Are you an ethical person? Do you work in ethical organisation? How can we be assured that we are making ethical decisions?

Like most of the people I meet during the course of my working day I consider myself an ethical person working in an ethical business. My time serving on the North East Initiative on Business Ethics Board has really helped me to reflect, focus and refine what it means to be an ethical business, challenging my perceptions, widening my perspectives and stirring into positive action.

In an increasingly digital world where data has become little more than an asset, traded sometimes with our permission and sometimes without, we are in a time of great ethical shifts and recalibration. With every technological innovation new possibilities are presented, offering potential business opportunities from which to exploit, grow and profit.

Working as an insurance broker with a nation-wide client base, most of the insurance and risk management advice I impart is delivered face to face, over the phone or via email. With the massive and fast-moving technological advances of today, there are challenges, not only in keeping up to date with the improved opportunities offered in the realm of digitized communications, but also in considering the ethical, social and cultural impact they bring. We are faced with the challenge of keeping up to date in an overwhelmingly technological landscape.

The insurance industry, for example, is focused on Big Data – huge quantities of homogenous information (e.g. the make, model and age of all the vehicles, driver profiles and accident frequency covered by a particular insurer). The sector owns and manages huge datasets, with underwriters
seeking to utilise datasets on homogenous risks to accurately price products to meet the costs of future claims. Reinsurers look at global datasets to identify trends, ensuring they have sufficient capital on hand to deal with future disasters. What ethical considerations does the industry need to adopt in order to collate and analyse this data responsibly?

The professional body for insurance in the UK is the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII). I have been a member for over a decade now, and on entry I undertook to abide by a Code of Ethics. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the Code of Ethics more and more, as I’ve progressed through the ranks and dealt with more and more challenging and complex situations. Now I run my own company, and we have hundreds of contacts, clients and policies being managed through our office. The CII released a new Digital Ethics Companion at the beginning of the month to run alongside the Code of Ethics, and help insurance professionals interpret the principles put forward in the Code of Ethics through the lens of digital projects, the use of data, and so on.

The companion is helpful, providing scenarios and case studies that show how the Code of Ethics can be used in different situations, providing ideas on how to embed ethical considerations into digital projects, even things as simple as data analysis. It helps us to ask the “why” questions. It also has
series of Frequently Asked Questions, some of which address why the guide is helpful, even to people who don’t work in IT!

Initially I wondered at the need for such a companion, thinking that as someone who believes themselves to be ethical it would be unnecessary. However, on reflection I have really come to appreciate its value – one can’t anticipate every potential ethical dilemma, conceive of every course of action or variable that may present itself – no one is infallible!

These reasons also highlight why I am involved with NIBE. It has always been a challenger- not stating “the” ethical way to do things, but rather challenging businesses to consider whether they have taken into account ethical considerations, whether they should make more room for ethics in their operations or whether their ethical policy is sufficiently embedded (to name just a few). The publication of this new digital companion is just another reminder that ethics needs to be embedded across an organisation’s entire operation, that ethics is not just limited to interactions with people but also embedded at the very core, into systems, processes, software and procedures.

Join us at our regular NIBE seminars and networking events to get thinking about business ethics from a wider and deeper practice, sharing best practice and learning from the experience and perspectives of others. Sign up to the mailing list here.

Richard Talbot-Jones – MD, Talbot Jones Ltd, Chartered Insurance Brokers