be well-qualified professionals, and there is an increasing expectation within the sector that team members are qualified to a high level.