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Peter Le Beau: Reputation, Reputation, Reputation

I get very exercised by the criticism of our industry because of situations like PPI mis-selling simply because most of the people I know and see on a day-to-day basis not only care passionately about protection but are also very ethical people.

The two go together in that people who care about protection do not want its name besmirched by unethical behaviour.

Yet we work within a wider industry that has been beset by crises and we need to try to rationalise the situation.

My thoughts return to the maxim “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Like so many bright things this originated from Peter Drucker but was taken up as a war cry by Mark Fields, the President of Ford, about 5 years ago.

It is a very significant observation because it underlines why things like the PPI scandal happened. They happened because the culture of the distributors was dishonest. People were inveigled into taking PPI on their loans, fair enough, by single premium added to the loan—possibly understandable. But nobody needed to roll this portfolio over every year increasing the amount of debt they had and above all nobody needed to jettison their old PPI policy and the single premium (of which around 80 per cent went in commission to the lender) and take out a new one with 80 per cent of a bigger single premium coming their way.

That is what you call an utterly rotten culture and it underlines that the management of organisations that have blotted their copybook in all sorts of ways were interested in profit at all costs.

You can have the brightest mind in history, you can be mathematically brilliant and your bright, shiny MBA can dazzle everyone who enters your office but if that is the way you treat customers it is worth nothing.

The problem is that so many people looking to do the right thing cannot start a dialogue with organisations who can guide them because they regard the whole of the insurance industry with huge caution and distrust.

That is why a number of leading figures in the industry are trying to develop a code of conduct for advisers and why the Income Protection Task Force is developing a charter that consumers can have some faith in.

We need to rebuild the trust that has been so seriously compromised by the events I have described and above all to make this an industry that we can be completely proud of.

It is too easy to point the finger at other parts of the industry and claim its all their fault. But that misses the point that we need to root out a rotten culture, wherever it exists.

I am delighted that companies spend a lot more time than they used to looking at strategy coherently. But as we are seeing only too clearly without an ethical culture, even great strategy is not going to make you successful.

Peter Le Beau is managing director of Le Beau Visage

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  1. You are right Peter, trust needs to be restored. The PPI miss selling scandal (and others) have done enormous damage to the public perception of insurance companies and their products.

    Indeed, are the public right to be concerned?

    The PPI scandal alone has cost billions and yet no one prosecuted!

    I regularly meet people who have no trust at all in financial service providers or their products and so do not engage, except when they have no choice.

    I believe this is going to be a long up hill struggle and will cost the industry itself potentially billions in missed sales and any other scandals will just make matters even worse.

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