A new era of accountability for senior insurance managers

diciembre 4, 2014

A new era of accountability for senior insurance managers

uk-reino-unido-bandera_The prudential regulator for UK insurance firms is consulting on regulatory changes that it hopes will herald a new era of personal accountability for senior insurance managers. Yet the ball is also going to be put very firmly in the hands of the firms they work for. If recent thematic reviews from the conduct regulator are anything to go by, many regulated insurance firms will have their work cut out to meet the proposed standard.

The Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA) has just released its proposed ‘senior insurance managers regime’ (SIMR) for consultation. It’s described as a new regulatory framework for individuals, designed “to ensure the fitness and propriety of all those individuals who are effectively running an insurer or performing a key function”. And  the roles covered are executive ones: chief executive officer, chief finance officer, chief risk officer and head of internal audit (collectively to be called senior insurance manager functions – SIMFs) .

That’s OK, many of you will think: “I’m not one of them”. A closer look into the SIMR consultation indicates a different story. Here’s how.

These SIMFs have to be able to able to demonstrate that they meet three generic standards: acting with integrity, acting with due skill, care and diligence, and dealing with regulators in an open and co-operative way. How they do this is focussed around a set of ‘prescribed core responsibilities’. Five of the 10 listed caught my eye:

  • ensuring that the firm has complied with the obligation to satisfy itself that persons performing a key function are fit and proper;
  • leading the development of the firm’s culture;
  • embedding the firm’s culture and standards in its day-to-day management;
  • induction, training and professional development for all the firm’s key function holders;
  • maintenance of the independence, integrity and effectiveness of the whistleblowing procedures, and the protection of staff raising concerns.

It then talks about embedding these responsibilities in policies, disciplinary and recruitment procedures, and the like. This all has a familiar ring to it, so what’s new for firms?

ethics 01Firms have to “…carry out their own fit and proper assessment of those ‘key function holders’…“, as well as (everyone take note) those to whom a SIMF holder has delegated those prescribed core responsibilities. The PRA will then supervise those assessments on an ex-post basis. In other words, the regulator will be monitoring firms’ assessment of their senior managers’ responsibilities, just as much as the individuals themselves.

So while the SIMR may indeed herald a new era of personal accountability in the UK insurance market, it will also put a new onus on firms to prove that their executives have met the ‘fit and proper’ standards. I suspect that ‘self assessment’ by the SIMF holder in question, or a few references and checks by the firm, will see the regulator do one of those quick draws in of breath that UK builders are famous for when asked how much repairs will cost.

The PRA will be looking for evidence of training and ongoing professional development around issues like conflicts of interest, ethical culture and whistleblowing. And for evidence of how the firm has assessed its ethical culture and taken steps to guide it in the right direction. It will pay particular attention to whistleblowing. And, as ever, it will want to see evidence of monitoring and oversight of all this.

Individual accountability – yes, and the two regulators are sure to hold up failings in a quite public manner. But what we will see more of will be firms fined for having inadequate ‘fit and proper’ assessments. Just as insurance firms have been fined for poorly implemented processes to control bribery (even though no bribery was found), the same will happen for inadequate ‘fit and proper’ assessments, even when all the executives were above reproach. Indeed, those insurance firms most as risk of this could be those run by executives with impeccable credentials. That would be a hard blow to such executives to take.

See more at: http://ethicsandinsurance.info/2014/12/03/accountability/#sthash.68w9pEQa.dpuf


Social Sorting: could it be the stuff of nightmares for insurance firms?

septiembre 11, 2014

Social Sorting: could it be the stuff of nightmares for insurance firms?

insurance-10Privacy is an ethical issue that the UK insurance sector often thinks about, usually in terms of it being something of a headache. And privacy is a serious ethical issue for how insurance firms use data, but it is not the only one. Another one that should be on their ‘ethical radar’ is often referred to as social sorting. And if privacy is often thought of as a headache, then social sorting could be the stuff of nightmares. Here’s why.

We know insurers are very busy at the moment assembling bigger and bigger collections of data. And one of the main things they’re doing with it is sticking labels onto all that data; in other words, categorising it. In the past, this involved only a few labels: your age, where you lived, what type of car it was and so on. And you could see that this simple categorisation was obviously risk related.

Lifestyle underwriting

As more data is collected, and insurers move much more towards lifestyle underwriting, then things become more complicated. Datasets become bigger and more varied, which means that more and more categorisation is needed. This categorisation allows marketing people to slice and dice a whole warehouse of data for insight into who will buy what when ; and allows underwriters to slice and dice for insight into propensity to pay and propensity to claim.

The insurance sector is awash with data brokers and software houses promising all sorts of ways to boost this insight. Some of the categorisations I’ve seen on offer seem far from neutral and objective. The biases in those categorisations may be only annoying if it results in you receiving a lot of irrelevant marketing offers, but if an underwriter bases a large part of her risk assessment upon them, then various groups in society will find access to insurance becoming much more difficult.

The Mobile World

And this process of inclusion and exclusion will become much more subtle, as we begin to be categorised in a much more fluid and mobile world. We become categorised not so much by what our IP address says about where we live, but much more by what the ‘internet of things’ says about everything we get up to in our daily lives.

So we’ll find that these doors will be opening and closing at a much greater speed, and for a wider range of people, than in the past. So this process, what has been called ‘social sorting’, will be experienced not by just a few groups of people, but increasingly by many of us.

And we won’t like some of the things it says about us; about some of the products that become too expensive or some of the services that become difficult to access. The big danger is that this increasingly complex process of sorting of risk, of differentiating between risks, could begin to look more like discriminating between risks. Insurance regulators in the United States refer to this as red-lining, after the underwriting of mortgage risk turned into a complete nightmare for the financial services sector in the US. The issue becomes so highly charged because what you’re talking about is social justice and that attracts a completely different order of political debate than privacy.


Now, every insurance firm would be thinking that this is not a road it would ever go down – “we’re not like that”. And to a large extent, they’re right, but when I hear personal lines underwriters talk about no longer knowing how their end premiums are calculated because the process for calculating them has become so complicated (all those different data sources and algorithms) and I read about some of the accusations being leveled against data brokers serving the US financial services market, then putting those two things together, I worry that some firms may already be unintentionally, unwittingly, straying in that direction.

As an ethical risk, I think that ‘social sorting’ has the potential to be as big an issue for the public as payment protection insurance: perhaps not in financial terms, but certainly in reputational terms. If it were to happen, then regulation of insurance pricing would almost certainly be introduced in the UK and it could decimate the reputation of the UK insurance market for a lifetime.

So what do you do? I would suggest you start with the essentials:1

  • you learn the language of data, risk and ethics ;
  • you set some principles down and make sure everyone knows about them ;
  • you start helping people make decisions in line with those principles ;
  • you help people overcome any difficulties they encounter in doing all those things.

Source: Ethics and Insurance, 09/09/14.