The Chartered Insurance Institute has launched an “unprecedented” call to life, pension and long-term savings providers to commit to a new framework of professional standards.
After last year’s landmark at-retirement reforms - which from April increased the options available to retirees under the government’s pension freedoms - the CII and various industry stakeholders undertook 12 months of analysis, looking at the challenges facing the sector and identifying clearly defined action required to boost public confidence at a time when more people are coming in contact with financial services.
The team, led by CII president Robert Fletcher, came up with the 2016 Commitment; a set of clearly defined and consistent policies working towards customer service, ethical conduct, qualifications and continuing professional development (CPD).
According to th CII, the framework will lead to “measurable benefits” for both consumers and those working in the sector, by building a “confident, trusted profession”, with high standards of conduct and competence, and by providing career paths that attract and retain talented people.
Initial signatories of the framework are: Aviva Life; Old Mutual Wealth; LV; Phoenix Group; Scottish Widows; Standard Life; NFU Mutual; HCL; and ReAssure.
Mr Fletcher stated: “I believe our proposals are ambitious but realistic, and I congratulate those firms that have committed to fully implement the recommendations by the end of 2018.
“The creation of the commitment sends a clear message to customer and indeed all stakeholders of the intent of the sector to raise its standing and reputation.”
These companies have publicly committed to embed the standards in full by the end of 2018, with a wide variety of other firms in talks to get involved, according to the CII’s director of financial services and insurance markets Steve Jenkins.
He told FTAdviser no provider has fundamentally disagreed with the standards, with many simply needing to check they “have the wherewithal” before signing up.
“Consistency across the sector is key; we were asked to design a framework that looks like best practice. The majority of people reaching retirement will go back to their pension providers, so we have to make sure that interaction does not put people off.”
Mr Jenkins stressed this was a framework, not a rulebook, but participating providers would work with staff at every level to underpin career development and raise professional standards.
He added the CII would work with relevant bodies and those giving internal training to make sure staff were working towards relevant and verified qualifications.
All customer facing staff would be expected to complete an award-level qualification or equivalent, committing to a code of ethics and CPD, within 12 months of joining, while managers and those in senior technical roles should be working towards diploma level or equivalent.
Richard Rowney, managing director of life and pensions at LV, said it is vital that, when choosing a provider, customers can feel confident they are dealing with well-trained staff who will help them make the right decision.