Melissa joined in September 2017 in the new role of Professional Standards Director to lead the CII’s professional standards, ethics and conduct activity.
She is also responsible for the professional body’s legal affairs and risk management. She spent over a decade at the Financial Ombudsman Service, was a Director at Fairer Finance and sits as a Tribunal Judge. She has an extensive background in consumer insurance and legal issues and is a qualified solicitor.
During her time as insurance ombudsman, Melissa made over 1,500 legally binding decisions on disputes between consumers and insurance firms whilst sharing her insights with the sector, often through its trade bodies, around what best practice looked like and how to raise standards. Her aim in doing so was to help companies avoid disputes in the first place. This focus bore fruit with the number of non-disclosure complaints having halved within a year after the introduction of new joint guidance – a highly satisfying outcome given the often fraught and complex circumstances surrounding this type of complaint.
In this role, she also worked closely with David Hertzell, the Chair of the CII’s Professional Standards Committee, who was the Law Commissioner in charge of the Insurance Law Reform Project at the time. She is enjoying working with him again: “I report into the Professional Standards Committee which provides valuable independent oversight of the work that we are doing around standards and professionalism.”
Throughout her career she has seen a discernible improvement in the standards in the profession, there is far more focus on putting consumers’ needs at the heart of the business. She believes therefore that the direction of travel is largely positive, however, the understanding and responsiveness to consumer needs is often piecemeal and, as the Trust Index shows, there is room for improvement around key areas such as loyalty.
Putting the customer first
She is also concerned by the rise of price comparison websites and their primary focus on price, as opposed to core features of cover. “The popularity of the price comparison websites has at times resulted in “Swiss cheese” cover with many exclusions. It’s an issue that still needs to be grappled with but I know that there is a lot of effort being made to try and help consumers compare on quality as well as price.”
Driving up standards
Her role at the CII is a new one, bringing together activities carried out across a number of departments previously: “My role is to promote professional standards throughout the sector to members and to external stakeholders and to the wider public. It’s to raise awareness of best practice and drive up ethical standards in the profession. It’s really about encouraging people in insurance to be professionals and promoting the value of professionalism.”
She also has an internal responsibility for standards and is in charge of the discipline of members by looking into such issues as alleged breaches of the CII’s Code of Ethics or alleged cheating at exams, as well as the vetting of corporate chartered firms.
Professionalism drives trust
Her appointment is in part a recognition that the importance of standards in building public trust needed to be reinforced at the CII: “I believe strongly that standards underpin professionalism and professionalism drives trust. The starting point for our standards is our Code of Ethics with five key principles, which all members sign up to when they join. Having had conversations with other professional bodies by and large the principles are similar across all of them. So being a professional means that basic principles apply whether you’re in insurance or accountancy or investment or any other profession.”
She sees technology as changing the standards landscape with a need for distinct digital standards: “The rise of personalisation of insurance, where the risk is priced according to the individual, can lead to cherry picking. And it could mean the end of pooling of risk and mutualisation, potentially preventing people from getting access to insurance the way they used to when there were much wider pools of risk. There are issues also around the use of data because you may not want your insurer to know about your personal life, for example your dating habits, to price your car insurance, but the day is not far off when that could happen.”
She has therefore been meeting with some of the innovators in the InsurTech space and creating relationships with them, in order potentially to form a working group to look at digital standards and establish the CII’s place at the table: “We have to ensure that no-one is unfairly excluded from cover. Insurance is such a force for social good. We can’t afford to lose sight of that in this rush to digitalise everything.”
In her first nine months with the CII, she has also been highly involved in reviewing the criteria, the process and the audit of corporate Chartered status to ensure that the titles remain a mark of quality, aspiration and value, details of which are shown on pages 16-17; conducting a review of the disciplinary procedure to make it more proportionate, efficient and fair with the aim of speeding up and improving the process; whilst also building the capacity of her team. She is excited by the opportunity that the role offers her: “I have come in as an independent person with a history of championing standards at a time of great change for the CII. I am thoroughly enjoying the challenge.”
“My career to date has revolved around a passion for raising standards in the insurance sector and helping companies do what’s right by consumers. This new role continues that focus and takes it to the next level”